I know that Jane Austen was a great one for talking about universality. I think it’s a universal truth that we all had some sort of trauma in our childhoods, some vastly bigger than others. My story comes from the lighter end of the Richter scale but still it’s something that influences my thoughts and decisions daily. The idea we’re all victims is clearly a cliché but it’s a cliché because, in most parts, it’s fucking true.
I was a fat child. Many (petit bourgeois and judgemental – a tautology!) people will say that the idea of a difference in metabolism between person to person is a myth. People are fat simply because they eat too much of the wrong thing and don’t exercise. Wrong, I was never a greedy child but true, I’ve never been one for exercise (even though I’ve exercised throughout my adult life – at least 30 minutes of pretty stiff exercise bike at day, usually 35-40 km/h). I also love walking long distances but it’s not the regular punishment of my exercise.
Anyway, I’m not here to justify myself to you as an adult. I was a fat child. I was relentlessly bullied as such. One day, in Year Two (age 6-7 or so) I went into the toilet and stood at a urinal while my neighbour asked me why ‘are you so fat’? How do you answer a question like that? At the time I used to hurl abuse or cower away. The school system was rigged against people like me. We got taunted, we lashed out and we were to blame for our actions, as if our fury was also an excess, the very excess that rendered us fat and targetable, like dodos to the hunters fresh off the ship, with extinction in their eyes. It was always our gauche, unwanted big bodies squirming at the Headmaster’s office door. Often our abusers came from better echelons of a provincial society, thus they were always on the winning side (as they probably still are).
I was persecuted so much when I was at school, I’ve blocked a lot of it out. But there are things that stay with you and I’ll tell you the one event that was the trigger of the whole landslide of my anorexia (yes, clinically diagnosed anorexia). I had a good friend in first school and in the early years of secondary school (we’ve since fallen out of touch). We had a good day out (during the holidays) but he was friends with someone and a family that I never did (and still don’t – will never) like. We called by this person’s house, they lived on a posh street away from the village, so as we walked down the hill to the village, we were laughing and joking. All of a sudden this person got us all to stop and then he came up to me and prodded my chest (I was pre-pubescent but already had what we now term ‘moobs’). He roundly made fun of these (prodding them and treating them as if they were breasts) and I went into a sort of survival mechanism, we saw the day out and I went home, but not the same person. Bullies are in the same camp as war criminals to me, and to my great chagrin, there were times when I was being bullied that I could divert attention away from myself onto someone else – the horror of being turned by necessity into the very thing you despise. This is monstrous and I feel contrition for it all the time.
Anyway, that day after having my tits poked I woke up determined to count calories and burn all those calories off. I weighed myself a dozen times a day. If I ate something then I needed to run up and down the stairs of our home at least twenty times (this was at age 12-13). More times if I ate anything particularly calorific. It wasn’t quite as sudden as this, I built up to it and within a year or so I was in hospital being psychiatrically assessed as an anorexic. I was weighed and assessed and diagnosed as such. When my family go through photos of our childhood there’s always a brisk silence that follows any of these photographs. There’s a need to draw a decent veil, but I don’t feel that way.
I’m not quite sure what drew me back from the brink – the ages of 14-15 were pretty good but then I started to expand again (that curse of happiness that makes you lower your guard). So at late 15 and early 16 I began to restrict my food again (no lunch because the parents can’t monitor that because you’re at school) and I took up running. I was a thrill when people told me I’d lost weight or I looked thin. This state lasted until university when I discovered booze. My regime at university, even though it included alcohol, was extremely disciplined. I’d run every day but also pretty much everyday climb a tall hill at my university called ‘Dumyat’. I ate incredibly well but slowly over the years the weight crept back. For years I kept it in rough check by wearing clothes that were too tight for me (I still do this – I don’t associate going out without feeling like I’m a trussed chicken – it’s like a form of Catholic ‘humiliation of the flesh’). In fact I’ve never worn clothes I’ve felt comfortable in unless they were for exercise. But then (and we won’t go into why) I went onto antidepressants and my weight rose to a stage I couldn’t tolerate, I still can’t).
So I eat a modest breakfast, egg and avocado, often miss lunch and then eat a decent meal in the evening (never later than 6pm). I still drink because I believe there’s no point to life in denying everything. I exercise daily and still I’m what I classify as overweight (of course bodily dysmorphia is another of the evil horsemen of anorexia) but I am overweight and it’s a constant misery. I’m all for Descartes, for the divorce between the psyche and the body – if my mind could just exist independent of my grossly inadequate carcass, I’d be a happy man. But I’m stuck in this frame, whether I like it or not. But I just wanted to write this to say that behind every body there is a long story and it’s appalling the way we treat each other.