I was lying awake thinking about all this last night and I couldn’t sleep. All the lovely things that you’ve said so far about the blog posts are spurring me on. So far though it’s all been pretty upbeat and I think it sounds a bit like an amusing diary. That’s good, the last thing I want is to turn my blog into one of those godawful ‘Misery Memoirs’. But there’s more to my story than bad haircuts and eighties music.
So, why was I scoffing Hobnobs one day and dieting the next? You couldn’t really see it on my body, probably because I was still very young, very active, and living with my parents so there was a limit to how much I could binge without it being bleeding obvious. I got quite good at it though, probably because I was responsible for tidying my own room. I knew where I stashed all the wrappers and I made sure I got rid of them regularly. I hovered between 10 stone and 11 stone, mostly nearer to 11. So from 1987 to 1993 I just yo-yoed really.
I’m sure Mum must have guessed that I was eating junk in secret. Mum and I shouted at each other a lot when I was in my teens and early twenties. I remember a lot of “What are you wearing?” and “You look a mess” type slanging matches. It was a two-way thing, I was obnoxious, hormonal, stroppy little cow at times and Mum was dealing with working full time, commuting to London, and trying to keep tabs on three very different kids. Dad had his own problems – his job was slowly being phased out by the government and money was tight too. To be fair, I think they’d agree that they were really strict with me, too, so I was always trying to push the limits and assert a bit of independence. This usually backfired and I’d end up slamming doors and yelling. Or going out. Or eating.
I’ve tried to go back into my head at that age and remember how I felt. Honestly? My whole self-image was tied up in how I LOOKED, because I didn’t think I had anything much going for me, and I’d just realised that looks-wise I was OK after all. I grew up with a bit of an inferiority complex. When I was younger I was ‘the clever one’ but of course I’d flunked a few of my O’ levels and ended up working in a shop at 16 – I was distinctly average on that score too. I felt a bit crap, to be honest.
I’d spend hours in my bedroom listening to music and daydreaming. I didn’t want anything to do with my family. I felt a bit of an outsider – Mum was really close to my younger brother and my sister had special needs so she needed the attention more than I did. I hid myself away with my magazines, a Tori Amos CD and piles of hoarded junk food, or went out. Husband #1 lived in Cambridge and I lived in Ipswich so I only saw him at weekends before we got married – we were controlled then, too. We were chaperoned most of the time, never allowed to share a room or be in either house alone for long, and as for moving in together – that would have been out of the question. I DID love him, I really did, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that when my parents started asking when we were going to get married so that they didn’t have him staying every other weekend, I started to think “Hmmm. There’s an idea.”
I can see it really clearly now. I couldn’t communicate my feelings for toffee. I was terrified of confrontation and constantly looking for approval from wherever I could get it. I was frustrated with the lack of control I had over my life and my standard response to any kind of bad feeling was food. Either going on another diet or stockpiling cheese and onion Walker’s.
I devoured fashion and women’s magazines. I loved Vogue and Elle and longed for the day when I could afford designer clothes, even though I was a lowly, very badly paid civil servant at the time. I also spent a lot of time staring at images of models. I bought into every new diet going and looked forward to January every year when all the weight loss editions came out and the new diet books were displayed in the shops. I knew I looked OK but if I just lost a bit of weight I could have been perfect. I tried Callanetics – remember those? Ouch. I wanted to look like Cindy Crawford. Remember the slogan about “There are three billion women who don’t look like supermodels – and only eight who do” – I could have done with reminding, actually.
But on the face of it I was pretty happy. I had a good job, lots of friends and I was getting married. I can see now that there were two Sarahs – the one I showed the world, and the one who sat in her bedroom eating biscuits. The public Sarah was great fun, always up for a night out, cheeky, flirty and responsible for throwing up in a waste bin in the office on her 21st birthday after going out drinking at lunchtime. She could stand up to stroppy judges and disgruntled members of the public at work, didn’t bat an eyelid when confronted with difficult situations, went clubbing, got drunk, never got a hangover until her 21st birthday and loved life.
The Sarah behind the mask was screaming “like me, like me” and trying to please everyone at once. She was opinionated but didn’t have the guts to express her opinions, said what she thought people wanted to hear and did that thing where you look in the mirror, grab your tummy and exclaim “Yuk” every morning.
I thought getting married would make everything better. So I got married.