I said it in the last post but I’ll say it again for effect. Back in the eighties, when I was a teenager, the fat-phobia we accept as being normal now just didn’t exist. There were diet magazines, only one I can think of, but although you’d also see the occasional diet in a woman’s magazine, you didn’t often get them in newspapers. There were diet books (The F-Plan, Scarsdale, that really silly one with grapefruit and black coffee) but nowhere near as many as you see when you walk into Waterstone’s these days. And of course there was no Internet and only four TV channels.
I sound all nostalgic don’t I? Before I start talking about Spangles and children’s TV, I’ll try and remember back to when I was in my teens and how I actually absorbed the idea of being slim/dieting being the way to go. I was a voracious reader, and despite the fact my mum told me all the time to keep out of her magazine rack, I still went straight for it as soon as her back was turned and I did read her Woman, Woman’s Own and Slimming Magazines. I used to leave Women’s Weekly alone though – too many knitting patterns for my liking. I read the other women’s mags, usually heading straight for the problem pages where they sometimes mentioned s-e-x. The diet magazine fascinated me even as a girl. It was full of pictures of Farrah Fawcett and Jackie Onassis, with adverts for things like Slimcea and Nimble. I’m going to have to find one of those so that anyone who has never seen the pure cheesiness of the ads can see it.
Nimble ad from the 70s…
That ad was from the 70s but you get the picture.
Dieting seemed impossibly grown up, something women did. The celebrities were so glamorous, and I suppose I wanted to be part of this club, when I was younger. The only hurdle was that clearly I wasn’t fat, and so I got round this by copying a diet from Slimming Magazine and giving it to a shy, overweight girl at school that nobody talked to. I can’t remember her name but I thought I was doing her a favour! I cringe at the memory now, but I was only 14 at the time and trying to help her. Of course she didn’t follow the diet or lose weight. She was probably sick to death of people putting her on diets already. She was very nice about it, mind you.
I wasn’t overly confident as a teenager, I always felt a bit out of the loop. I adored fashion and spent hours and hours copying pictures from Jackie, then Just 17 and Mum’s Littlewoods catalogues, drawing and customising the dreadful eighties fashions and adding my own touches. I knew week to week what was in fashion and desperately wanted to be a fashion designer. This didn’t go hand-in-hand with my school reputation – the girl in a home-made skirt and clumpy ‘sensible’ shoes who sat in the corner, afraid to be noticed. I so wanted to tell all the other girls that I KNEW I looked like I didn’t care, but I really, really wanted to be like them, with their trendy perms and mullets, long hobble pencil skirts and patent shoes. I would have sold my granny for a ‘Choose Life’ T-shirt in 1985 – and I really loved my granny.
I always wanted to fit in, be liked, be like the others. I managed it as I got older, started working on a Saturday and buying clothes for myself. Even so, I was still shy. As I grew up, left school and started work at 16, I blossomed a bit in confidence but I was still the archetypal people-pleaser. If my so-called friend stood me up outside the pictures when we were supposed to be seeing ‘The Lost Boys’ I didn’t make a fuss in case she didn’t like me anymore. I could slap myself now, but at 16 I just accepted it. I even went out with her boyfriend’s ugly mate more than once, so that we could ‘be a foursome’. I had to snog more boys I didn’t fancy than I care to admit due to that girl. *shudder*
So there I was, a people-pleaser with a bit of an inferiority complex, who’d grown up fascinated with her mum’s diet books and magazines and just about to start her diet career. If I could go back to September 1987, grab that confused girl by the shoulders and shake her REALLY hard I’d freaking well do it. But I wanted to be slimmer. I had fat legs. And I wanted to impress Mum and Dad because after ballsing up and only getting five O’ levels when I’d been expected to get 8, I felt like a bit of a disappointment, really. Dieting – how hard could it be? EVERYONE did it, didn’t they?
It was a disaster waiting to happen. I wanted to look like Carol Decker or Belinda Carlisle…Belinda Carlisle had just lost a shed-load of weight and Carol Decker was tiny. I daydreamed that if I could get down to a size eight one day, and turn up at my first boyfriend’s front door all red hair and stonewashed denim (channeling my inner Tiffany?) he’d want me back there and then. I didn’t and he didn’t. I did turn up once, all enormous size 14 of me and sat in his bedroom while he leered over Kylie Minogue on TV, though. I couldn’t watch ‘I should be so lucky’ for MONTHS without scowling at poor, innocent Kylie.
I tried to go Belinda Carlisle red once too. I ended up with a head of what someone unkindly described as ‘dog-shit ginger’. More Basil Brush orange than glamorous redhead.
The funny thing was, I still didn’t feel THAT much pressure, but I was only around ten and a half stone I think. I tried Rosemary Conley’s Hip and Thigh diet (damn that arse of mine) when I started working in an insurance office, which was easy enough as the canteen had loads of salads and veggies. I was bored out of my tiny mind though and used to quite often raid the snack shop to alleviate the urge to stab the chain-smoker who sat in front of me with a sharpened pencil. One day I was so bored I ate a whole pack of Harvest Chewy bars in one go and made myself feel so sick I had to go home early. I was on the diet-binge cycle and spent more of it on ‘binge’ than I did ‘diet’.
In 1988 I sent off for some ‘Cal Ban 3000’ pills which apparently soaked up excess fat and calories so that I could eat anything I wanted and still lose weight. There was a money back guarantee; I thought this meant they must work. I sent them my hard-earned £17 and took the pills for two weeks. I ate what I wanted. I didn’t lose weight. To their credit, they did at least issue me with a refund after I sent them a snotty letter…
It was when I was 17, in 1989, just before my 18th birthday, that the real obsession probably kicked in. I’d met a boy (of course) and he’d taken me out for a walk in the local park on our first ‘date’. I was quite shy and inexperienced, so when he started lunging at me and shoving his hands up my top in full view of the dog walkers who were frequently walking by, I got a bit annoyed with him, moved his hand and said, crossly, “There’s people watching!”
He was unimpressed with this. He dropped me home, promised to call me and didn’t. He told his mate, who told a friend of mine, who told ME that he’d said he didn’t really fancy me because I was too fat. And that he’d only gone out with me because I had big boobs.
That did it…