The other day my attention was drawn to an interview in Cosmopolitan magazine with Rebel Wilson, where she said “I remember I had to go shopping with my mom as a teenager, and it was mentally disturbing.” The person who had shared the article was questioning if that was an appropriate way of describing it.
For me, the answer is definitely yes. As someone who has been larger than average since my early teens, and also who isn’t the shape that high street brands seem to cater for, shopping has always been difficult. When all the girls in my year spent Monday morning discussing shopping trips to the city centre, I used to listen with envy. I have never had a ‘fashionable’ body, apart from the blissful few months in 2007 when waist belts were everywhere. And it has taken until being nearly 36 to be comfortable with my body for the majority of the time.
“As a teenager, shopping when you’re not the ‘norm’ is upsetting and can be deeply unhealthy.”
That confidence can be destroyed by a shopping trip though. I’ll take a couple of bits that claim to be my size into a changing room and attempt to slip into them, only to find that the arms are too tight, the thighs of the allegedly baggy jeans cling like plastic wrap, and that the only way that the top is a size 16 is if Barbie is too. And instead of being completely rational and realising that the shops are making things badly, my brain will tell me it’s that I’m fat, and disgusting, and that I can’t even fit in to a 16 anymore (there is NOTHING wrong with being a 16 – this is my irrational brain talking). I already have an iffy relationship with food and weight, and this just exacerbates it. For the next few days I will be less responsible with my eating and my overall mental health will suffer, until the sensible part of my brain reasserts itself.
I’ve never been to Australia *side eyes lottery tickets*, but I imagine the high street shopping that Rebel and I do is the same as pretty much everywhere. And particularly as a teenager, shopping when you’re not the ‘norm’ is upsetting and can be deeply unhealthy. When all your friends are skipping in and out of Miss Selfridge and Primark, and you can only get jeans in Evans, it’s hard, and you can’t help but feel judged.
It’s this judgement that causes a lot of the problems. If there was no assumption tied to people’s size, I for one would find it a lot easier. But generally speaking, we make judgements and assumptions about a person based on the way they look. Someone overweight must eat unhealthily and never do any exercise; they’re lazy. Someone who’s very slim must be starving themselves, and they’re blatantly ill. Which simply isn’t always the case.
A couple of years ago, I went for a day out on my birthday. We went to a designer outlet, and had a lovely time spoiling ourselves in the stores. At lunch time we went to an American style diner, where they do the most amazing burgers ever, and milkshakes that I have improper thoughts about. We were seated at a table next to a young couple, who eyed us both up and down as we got ourselves comfortable and looked over the menus. They were making no attempt to hide the fact that they were talking about us, but I ignored it. When our meals came, they again looked over, and when they saw what we had they stared open mouthed and wide eyed for a few seconds before hiding behind their menus and giggling.
I was livid. Yes, we are both overweight. Yes, we had burgers with fries, onion rings, and the to-die-for milkshakes (mine was Oreo, since you ask). Yes, we both ate the full thing. And yes, we bloody enjoyed it. So what? And what the hell business was it of theirs? It was my birthday, I had recently come out of a deep depression, and I was celebrating. And even if none of those things applied, and I just wanted it, why shouldn’t I eat it? Fat people can’t have nice food, apparently.
“Whilst I would encourage everyone to be healthy, that doesn’t just mean physically.”
I’ve heard similar stories from friends. One was purposely losing weight, had already gone from a size 22 to a size 14 (which is an incredible achievement), and she was rightly very proud of herself. She was eating a salad and overheard some girls saying that it was too late for her to start eating salads now.
Another friend has an eating disorder, and every meal is a triumph. Yet a woman felt the need to comment to her partner that my friend would do better to get some meat on her bones than starve herself to look fashionable.
Yet another friend is naturally slim. She can eat anything, whenever, and never puts any weight on. People constantly tell her how lucky she is, despite the fact that she struggles to find jeans that’ll stay up and has to make new holes in every belt she buys.
Whilst I would encourage everyone to be healthy, that doesn’t just mean physically. My mental health has to be my first priority at all times, and I often don’t have the brain capacity to think about the calorie intake and saturated fats. Sometimes my diet is 90% biscuits. When I’m doing well, I eat healthy foods.
As is so often the case, the fault lies with the media, and manufacturers, rather than the individual. We have been taught that a person’s value can be assumed from the size of their jeans, and that we have the right to comment on that. Instead, we need to build each other up. Remind each other that we are kind and funny, that we have beautiful eyes and look fantastic in green. That our bodies are incredible, and that the size of our clothes is just a number.
Rebel is launching her own clothing line, REBEL WILSON X ANGELS with Dia&Co *buys another lottery ticket*, so maybe now, hopefully, I can channel her confidence too.