The Hunger Games

Hunger Games Body Image


  “Destroying things is much easier than making them.”
– Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games


A simple three-letter word; it is small but it is mighty.

“Mrs Smith, I have your results here. I am sorry to have to tell you, but the diagnosis is Multiple Sclerosis”. “Oh, that’s a relief Dr, for a moment I thought you were going to tell me I’m fat”.

This is a true story of a woman diagnosed with an incurable, life-altering disease. And her biggest concern? That she’d gained weight. How is it, when given such a diagnosis, your immediate reaction is to think “fuck, I’m fat”.

When did weight outweigh the possibility of a shortened life expectancy? Discussing this with a friend, rather than be appalled, she empathised. My friend had a chronic eating disorder and recognised a kindred spirit. I say had, however, whilst not now in a chokehold, she still wrestles with her demon every day.  Recounting, that while in the disorder’s grip, the fear of fat was EVERYTHING.

Think it’s fair to say that anyone reading this has been on or is still dieting. And that their mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, best mate or friend of a friend has or is too. Been there, done that, worn the oversized-t-shirt.

Indoctrinated into The Cult of Fat at an early age. Despite the fact, I was an active sporty kid (owned two horses, hockey team, cross-country running, swim team) but when my breasts began to develop, rather than buy me a bra, my gran introduced to Weight Watchers. So normalised, it’s a right of passage; puberty, periods and dieting.

The Cult of Fat.

The Cult of Fat is a bit like Fight Club for women, minus the bare-knuckle boxing. 

The Chambers Dictionary defines a cult as 1. a system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object. 2. a person or thing that is popular or fashionable among a particular group or section of society.

Sound familiar?

However you ended up in The Cult of Fat, we were all oblivious to the pitfalls; but it’s amazing what the subtle suggestion of losing just a few pounds can do.

And so it begins, the mortification of the flesh. Step up to the altar and pray to the scales. Not lost weight or eaten an extra crumb, then offer an apologetic admission to the deity. Chastised, you are then urged to confess your sins to the group. Lost weight, great!

But then comes the gnawing anxiety at the fear of putting the weight back on. And welcome to a loathing of food. Rituals and obsessive behaviour; tics and compulsions. Eating cotton wool. Our relationship with food is so skewed, how can it not be when we associate food with words like sins and points. Cheat days and purging. Lean and low fat. Treats and rewards. What are you? A dog?

The woman who scooped her shit out of the toilet to weigh it. Another, who weighed herself before she ate breakfast. Then weighed the porridge dry, weighed it once she added the water (always water, never milk) and weighed it after she cooked it. She would then weigh herself again before she ate it and then again after. She did this EVERY TIME she ate. I don’t know about you, but I’m morose just writing about it. My friend existed on diet coke, laxatives, diuretics, vomiting and an apple a day.

An apple a day keeps the fat at bay.

The puritans would argue that dieting is so last year. Nowadays, it’s all clean eating, kale crisps and gluten-free. Don’t be fooled, clean eating is a wolf in dieter’s clothing. Clean eating insidiously intertwined like a tapeworm to the normal function of healthy eating. The damaging mantra of a decade, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” still lingers. Kate’s secret? A hefty party lifestyle and forty-a-day. The illusion of health is often just a good angle, fake tan and the body fat of a concentration camp survivor. Lifestyle and fad diets promoted by charlatans and endorsed celebrities.

An internet search on weight loss or diets reveals thousands of sites. Each one, clickbait with a catchy title, Skinny Bitch Club or Lean in 15. Portion plates, you too can eat meals like a toddler. Fist measurements! Pass the red handkerchief and lube. Bovine style – chewing each mouthful thirty-two times.

“The Big Girl’s Guide to Lean.” Define ‘big girl’, please? Is that a woman over six-foot-tall or a body dysmorphic teen who sees a ‘big girl’ every time she looks in the mirror. Anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating are not buzzwords from a bygone era.  Type #thinspo into Instagram, what you will see is both heartbreaking and horrifying. Thanks to The Cult of Fat, eating disorders are alive and well.

The Sum of Your Parts.

For decades, women have been told they have no worth, the reality is we do, it’s just in pounds and pence. We are cash cows, it’s no coincidence that the British diet industry is worth billions. Money men lead us to slaughter, cashing in on the insecurities they sold us in the first place. A vicious cycle – first they sell you the diet; you pay for the products with a metabolism already fucked from the last diet; stop dieting, you gain weight and all starts again. Perpetually tied to the scales, trapped in a Dantesque ring of hell.

The goalposts are forever shifting because there’s always money to be made. Many women have been on a diet ALL their lives. That could be as much as fifty or sixty years of purgatory. I have witnessed vivacious, intelligent, successful women reduced to obsessed, neurotic messes. Whatever made them unique and individual, erased. Terrifying Stepford wives walking dead devouring the sum of their parts.

My apathetic mindset depressed me beyond measure. Here was someone who had forfeited a love of literature for Heat magazine and vapid glossy magazines. Sucked in with the life sucked out of me.

Fixated on celebrity cellulite and soul-destroying body shaming. Embarrassed, I decided to make changes; from that day forward, I never bought another magazine. On social media, I opted not to follow the shit show (I’ve since deleted all my social media). I ditched the scales and went back to basics. Back to what I knew and re-ignited my passion for sport and hill-walking.

Weight loss does not cure negative body image; the scales do not define what is beautiful.

I now abhor diets and I choose not to praise weight loss in others. With an inkling of what it might have taken for them to lose the weight and their continuing internal struggle; I refuse to treat suffering with approval.

Diet and weight loss are ingrained in the female psyche; weight loss is treated as something to celebrate. Before you know it, you’re addicted to the adulation, hungry for the praise. With my friend, people always commented “how thin you are” but when I reflect I can’t ever remember anyone saying how well she looked. Her body was eating itself from the inside out, dying. But hey what did it matter, she was thin.

And let it be known, I’ve never had a problem giving a compliment. But I would rather acknowledge and praise a person for their skills, achievements, and talent. Losing weight is NOT one of them

The Suffragettes would be absolutely baffled; escaping the shackles of true persecution only to chain ourselves to The Cult of Fat. A patriarchal system that systematically and intentionally distorts our self-worth. Pitting women against each other. A world where we view each other as rivals and not allies. What if we were to form an allegiance instead?  That tomorrow we woke up and decide to love our bodies. Can you imagine how powerful we would be?

A friend once argued I wrong to disregard weight-loss as an achievement, because it was her dream to be thin. I reckon she’s not alone. When I think of my younger self, I rage. My idea of the ideal body was anorexia. Thinner stripped her of the confidence to pursue a myriad of dreams. Blinded to opportunity because she couldn’t see past her ‘fat’. The effects were profound. Over time I grew to loathe my body and cursed what made me, me. It has taken decades to right the wrong. 

What a waste. 

But that was always their plan.



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