Imagine you’re an alien. You’ve been sent on an assignment to Earth, and your mission is to live here for a bit and observe. You’ve got to fit in, and you don’t want to scare anyone by showing up as an alien, so you’re going to take the form of a human female. You’ve done your research and so you know what the average size of a human female is in the part of the planet you’re going to live in, which just happens to be the UK. Of course, it could be anywhere in the Western world but for the sake of argument, Mrs Alien finds herself in the middle of an average UK town.
You know that humans have to keep refuelling constantly or else they die. Tedious as this sounds, and pretty backwards, you go with the flow and decide if you’re gonna do this thing, you have to do it properly. The first thing you do when you get here, once you’ve figured out the whole currency thing which is also a few millennia out of date, is head to a supermarket, which you’ve worked out in advance is the best place to get your fuel.
Oh my God. Where do you start? There’s stuff everywhere, so many different things to eat, and you’re not actually sure what’s edible or not. You spot someone eating out of a bag of crisps, and decide that will do, as it’s clearly food. So off you go, buy yourself a bag of crisps and go away to do some people watching.
As you look around, you notice that there are people of all shapes and sizes here. The sheer diversity of humans amazes you, they all look completely different to you. You’re transfixed by the different shades of hair, different builds, heights and features. Some people are round and soft, and seem to bounce as they walk. Some look muscular and hard-bodied, and others are delicate or petite, or slim. Some people are in wheelchairs. Lots of the women look a bit like you. You don’t feel weird, you feel as if anything goes on Earth.
You find a coffee shop, order a water (you know it’s essential for humans) and tune in to what people are saying.
“I really fancy a muffin but I can’t, they are so naughty” says one teenage girl to her friend. “Oh go on, I’m gonna have one. You can get back on the diet after the weekend.”
This sounds a bit odd to you. You have no idea what a diet is. You decide to listen a bit more.
“I lost three pounds last week but I think I’m going to put some of it back on again after everything I’ve eaten in the last few days. I’ve been such a greedy fat cow,” says girl number one, as she picks a chunk off of the muffin she ordered, and pops it into her mouth.
“You daft cow, there’s nothing of you. You’re not fat. I’m fat. I couldn’t get into a size 12 in New Look last week.” The girl who didn’t order a muffin after all is staring at the cake as if she wants to swipe it out of her friend’s hand more than anything in the world.
You’re a bit confused now. It seems like these women are talking about restricting the amount of food they eat but you don’t really understand why they would do this. Surely if they need fuel, they refuel? Nobody told you about this. You’re going to have to do some investigating.
So you decide that watching TV is the way to go. The people on TV are all different too, although they all seem to be small. You saw a lot more large people when you were out! There are a lot of interruptions to the TV programmes you’re watching, which show people eating. You make a note of the products; something called KFC, Galaxy chocolate, Pringles. There are some strange products too – something called Special K that seems to make women very happy, and crisps that ‘love you back’. Again, you see images of women stepping on some sort of measuring device. This is clearly what women do, they seem to have to rate themselves according to what they weigh.
You’re not sure if you fit in anymore, because all of the women you’ve seen on TV seem to be so small compared to you. You’re a UK size 16. The girls in the coffee shop seemed unhappy because they were a size 12. It doesn’t make any sense that people want to restrict their fuel and make themselves smaller, but if that’s what humans do, you have to do it. You’re here to observe.
You head back to the shops to get some food. There are shelves full of magazines, most of them have small women on the front. A lot of them talk about ‘diets’ so you decide you’ll buy some of them and find out what a diet is, and why humans seem to want to be small.
The food shopping is still confusing. You notice there’s some produce – fruit and vegetables – but you ignore it, thinking nobody eats this stuff. You notice some ‘healthy’ foods in boxes – you know ‘healthy’ must be good so you buy some Weight Watchers ready meals, some fat free yoghurts, and some of those crisps you saw on the TV that love you back. You see Pringles and chocolate too and decide to try those as people seemed to be enjoying them on the TV.
You’re getting a bit hungry now. You’ve got no idea how much to eat, so you decide just to eat enough to stop that rumbling noise in your stomach. This seems to work, and you read the magazines. Being a very clever alien, you can absorb a magazine in one go.
So now you’re really confused. The information in the magazines all contradicts itself. Your brain is bombarded with ‘eat less’ or ‘weigh less’, as well as images of very thin women, and pictures of food called ‘recipes’ and other pictures of foods like the ones you saw on TV. ‘Chocolate’ seems to make people happy. There are also images of not so thin women and sometimes they are called ‘curvy’ – other times ‘fat’. Some women were big and now they’re small, and say that they are happier now, others appear fat after being smaller before, saying they are happy with their ‘curvy’ bodies. There’s this thing called ‘obesity’ which seems to apply more to females than it does males. You don’t understand.You’re really confused about what to eat and whether you fit in.
The food you ate didn’t seem to last long. It made you feel kinda nice, you had a burst of energy, but afterwards you felt a bit flat and now you’re feeling hungry again. This was the first thing you were supposed to learn about human behaviour, the basics of how they re-fuel to stay alive. The information you read before you left just said it was called eating and you had to do it when your energy ran out, there was nothing about how complicated it was.
Now you wish you hadn’t agreed to this mission. You don’t know what to eat, or how much, all you know is that you shouldn’t eat too much because if you do you’ll be big and you won’t fit in. The healthy food looks just like the other food but for some reason the unhealthy food is cheaper. You thought you’d fit in at an average size but you really don’t know now because you’re bigger than almost everyone in the magazines and on TV. What’s more, you’ve found out that every women seems to judge her value by her body mass, as does everybody else, and these ‘diets’ that are supposed to make people smaller don’t seem to work because the people in the magazines go on them, then get big again and say they are happier bigger.
“Sod this” you say, “I’m going home.”