CONTENT WARNING: DIETS, WEIGHT LOSS
I was nine when I went on my first diet.
My Auntie Paula (who was actually my Mum’s cousin, so does that even make her an Aunt?) announced her engagement to some bloke called Dave in the Spring of 1993.
Auntie Paula lived just up the road, but I’d never met her. I kinda knew her sister, Auntie Sandra, because she was a dinner lady at school and she’d come round and peel our oranges for us if we got stuck on the tough skin.
So it was quite the surprise when Auntie Paula phoned our house one day and asked Mum if I’d like to be a Bridesmaid.
I wasn’t exactly a girly-girl who fantasised about these things, but I’d never been a Bridesmaid and it felt like a rite of passage so heck yes, I wanted to be a Bridesmaid! I was well aware that I was nine years old, and with puberty on the horizon, my days of being a Cute Bridesmaid were numbered.
A few weeks later, on the walk into school, Mum and I were talking about the wedding and how fun it was going to be to be a Bridesmaid. I’d get a dress! A dusky pink one! I’d get a posey of flowers! I’d get silky ballet slippers! Unfortunately I’d not long had my hair cut off, into a chin length bob, so we agreed that I’d have to start growing it right now, if i wanted to wear it in a nice pretty style, like a bun or French plait.
Then just one more thing. Just one little idea to really top everything off. What if I cut down a little bit on the sweets and cakes? It wouldn’t need to be much. Just a bit. After all, this is a really big day and we all just want to look our best in our nice outfits and photos, don’t we? Mum would be doing it too. It’s something us girls could do together. And, besides, if I keep walking to school like this, and go outside more often over the Summer, it really wouldn’t be a big change at all.
How about we make it like a game, and add an incentive?
For every pound lost, I would be paid a pound in money.
If I lost a stone, well there’s fourteen pounds in a stone. Fourteen shiny gold little coins, all for me. That’s a new Barbie and new Barbie’s were the only thing that really mattered to me, especially as I’d not long had my birthday and Christmas was still a great number of months away.
Well. Okay, on that basis, why not? I’ll do my best. After all, I just want everyone to proud of me and like me. As a shy kid, the last thing I ever wanted to do was let anyone down, or get in trouble. Especially not on the biggest day of someone’s life. Scott and Charlene in Neighbours didn’t have pudgy, embarrassing, bridesmaids, did they?
And just like that, with very little thought, I stopped eating sweets, cakes or anything that Mum’s Slimming World magazines said were BAD FOODS. Instead, I ate a lot of apples. Apples – crunchy and sweet – like nature’s biscuit!
After a few weeks I discovered that, whilst I was at it, I may as well also stop eating the sandwiches and pots of yoghurt that were in my lunchbox. It made sense. Why bother with that extra bad stuff when an apple would do just fine. I’d just hide them at the bottom of my lunchbox, until we were allowed to go out and play, then discreetly, and swiftly, slide them into the big rubbish bin on my way out. I’d never been so agile and skilled at anything before, I impressed myself with these sneaky feats!
You know, I’d like to make a song and dance about hunger pains and obsessively thinking about food, the trauma, and memories of tracking my weight but I can’t remember any of it. It was that easy, that insignificant, such a natural state for my mind to click into. My mum was endlessly on a diet, she had been my whole life, and so that was just what living was about. There was no need to make a fuss about it. That it would become my existence, also, just felt inevitable.
Sure enough, eight weeks later, that stone was gone and I was in Toys R Us picking out my new Barbie.
It felt pretty cool. My little brother was really pissed off and upset that I was allowed something and he wasn’t. My Mum just said that I’d worked really hard at something and I’d earned it, but never said more. I liked having this little secret between us. The Grown Ups Diet Club. No boys allowed!
On that September Wedding day I wore the dusky pink dress, held my bouquet, and had grown my hair just long enough to get that French plait.
In the photos I looked like a normal kid. I wasn’t thin. I wasn’t fat. I was just normal.
Everyone said that it was such a shame that one of my front teeth fell out the week before the wedding, leaving a gappy grin in all of the photos. Such a pity. Nevermind.
It seems no matter how hard you try to be the perfect version of yourself, you’ll never please everyone.
I often wonder whether if I ate less apples, and more cake, in those previous months, would the tooth have made it to the day?