How To Lose Weight And Alienate People
by Ollie Quain
So… issues with our body image. Who is to blame, eh? Hmmm. Well, in the nineties it was the fault of fashion designers, wasn’t it? And models. Especially, Ms. Moss. Waif chic only worked if you had collarbones that could also double up as a vegetable guillotine. In the noughties, it was the fault of celebrities who were styled by Rachel Zoe – The Zoebots. Specifically, Nicole Richie. But the scandal-hungry tabloids were also to blame. They weren’t going to be satisfied until her lollipop head actually snapped off her Pucci-clad body. And now it is the fault of social media and a self-reflexive generation who like to document their lives with daily photographic posts of their decreasing weight and increasing thigh gap. (Because if it’s not on Instagram, it’s not actually happening, yeah?)
Obviously, I am being flippant. We ALL know that – despite what we are fed by the press – it is rarely some zeitgeist moment in our pop culture or malnourished starlet that flicks the switch and lights up that Vegas-style neon lettering in our heads which says, I NEED TO LOSE HALF A STONE! That paranoia has usually been founded way before, via a throwaway comment made in your childhood. This could be a parent, other relative or a friend – or as is the case with five of my mates who I asked (two girls, two gay men, one straight man) – it came from, I quote, “some boy at school”. In each case, a random remark about the size of their thighs/arse/tummy(x2) and “shot putter calves” made them flinch. Over two decades later they all still have some kind of issue attached to that “problem” area. Okay, so it’s not crippling their life to the point of not being able to leave the house, but it’s always there, that vague sense of self loathing… buzzing around annoyingly at the back of their mind like a wasp at a picnic, impossible to swat and kill.
A recent survey in a magazine announced that 97% of women were dissatisfied with their bodies in some way. I was stunned. Purely because I am yet to meet any member of The Three Percent Club who are apparently perfectly chuffed with what they have and can see no room for improvement. I have a buddy who is a size six (verging on four) and has been modelling for seventeen years, but despite that kind of commercial longevity in the industry, she still gets up every morning and shoots into the bathroom – like a rat up a drainpipe – to weigh herself.
In my novel, How To Lose Weight and Alienate People, I wanted to explore the concept of what it is like to carry the mental weight of having issues with your body image. The over-thinking, the calculations, the guilt, the fear of grazing, the comparisons with other women (both famous and in our daily circle) – which have become a normal part of our routine without ever tipping over into a medical condition. Moreover, I wanted to look at the assumptions we make about someone because of their size. The central character, Vivian, is thin, so she’s in control of her life, right? Wrong. Vivian has spent most of her life dodging her past and her feelings… as well as carbohydrates. The only thing she has mastered is the art of consumption, but in doing so she has become a slave to the scales.
I’ve been asked if the story is autobiographical. It’s not, but there is definitely a correlation between myself and Vivian. I am that person who thinks that if they have only exercised three times during the week they need to seriously up their game. I am the same one who goes “Green and Lean” in the build-up to a big night out and will avoid other social situations to do this. I also drink hot water, ginger and lemon obsessively. And I detox regularly in a bath full of Epson Salts as suggested by Gywnnie on Goop. Oh, and yes, I chomp on handfuls of dry calorific granola-style cereal straight from the box when I’m a bit down… even though gluten makes my skin itch and gives me IBS.
But here’s the thing. Do I have a burning desire to find The Holy Grail (containing full sugar Coca Cola) of weight management and be part of that elite collection of women who aren’t bothered about how much fat is in a bag of trail mix or who tell the waiter “I’m too full for a dessert” (because they have actually eaten a proper main course representing all major food groups – not simply a protein-only starter on a bed of rocket)? Actually, no. Because it must be quite lonely out there. At least we’ve all got each other.
Ollie Quain lives in London. She has worked for Ministry of Sound, The O2, a load of fashion mags and done a bit of telly. How To Lose Weight And Alienate People is her first novel… the second, she is writing at the moment.