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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Women, lies, and weight-loss

As Nigella Lawson shows off her new, slim-line look, it’s time to ask: are full-figured women ever really happy with their bodies?

We all love Nigella Lawson, don’t we? The food show hostess with the mostess. The home cook with the killer curves. The culinary queen with the majestic embonpoint. The domestic goddess with the décolletage to die for.

Actually, make that to ‘diet’ for. Because that’s exactly what Nigella has been doing over the last year. And now, you can feast your eyes on a new, slim-line Nigella hosting her new food show, Nigellissima (that’s ‘Very Nigella’ to all us non-Italian speaking oiks) and showing off her size 12 frame on magazine covers and in newspaper supplements. Gone is the voluptuary who lived on bacon, red meat, bread, double cream, chocolate, and lashings of butter (not in the same recipe, of course). In her place, we have the ‘sensible’ eater who drinks wine only on Fridays and has discovered the joys of exercise in her 50s.

And that sound you hear? It is the collective moan of disbelief from millions of women all across the world who can’t quite believe that the Patron Saint of Plump Pulchritude has let them down so devastatingly. And when they finally get their voices back you can be sure that they will be asking Nigella a few sharp questions. (So, Nigella, all these years when you were assuring us that you were happy in your buxomness, were you just lying to yourself? Or was that nothing-tastes-as-good-as-gluttony spiel just one giant con perpetrated on the rest of us?)

As someone who also loved the old, voluptuous, sometimes downright greedy Nigella, I can understand the sense of betrayal. This was a woman who made us feel good about having curves and wobbly bits; who told us to take pride in our bulges rather than wage war on them. And now that she has gone all low-fat and small-waisted, we can’t help feeling that she has let the side down.  

Not that Nigella ever set herself up as Poster Girl for big women but the sub-text of all the 3,000-calorie recipes was quite clear. As were those images of Nigella raiding the fridge late at night for some comfort food. Indulgence was good for you. You needed to feed your appetite. Life was too short to have low-fat ice-cream. Nothing tasted better than saturated fat.

Well, some things haven’t changed. Nigella’s recipes still pack in a few thousand calories. But the woman herself doesn’t seem to be eating any of her food. Instead, she’s all gussied up in her new size 12 wardrobe, making the rest of us feel hopelessly fat.

But why blame Nigella alone? I have lost count of the number of full-figured celebrities who go red in the face telling us how happy they are to be big – right until the moment they pose for a photo-spread to show off their recent weight loss.

Sophie Dahl was famously discovered as a fat teenager by the fashion stylist Isabella Blow, and created a sensation when she walked the ramp in all her bodacious glory. But just when you felt that the world of high fashion would at last begin to embrace what it likes to call the ‘plus-size’ woman, Dahl resurfaced on the Opium billboard having lost two-thirds of her body weight and looking as waif-like as the next model.

And then, there’s Dawn French. The humorist who spent her entire life telling us that she was happy to be humungous, has now lost 40-something kilos and is looking like a shadow of her former, frankly-fat self. She puts it down to having discovered exercise (there we go again) and cutting out on chips and chocolate. And, she adds, a tad defensively, that she still loves her ‘old body’. (Oh yes, she loves it so much that she’s got rid of half of it!) 

All of this begs the question. Were any of these women actually ‘happy’ being the size they were? Or were they just lying about it to make themselves feel better even as they tried every trick in the book to slim down? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

That said, women, lies and weight-loss are inextricably linked. For every woman who claims that she is happy at her current size even as she diets and exercises in secret to slim down, there is another who puts her slimness down to good genes and swears that she eats everything and never works out, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

But now that Nigella and her famous curves have left the show kitchen, who will be flying the flag for buxom beauties everywhere? Well, there’s always Christina Hendricks, who plays the curvaceous Joan Harris in Mad Men. But given how offended she was when an Australian interviewer asked her about being an inspiration as a ‘full-figured’ woman (she refused to answer the question and said it was ‘rude’ to describe her in such terms), I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before she goes all slim-line on us as well.

Ah well, never mind! At least back here in India, we will still have Vidya Balan to reassure us that a little muffin top never hurt anyone (and nor did a muffin or three). But if she ever signs up to a diet regime or threatens to bring out a fitness video, we’ll know that the fat is truly in the fire.


Anonymous said...

As a fella who likes big beauties, I get let down a lot too. The most devastating one for me was that Missy Elliot video where she raps 'lost some pounds in my waist for y'all'.... Sigh. If she'd done it for herself it wouldn't have felt like such a betrayal. Hip-hop has never looked as good since.

Nirvana said...

Oh no!!! Nigella was like a 'See-there's-no-need-to-diet' poster for me! Not to forget our own size-zeros - Kareena, Sonam and the likes.

Kappu said...

Wow, thats a pretty neat account of pounds lost followed by near-flimsy reasons! I cant imagine the queen of food porn, Lawson being thin / at least not plump.. hmm... :-/

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Aquatic Static said...

Loved this post. As someone who used to be 'ok' with her weight and then recently lost a lot of it, it really made me think.

I would say this: The truth is somewhere in between. 'Lying' is a harsh word...one tells oneself to be happy with the body they have, to 'love' themselves no matter what etc. and one puts in all the effort to be affirming of oneself, in the face of society constantly telling them otherwise.
So when someone asked me if I was happy with my body - I would say, I was ok with it (after all, it IS my body).

But losing weight makes life easier in a sense - you don't have to fight the same fights anymore, it is healthier, you reconnect spiritually with your body (at least I did) and it is nice to get validation for the very thing you were judged for earlier.

It doesn't make it 'right'...it's a reality I'm uncomfortable with myself but I wouldn't judge women like Dawn French harshly for being liars or anything. People have the right to change their minds & hearts, especially when it's an issue as personal as their bodies.