I have always admired Miriam Margolyes as an actor, for her politics and for being outspoken. Now she’s taking on the issue of obesity. A third of people in the UK are officially obese. That’s a lot of us. But we don’t have a voice. We don’t speak up. In silence, we suffer ridicule, abuse and the distain of a society where fat is seen as failure.
Miriam, 78 years old and 4ft 11 weights 14 stone 10 lbs. She tells us that, on the whole, she’s happy with herself and her life but has always been disgusted by her body. She loathes it. She has been on endless diets and worries about her weight all the time. She calls it “a miserable fate”. I completely agree with her.
This self-loathing is something that I understand and share. For as long as I can remember I have hated my body.
As Miriam sets out to discover more about why as a nation we are getting fatter, she stays at a military-inspired health farm where the “campers” diet is strictly monitored, the exercise routine (over 5 hours per day) is challenging and daily therapy is compulsory.
It’s boot camp.
And it’s tough.
But for many, it’s providing them with a different view of themselves and of their future.
Take Georgia. She has stayed at the health farm for a year and works in the kitchen part-time to afford the fees. Georgia was 21 stone when she arrived and has now lost 7 stone. She was (and potentially still is) a binge eater. She would regularly, at 2am, go to a McDonalds Drive-thru and eat 8 burgers and chips in her car, alone, in the dark. Georgia now sees binging as a form of self-harm and that she uses food to avoid how she feels.
This is something I completely relate to. I have spent a lifetime building a cushion of fat to keep the harsh realities of the world at bay.
Why? Why do I feel that I can’t cope without food?
Like Georgia, when I binge, I can forget myself. Forget everything that hurts me or that I’m afraid of. And I do it consciously. I’m not in some carb-trance. I’m fully aware that every time I do it, I’m mortgaging my tomorrows for today. For that moment. For blessed forgetfulness.
As I watch, I wonder how many of us are conscious of this trade-off. How many of us know we are using food to self-harm? How many realise just how brief the respite is we achieve before it is replaced by all too familiar self-loathing?
What sort of a percentage do you think we are looking at? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.
Georgia’s mother described, how with every extra mouthful Georgia crammed in, she was abusing her body, taking, in effect, a suicide tablet. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, and I want to stop.
Miriam talks to Dr. Eric, a behavioural phycologist, carrying out research in to how being obese affects our mental health. For those of us that are fat, we are 45% more likely to be depressed.
Dr. Eric asserts that the stereotypical way society views us (lazy/greedy/lacking in self-discipline) means that over time, these negative judgements seep into our consciousness and we start to believe that we are indeed worthless, useless, a failure. And that turning in on ourselves impacts significantly on our wellbeing.
If from a relatively young age, you feel excluded, rejected, then it’s not really a surprise that you start to believe all the bad stuff that people think (and say) about you.
Again, this resonates with me. I feel I am beginning to get a fuller picture of the vicious cycle of obesity. This is how it’s starting to formulate in my mind.
Emotional Trauma >
Eating to Forget >
Weight Gain >
Facing Society Bias >
I wonder whether understanding this cycle will help me in the process of breaking it.
Whether being conscious of it will make a difference.
Or whether I can be aware of it, just as I am aware of the link between my binge eating and self-harm, yet still be trapped in it.
I feel like I will need more than simple awareness to change.
After all this soul searching, it was a joy to witness a group of overweight women, led by a lovely body-confidence activist, Treena, at their dance class. Here, it wasn’t about learning the moves and shedding the pounds, it was about changing the world’s attitudes, one big girl at a time. Unapologetic about their size, they strutted, they shimmied, each and every one of them super-sexy. Even Miriam joined in and twerked!
Miriam’s final refection at the close of episode 1 was about how cruel society can be to the overweight. How so often we are objects of ridicule and scorn.
“If you are mean about fat people” she says, “then I hate you.” Good on her.
I would love love love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in a comment at the bottom of this post.