Running to stand still . . .
I wrote this piece in February, for a short series in The Irish Times magazine on learning new things and, in an incredible display of narcicissm, in writing it, I convinced myself to sign up for a running course with …
I wrote this piece in February, for a short series in The Irish Times magazine on learning new things and, in an incredible display of narcicissm, in writing it, I convinced myself to sign up for a running course with Tina. Five weeks later, I can run for 15 minutes – which yesterday I was told “isn’t a run” (ha!), but I’m really happy with it.
So this is a reminder that Tina’s beginners’ course is resuming next month – check the site for details – and I would advise everyone to consider it. Since I started running I’ve realised why people who run are so relentlessly positive; you can’t help but feel euphoric after a run that you never imagined you’d complete (yes, I’m still going on about that 15 minutes).
And the fashion link? It’s been five weeks, five weeks in which I didn’t notice any huge changes. But yesterday, five people, separately, told me I’d lost weight. Now, weight, to me, is not a fashion issue – but fitting into all of my clothes is. I ain’t running to get skinny, bro’ – I’m running to make more room for food, to borrow a phrase. But speaking of weight, here’s another piece I wrote for the newspaper, a few short weeks ago:
My body is my own, and not open to debate
WOW, YOU’VE lost weight! You’re really skinny now!” Being the biggest of a group of friends is hard. Although kindly meant, a comment about one’s appearance is a comment about one’s appearance, and shouldn’t be uttered unless specifically requested (for example, in reply to “do you think I’ve lost weight?”).However, in my circle, commentary about my weight is as natural as commentary about someone else’s boyfriend or promotion; having admitted at an early age to being unhappy with my weight it seems I created an unfortunate belief among my acquaintances: the best way to make me happy is by general consensus to tell me that I’ve lost weight.
By becoming “skinny” I can finally be accepted into this happy group of perfection. I will have achieved my obvious goal: that of being at an acceptable level of thinness.
It makes no difference that I stopped dieting when I turned 22, having accepted that food is one of my top priorities in life. Things are made more difficult, and infinitely more complicated, by the fact that fashion is also there, jostling for the top spot.
The two are, in theory, no more compatible than honey and jam – yet here I am, a spoon in each pot. I argue with a male friend that he would never greet his fellow man with “wow, dude, you’ve lost weight”, and he counters that he would be much more likely to say, “wow, dude, who ate all the pies?” It would seem that, for both sexes, it’s all to play for in the arena of weight – or lack thereof.
One of my friends is very thin. She eats healthily, as do all of her family, who, physically, share the same traits: they are all tall, they all have excellent bone structure, and they are all very slim. For her, this has been an advantageous genetic trick: she models in her spare time, and perhaps due to a combination of these two aspects of her life – her weight and her career – people feel free to pass comment on how “frighteningly thin” she sometimes appears.
But we seem to have lost track of some basic truths. Bodies, as Susie Orbach says in her thought-provoking 2009 book of the same name, are merely the vessels through which we live our lives. Our bodies – marathon-runners excepted – are not achievements in themselves; there is no real praise in remarking how good someone looks unless they have put serious effort into achieving said appearance (a week on the cabbage soup diet doesn’t count). Even then, you have to question how important the body is in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps it’s an innate snobbery (borne, certainly, of a life lived through Enid Blyton books, where nothing was as important as being kind to others and knowing that it’s what’s on the inside that counts), but I would much rather someone commented on my work, or on my make-up (which, in itself, is a feat almost unrivalled in skill), or even on my clothing, than my weight. My body is my own and, sorry, but it’s not up for debate.
THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS TO these rules, of course, and the opinions of medical professionals fall into the bracket of excusable criticism. I remember, age 16, sitting in a doctor’s surgery, having my blood pressure taken (I had fainted at school and was feeling increasingly light-headed as the days went by) which resulted in a diagnosis of low blood pressure. Then the doctor – who, much to my chagrin, was not the GP of children’s books and after-school specials, but a gruff man with hard fingers and an even harder stare – reached out his hand and gripped my stomach between thumb and forefinger and advised me to “get rid of that”.
He may have had a point, but there’s only so much cheese you can avoid before life itself becomes a chore, and I would rather exercise my way to health than eliminate entire food groups. Life coaches would agree with me; exercise is a positive move, while dieting is, by its very nature, a negative one, and really, who needs more negatives? The exercising, of course, will come later, when the eating and drinking and cinema-going become relics of a distant, liberated past.
Weight is the last go-to subject for a certain type of young woman when all other avenues of conversation have been exhausted – recent breakups mean no man talk, nobody has seen Desperate Housewives lately, and Big Brother is, sadly, no more.
You see, things have come only so far in the battle for emancipation and equal rights and, while men can laugh and joke about who’s winning the pie-eating contest, women can only smile sweetly, look one another up and down, and say, “wow, you look great”. When the chips are down, we all know what that really means and, honey, she sure ain’t talking about your shoes.
Published in The Irish Times, February 17th, 2010