Dieting. We’ve all done it at some stage. Atkins, GI, Baby Food, Weight Watchers… diet labels are now on a par with designers. ‘Which one are you doing?’ is as common as ‘Who are you wearing?’
I personally have been through quite a few trends: no bread, no carbs, eat nothing after 6pm, and, the one I’m on at the moment, nothing bad beginning with ‘C’ – chocolate, crisps, chips, cake, cookies, curry, Chinese food. Yes it may sound daft, but I like to think it’s working a bit. The fact that I’m dieting isn’t much of a concern – I’ll be the first to admit that if left to my own devices for too long, the Savoury Snacks section at Sainsbury’s suddenly becomes worryingly depleted, and the bin in my kitchen slowly fills up with empty biscuit packets and McDonalds wrappers. I’m not what you might call a self-restrained person, so the ‘all or nothing’ approach tends to become a necessity. No, dieting by itself is not the issue here; it’s more the fact that I’ve only started dieting since I started work about 5 months ago. All of the phases I’ve been through that I listed earlier: that’s all happened since June. And what’s changed so much since then? I’ve started working with women.
Now, I must explain that I have not spent my previous years working in all-male environments and never encountered another boob-toting ovary-owning being. Far from it. It’s just that, truth be told, I’ve always gravitated more towards guys: most of my closest friends are guys, I’ve worked in male-dominated environments, and I generally feel more relaxed when with the opposite sex (read into this what you will). Even now, my office has more men than women, but this is the first time that I’ve been in a girl-dominated team, and have had more than five female colleagues.
So where does dieting come into all of this? Let me explain. Firstly, the average height of the women in my office is about 5’3”. This is the first time I have ever felt tall. Secondly, this army of little ladies come with equally little waists, thighs, boobs, arms… you name it. I’m surrounded by pocket-sized skinny minnies. Thirdly, they all go to the gym. A lot. Sometimes twice a day. Having gone through most of my life feeling relatively secure about my size and shape, and probably being one of the slimmest in my group of friends, I now feel like a cross between Mr Blobby and Winnie the Pooh: fat, spotty, and constantly craving something sugary. Enter Diet, stage left.
The truth of the matter is this: we don’t go to great lengths to look good for the men, we do it for the women. We do it for the inevitable comparisons, to stave off whispered bitchy comments (‘have you seen what she’s wearing? She must have needed lubricant to get into that skirt’), to feel equal, if not a bit superior, to our fellow gals. A man doesn’t care what you look like naked – he’s seeing you NAKED, and is therefore about to get LAID!! He couldn’t give a hoot about love handles or slightly wobbly arms, or the fact that your arse looks like you’ve just been sitting on gravel. When I’m with my boyfriend, I can feel like the sexiest thing on two legs. But get me clothed and into work, and it’s a completely different kettle of steamed fat-free fish. It’s our sisters-in-arms, our fellow females that will notice if you’ve gained or lost three pounds, if your number of chins has doubled, or if you no longer wear that LBD you used to love so much because you’ve discovered you love crumpets more.
Now, I know that am not fat. Size 10 is not fat. Weighing just over 60 kilos is not fat. So isn’t it amazing how spending 10 hours a day with women who are slimmer and shorter than myself can totally fuck up my own perception of ME? Since June, not only have I been on a series of slightly unhinged diets, all of which have terminated spectacularly with a wonderful weekend of eating myself into a sugar coma. Oh no, that’s just the beginning. I now spend over £100 each month on a gym membership: I’ll go three times a week if I’m lucky. I wear an awful lot of ‘slimming’ black, complete with control pants and endless stomach clenching. And then there was that darkest of dark days, where I found myself in Waterstone’s buying ‘6 Weeks to OMG’. This ‘revolutionary’ diet book can only be described as complete and utter crap. Rule Number 1: ‘Breakfast is bad for you – don’t eat it’. I’M HYPOGLYCEMIC YOU MORON, I’LL COLLAPSE ON THE TUBE IF I DON’T EAT BREAKFAST!! Rule Number 2: ‘Drink at least 2 cups of black coffee per day’. I HATE COFFEE YOU IDIOT, AND HOW AM I MEANT TO BE MORE ATTRACTIVE IF I’M WAFTING COFFEE BREATH OVER EVERYONE?! Rule Number 3: ‘Spend 15 minutes in a cold bath each day, this will make your body burn more fat’. IT’S WINTER YOU FOOL, THE LAST THING I WANT TO DO IS MAKE MY COLD FEET EVEN COLDER AND FOR MY BODY TO MATCH THEIR TEMPERATURE!! My advice: do NOT buy this book. Anyway, I digress.
My point is that my perception of what I look like has been vastly altered due to who I’m in close proximity with on a regular basis. I have no doubt that if I was hanging out with Dawn French and Teresa May on a regular basis, I’d be mainlining cupcakes and pouring liquid cheese down my throat like there was no tomorrow. If it were the other end of the scale, and I was rubbing shoulders with Kate Moss and Alexa Chung, I’d PROBABLY revert to former behaviour and join them in the post-dinner fingers-down-throat session in the loos at The Ivy. For now, I’m somewhere in between.
I know that I am not the only woman in this situation. As a member of the fairer sex, you are more inclined to feel a slight competitiveness when it comes to looking good. No one wants to be the ‘office fatty’ or the girl described as having ‘a lovely smile’ because no one wants to comment on your body. We cannot help but compare ourselves to others. But maybe, just maybe, there is a positive result of this. I can only speak from my own experience, but since purging my life of (nearly) all things unhealthy and starting to exercise regularly, there has been a significant change. I feel like I have more energy, my skin is slowly looking less like it belongs to someone with One Direction posters all over their bedroom, and I’m beginning to wear slightly more body-confident outfits. I do still feel like a buffalo among gazelles, but perhaps now I’m a slightly slimmer buffalo, with good accessories and a shiny coat.