Sunday, June 9, 2013
Big is beautiful
Watching a Sky Arts panel discussion chaired by Mariella Frostrup at the Hay Festival, I was struck by an author I did not know called Lionel Shriver. She (she had assumed the male first name by choice when young) has just brought out a new novel, Big Brother, which echoes her personal tragedy of losing a middle aged brother to obesity. It is not the book that has prompted this short essay but what she said in response to Frostrup’s remark that she might have problems of her own regarding food. She denied the problematic nature of her eating habits but defended them from a quite novel perspective.
She has coffee at 11.00 am and eats at 11.00 pm. Why? So that she can regain the lost innocence of childhood where eating was unconditional until you felt full. No thoughts to health or fashion, just a response to the body’s immediate needs. Shriver said that she eats as much as she wants until replenished. She also said that by eating this way she has a closer intimacy with food. Her experience of what she eats is greatly accentuated.
The idea of a lost innocence or at least a lost world of natural eating, seems insightful. She went on to say that nearly everyone has some kind of neurotic relationship with food. Eating habits are the consequence of cultural imperatives. At the furthest extremes of anorexia or obesity they are profoundly self-evident and become visual markers worn on the sleeves of the sufferers, social taboos that are not confronted person to person but are nevertheless discussed without any sense of empathy, behind the individuals’ backs. For Shriver this is a profound injustice. Not only do people have to manage their organic, physiological debilitation but they have to navigate public denigration, mostly, she feels, resulting from a fearful projection on the part of critical onlookers that they, too, may one day succumb. They are somehow blamed for what they have become and are lesser human beings as a consequence.
My wife designs fasionable clothing for the larger woman and receives, daily, tributes to her Company’s wares because they enhance customers’ body shapes in the same way any fashion house’s products only do for those of slim proportions. Customers feel valued and respected and no longer the outcasts of a society dominated by a narrow view of so-called normality.