The Young Girls Were the Worst, Muttering Fat Cow As I Walked Past ... But Never
Posted on November 23, 2002 by Anita
(The following article appeared in The Mirror UK Nov. 21, 2002.)
I have always been a similar weight to what I am now -- about nine stone (126 pounds), give or take a few pounds -- so going up to 20 stone (280 pounds) in a "fat suit" for a documentary on obesity was a new and challenging experience for me.
It was like wearing a claustrophobic iron overcoat in size 24. I felt I couldnt do anything that was spontaneous. I couldnt imagine carrying that amount of weight around. What would you do with all that flesh, I wondered, as I struggled out of chairs and battled to sit on the toilet. What was its value? It seemed as if all the extra weight was a useless burden, not there for any real purpose, a hindrance that slowed me down at every step.
In the suit I became Lucia Perelli - using my middle name and my maiden name. I felt like a completely different person, someone I didnt recognise at all. I could no longer run upstairs, and on the stairs no one could pass me. At the turnstile at the station, the guard had to open a special barrier for me. I couldnt breathe. I felt suffocated.
I had to use disabled toilets. I couldnt negotiate sitting on a stool and I couldnt get into a lift without waiting for it to be almost empty.
I couldnt seem to balance all the extra weight and my back ached from carrying the extra pounds. Even my mouth felt different, squashed smaller by the extra weight of my cheeks.
I wobbled when I walked. Running for a bus was impossible. I couldnt bend over to pick something off the floor. I wondered how obese people had sex.
It was a constant catalogue of embarrassment. People walked past me and muttered: "Fat cow" in that cowardly, timid way bullies have. Not saying it to your face, but waiting until they were almost past.
Young girls were the worst. There is a terrible competitiveness about women that often goes unsaid.
I encountered a great deal of hostility but also curiosity. People stared, trying to work me out, how my body worked. It seemed as if they were repelled and attracted at the same time - as if I were some sort of freak or curiosity.
I wasnt at all bothered about looking conventionally unattractive - at my age Im past caring. But the reaction made me uncomfortable all the same.
No one recognised me in the suit. At a dating club for professionals, a woman looked at me and said: "You know what? You remind me of Anita Roddick."
But at the end of the programme, when I told her who I really was, she was the most shocked of anyone in the room.
An obese woman I met had told me that fat people make thin people feel better about themselves but Im not sure thats true. Most people I met seemed embarrassed. I went to the gym one day, wearing the prosthetic, and people didnt know where to look.
The more obese women I met, the more I became fascinated by the geography of the human body. I would study necks and chins and arms, looking for a space or an indentation - something that had shape or form.
I was also stunned by how much these women thought and felt and talked about their bodies.
In our society, thin or average-sized people never speak about their bodies unless its about reducing weight, diminishing themselves, losing pounds and ounces. Its as if they are fighting all the time to reduce it, to become more like men.
These women loved their voluptuous bodies. They were sexy, witty and warm. They loved their breasts. They loved their size. They loved wearing short skirts and showing off their flesh.
In some cases I felt they had made a deliberate choice to be larger. Others hadnt. I met one woman who weighed 30 stone at the age of 12. Yet we know more and more about the dangers of obesity, the way we now know the dangers of cigarettes. This was the conundrum: that many of these women were proud of how they looked, yet it was affecting their health.
As a very active person who finds it impossible to sit still, I found the weight restricting and uncomfortable. I hated not being able to move quickly.
My life has never been sedentary. Ive always found huge breasts slightly disconcerting, the way they get in the way of running and moving. Being short at 5ft 2ins, Im even less able to carry weight. I just seem to expand outwards. The heaviest Ive ever been was when carrying my daughters in pregnancy.
DURING the filming I could only wear the suit for a few hours a day because I found it so frustrating and physically grueling.
Certainly I love to eat. Im Italian and I love Italian food. Ive been known to steal chocolates from my grandchildren and pretend the fairies have eaten them. I salivate in confectionary shops. But I found it impossible to imagine being that size.
One of the most interesting places I went to was called Big Girls Paradise, a club for big women in Shoreditch, East London. The men there were having an absolute love affair with flesh.
Yet they had to be covert about it. They might come to the club and fancy big women, but in their daily lives they would have slim girlfriends because of peer pressure. It was a kind of subterfuge, like a secret fetish. Thats the fascism of our culture. Fat woman equals lazy, stupid, slow, unhealthy woman.
Even more fascinating, the women themselves seemed to want men with big pecs, tight stomachs and body definition. They werent at all interested in fat men. Yet its perfectly acceptable to be a big, fat man. It denotes wealth and importance.
Many women spoke to me about the evils of fast food, calling for health warnings as on cigarettes.
They said they were constantly blitzed by advertising from the fast-food chains. Another regular complaint was the clothes available. Clothing for big women is a disgrace. Huge sacks without shape in terrible fabrics, appallingly made. The only exception I found was Dawn Frenchs shop, French and Teague. Many women said they had to buy clothes from America on the net.
I also discovered how hard it is for obese people to get medical help. There are only six hospitals in the country that specialise in obesity. There is very little research being done.
It seemed there was minimal government funding addressing the issue. Getting help for bulimia and anorexia is much easier. Yet obesity is an issue of great national importance. Half the population are overweight, with 15 per cent qualifying as obese. We have a growing percentage who are morbidly obese, which means they are double the body weight they should be. In countries such as Ghana, it is considered beautiful for women to walk as if their bums are chewing gum. Here, it causes embarrassment to see obese women.
I discovered that obese women certainly dont need thin womens pity. You dont need to be thin to be attractive and sexy and vibrant.
I was glad to say goodbye to the suit. If I had the choice whether to be my normal weight or 20 stone, nothing in the world would make me carry around that amount of weight.
"Skin Deep" begins on Discovery Channel UK on Monday Nov. 25 at 9.35pm.