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Health & Fitness

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The thin line

There have been a lot of articles and positive publicity for women of above-average size lately. An advert I saw recently celebrated women of larger sizes exercising, dancing and having fun in their own skin. Bravo, I say. We need to love who we are and put an end to the self-destructive obsession we women have with weight. However, there is another side to this discussion that is being ignored and having serious effects on those affected.

The word ‘skinny’ is being used more and more to abuse people and to bully. “You need to eat a burger!” is a comment I have heard from people who have campaigned hard to erradicate the word ‘fat’ from society. People who want others to not judge them for their size.

In 2013, size 6 clothes were hanging off me. I was fighting for my life due to a condition which means my stomach is partially paralysed and will not digest food. Throw in a hormone condition that means my digestive system is unable to feel hunger or absorb what I do eat and I looked as ill as I felt. Severe malnutrition, chronic vomiting and unrelenting stomach pain whenever I took a sip of water all meant that I was unable to maintain weight. I fought hard for nearly two years, surviving on sips of calorie-concentrated prescribed drinks and a few dry crackers a day.

 In 2013 I was told I had put up a good fight, but the time had come to place a feeding tube. My first tube was an Naso-jejunal tube, or NJ. It went up through my nose, down my throat, bypassed my stomach and delivered food directly into my small intestine. I was told it was unlikely that I would gain weight as my condition meant I wasn’t able to take in enough formula to gain. My doctors and dieticians were simply trying to keep me alive.

After three tube changes due to blockages and three different formulas trialled, I found one that I could tolerate without severe pain and nausea but my throat was so inflamed by the tubes that I lost my ability to swallow. It was agreed I would have a permanent tube placed. In July and September 2014 I had two operations to place a Transgastric Jejunal Mic-key button – or “Cadbury” as I call him.

Cadbury is my life saver. Every morning I run fluids through my feeding pump that is connected to Cadbury for 2 hours. These fluids help manage my heart condition and chronic dehydration. I then swap the fluids for formula which I can be hooked up to for up to 24 hours per day. My IV pole is called Ivy and she goes everywhere with me at home. She also stubs my toes… a lot. Outside I swap Ivy for a backpack, lugging my feeding pump with me everywhere I go.

Thanks to modern medicine and my innate stubbornness, I have managed to gain weight and am now a healthier size 10/12. I no longer look ill, my eyes aren’t sunken in, my cheekbones aren’t sticking out and I can even eat, and boy do I enjoy it when I can! Yet I still get called ‘skinny’ by people who do not notice my feeding tube.

When I had my NJ tube, people could see I was ill, yet they saw a young woman with a feeding tube taped to her face and assumed I had an eating disorder. I got glares, tuts and nasty comments like, ‘Why do people do that to themselves?” I even had one gentleman tell me, “At least you are trying to get better”. The thing is, even people with eating disorders are misunderstood and the comments I received showed not only serious ignorance of feeding tubes, but also blatant and nasty opinions of eating disorders, conditions that cause devastation, even death, and actually have very little to do with food or weight.

I still get comments now. I avoid joining discussions about body size because I get abuse from people who think that it is ok to call thin people ‘skinny’ or say ‘you need to eat a good steak’. I also get told, ‘skinny doesn’t mean healthy’ more often than anything else. That is true, but not in the sense they mean. Friends say to me, “at least you aren’t as skinny as you used to be, you didn’t look attractive then”. A few weeks of struggling to tolerate my formula and being unable to eat and I can easily drop down to a tiny size again. Those comments stay with me and cause me to panic when I am too nauseaus to eat.

Being told, “you are too skinny” hurts. Being told to, “eat a burger” (especially when you are unable to) hurts. Being told, “hip bones are not attractive” hurts. Body size does not equate to happiness, especially when people repeatedly make you feel ugly, unsexy and hated.

Ten years ago, people who were above-average size were made fun of, bullied and made to feel worthless. Today the tables have turned and it is slim, thin or petite women who are being told they are unsexy and ugly. Follow any discussion online about plus-size models and you will find women turning on each other, arguing about body size and throwing in comments from their boyfriends that ‘skinny girls make them feel sick’.

We belong to a society where women have given their lives fighting for the right to vote. Women have fought for decades for the right to equal pay and most recently, the change allowing women to become bishops in the Church of England. So why oh why do we insist on turning on each other? Why are women the worst at sabotaging each other’s happiness and self-worth. We campaign all the time for respect, love and appreciation. We ask others to love us for who we are, in the skin we are in, without the desire to change us. Yet it is women who are first to turn on each other, fight and bully one another in order to say one size is best.

Thin women are thin because they are. It may be due to a serious health condition, or it may simply be because that is their ‘normal’. No size allows people the right to bully, abuse or make another woman feel worthless. Whether she is a size 4 or a size 24, no woman should be made to feel unattractive simply because of what number hangs in her wardrobe.

We are all unique. We are all beautiful. We all need to be loved.

Let us end the size war and be proud of who we all are, each and everyone of us.

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