Ah, the joys of late pregnancy: Making sure your hospital bag is packed, rehearsing the route to the maternity ward, checking that you have enough clothes for the baby, not to mention nappies, wipes, bibs and adequately-installed car seats. Then there's the REALLY important stuff- like knowing exactly which diet and fitness plan you're going to subscribe to the minute your postpartum, oversized butt squeezes its way back through the front door.
I'm lying about the last bit, of course. I have no intention of following any kind of diet plan other than the one that will probably involve eating something microwaved, standing up, in a rare five minutes when the baby lets me put it down, like most new mums. But the internet marketers wouldn't have it that way- they've been clouding my feeds- no pun intended- with their propaganda since around the time I found out whether the baby was a boy or a girl (the latter, in case you're interested). The message? There'll be no excuse for that extra lard once you've bought your offspring into the world, so you'd better start planning ahead, fatty.
What's particularly annoying about this is that it's in no way brought about by my own internet activities- I don't believe in diets (a 13 year eating eating disorder in one's youth will do wonders in convincing you of their futility) and never research them. It's not my search history; it's just that I am pregnant, and therefore inevitably bigger than normal, and that's enough knowledge in the world of algorithms to get the insecurity vultures circling.
The problem is that this isn't just a pregnancy thing. This is a lifetime thing; I literally can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't being bombarded with messages about my body not being good enough. They say you're never more than 6ft away from a rat (the figure is actually more like 164ft). I personally have never been more than 6ft away from some item disseminating mass media suggesting subtly that if I'm not happy, it's probably due to some excess porkiness.
Remember those ‘pinch an inch’ ads for Special K in the early 80s? It's one of my earliest memories. For many years, thanks to that curiously cardboard-like cereal, people everywhere believed they had a weight problem because they could grab hold of more than an inch of belly fat, and that the way to solve this problem was to follow a diet that was comprised of a whole heap of Special K, and then dinner. An inch isn’t all that much, really. You can cut an inch off your hair and not even notice. It’s the middle knuckle of a finger, the front paw of a small cat. If everyone who had ever followed the Special K diet-which is to say, millions- posted items of an inch in size to whichever marketing person came up with the campaign, it wouldn’t even be enough to bury the first floor of their mansion, them included. Which is kind of a shame.
To illustrate the joy of having a dangerously low BMI, the skinny models in the commercials always wore smiles of radiant joy and had ridiculously shiny hair, enforcing the subtle message that the chubbies of the world deserved neither happiness nor decent keratin levels. In later years, the brand tweaked their campaign to one that didn’t mention pinching any body part and used models of a more reasonable size. Too late, Special K. We chubsters have the memories of the elephants you so want us to feel like.
People often say we’re more body-obsessed than ever in this day and age. I don’t think that’s true. I remember clearly the gossip columns of my youth that delighted in reporting how certain soap actresses were threatened with the sack if they put on any more weight. How women spent a lot of time praising each other’s slender physiques or talking about what diet they were about to start. It was way more overt back then because it just didn’t occur to people that there was any harm in the constant appraisal of the human form, and particularly the female one. The body of a woman reading the news was considered just as fair a game as that of a Hollywood actress when it came to commenting on both looks and weight. No one ever really stopped to question it.
What wasn’t as overt then as perhaps it is now is people’s willingness to talk about the dark side of obsessive dieting. It’s pretty normal these days for everyone from famous actresses to front-bench politicians to talk publicly about their struggles with body dysmorphia or full-blown eating disorders. But back in the eighties if you told someone that you had bulimia it would probably play out much like that scene in Zoolander, where the impossibly stupid male model mistakenly thinks that a childhood bulimia sufferer is telepathic. Only no one would use the word ‘bulimia’ back then because they probably hadn’t heard of it because that Princess Di book hadn't yet been published. If you told someone you starved yourself, or threw up after your meals, you’d probably just be told that you needed to get a grip and try a new diet instead. Probably the Special K one.
People's willingness to talk openly about these issues- plus the increasing popularity of body-positive models, actors and activist- is doing so much these days to counter the endemic culture of skinny-worship that my generation was subject to. But it concerns me that our sidebars and sponsored content are now taking over from the clueless relatives and TV magazines that used to feed our anxiety; at least you had limited contact with them, if nothing else. The subject of a person's shape is just.so.boring. Can't we find good things to say about people's bodies instead, or better yet, nothing to say about them, because it's actually none of our business? I read an email this morning-from a list that I actually did subscribe to- that said 'I made a life. What's your superpower?' Surely that's a better use of a body than one that's subjected to calorie counting and burpees every day.
Congratulations on making it this far!
I am going to assume that if you've read all the way to the end of this article then you are actually interested in this subject. It's actually part of this month's Cirque du Story, the free monthly eZine for anyone interested in storytelling, archetypes and that vast, confusing abyss known as the human psyche. This month's theme is 'bodies' and features books, films, comedy and artwork that all tackle the subject from vastly different perspectives. You can also subscribe to it and never miss an issue in your inbox!