It’s a terrible shock when a self-described thin person, passing a mirror on the way to the kitchen to grab an insouciant piece of cake, suddenly realises who the fat person was whom they just walked by. Classic reactions follow: shock, denial, anger, depression, resignation; the hallmark of loss. What happened to my thin self? She’s twenty six years old and full of beans, but now she apparently exists only between the ears of the fatty wearing my pants.
If you weren’t brought up to be fixated on the physical it’s even worse, because you’re so unprepared. After years of being told you need to eat more; after years of merrily eating as many helpings of food and dessert as you like, years of drinking as much as you like, staying up all night, and never exercising, it is the ultimate betrayal by one’s mortal coil. Like being diagnosed with a terminal illness, or being on a plane that suddenly falls out of the sky, you think: This cannot be happening, not to me. I’m thin.
And yet there they are, the blind, sluggish rolls that slyly moved in and took root and raised whole families while you weren’t looking, and one day stepped out of the shadows to change the direction and purpose of your life. Because there is no negotiating with these jerks, the only way to fight them is to sweat them off you, and that means hard work and commitment, in exchange for miniscule gains (meaning losses), which are rarely ever sustainable. It means moderation, which by itself can drive you right to the edge of sanity. And it means, above all, knowing that things will never be the same again; you’re past your physical peak, your metabolism is toast, you’re now part of ‘the previous generation’.
It’s all very well for the world to be wary of taking thinness to ridiculous extremes, and banning size zero models and celebrating ‘real’ women with ‘real curves’ in advertisements for ‘real beauty’ and the great wonderful variety of life, and paying attention to the eating disorders that plague people who don’t think they can ever be thin enough. But let’s face it, that only rules out the ridiculous extremes.
Today, everyone is shaping up to approximate their favourite lean role models from Kate Moss to John Abraham. Even the fat women of Mauritania, force-fed from childhood to balloon into 100kg sirens for the benefit of their large-hearted men who value girth as a measure of prosperity and health, are lacing up their sneakers and huffing and puffing their way around the parks and stadia. In a bid to salvage national health, the Mauritanian government is fighting social tradition that sings love songs to fat women, by commissioning catchy songs celebrating slender women, who are currently considered sadly deficient. Reading testimonies about the so-called ‘gavage’, or force-feeding, by Mauritanian women like Zeinabou Mint Bilkhere, Ramla Mint Ahmed, and Neya Mint Ally, who say ‘no more!’ brings up important questions. For instance, why are they all called Mint? (Answer: it means ‘daughter of’. One of the nice side effects of researching fatness is the great amount of trivia one accumulates.)
As I exercise diligently every morning, therefore, in the certain knowledge that bits of my body will react to this with malevolent mwahahaha laughter, I keep my eye on the fact that while I’m not making any male Mauritanian hearts sing with joy just yet, I’m also still looking a lot like the person I passed in the mirror the other day. And the world isn’t big enough for the both of us.