"Yes, I'm skinny. And no, I don't have an eating disorder" … Jessica Rowe. Photo: Damian Bennett
I've been lining up at the supermarket checkout, at the playground with my girls, or at the chemist waiting for a prescription, when a woman behind me has decided to pass loud, vocal judgment on my weight. The conversation usually goes something like this:
"Oh, you're awfully thin, aren't you, dear? You've lost a lot of weight."
"Um, well, I'm just me. And I'm just the same size I've always been."
"So you do eat?"
I am skinny. Always have been, always will be. And no, I don't have an eating disorder. But thanks for rudely asking anyway.
I like my body. Sure, there are things I'd love to change. Don't we all want to suck this in, tighten this up, stick this out? I'd love to have boobs, no stretch marks, no cellulite and no varicose veins. But my padded bra, chicken fillets (the type you stuff in your bra, not in the oven) and a spray-on tan can work magic. What I can't change is my body type.
Why do I feel I have to justify my size to complete strangers, anyway? Why am I so meek, mild and polite to members of the body police? Should I suggest that they have a problem with food, with the amount of rubbish they decide to put in their mouths? No, I would not. I don't pass judgment on someone's size. So why is it that thin women are such easy targets?
The relationship many of us have with our bodies can be fraught. And it's not just an internal relationship – women can be each other's worst enemies when it comes to the shape we're in. Check out the weekly magazines – the biggest sellers are the ones with the "OH MY GOD" headlines: "Look how much weight Brandi/Ajay/Ricki-Lee/Jennifer has put on." A week or two later, the very same stars are suddenly "OMG: dangerously thin".
It is too simplistic, though, to blame the media for our judgment of the female form. We buy the magazines, and I admit I delight in seeing cellulite and stretch marks on some supermodel. How complicit are we in the war we wage on each other's bodies?
Though I'm skinny, I love to lift weights. Dead lifts, bench presses, squats and chin-ups are not only good for my body, they're good for my head. I love to feel empowered and strong. That endorphin rush, that hour of "me time" once a week, helps keep my head together. I also get a natural high from eating healthy, fresh food most of the time. But I don't deprive myself of my nightly fix of white chocolate. Plus some vino. It's about balance.
I'm not for a second downplaying the seriousness of eating disorders. I know they're a mental illness that can turn deadly. Anorexia, bulimia and other food-related problems are not a lifestyle choice, or a diet gone wrong, or simply a fad. According to Eating Disorders Victoria, these conditions affect 15 per cent of Australian women.
"If you eat what's in your lunch box, you'll get fat." That's what one small person said to her friend at school recently. The girls involved were just five years old. Kids don't just pick up subjects from a vacuum, they listen to everything we say, soak it up, and sometimes spit it out when we least expect it.
I talk to my girls about having healthy, strong and powerful bodies, rather than about size and shape. I tell them about how wonderful women's bodies are and the extraordinary things they can do. However, I might have been going a bit far when I explained to my eldest daughter that she came out of my vagina.
"You're joking, Mummy," Allegra said.
"Oh, there is no joke about it," I replied.
But I really lost both my girls when I tried to explain how the youngest came out of the scar across the top of my pubic bone (I had a caesarean the second time around). It meant we had a lot of conversations, frequently at inappropriate times, about whether that woman on the escalator, in the lift, at the David Jones counter, sitting in the doctor's waiting room, had a vagina or a scar!
Once we managed to get off that topic, I steered the conversation back to the power of our bodies. Again and again I emphasised that we come in all different shapes and sizes. I'm sure some of it sank in. I hope it did.
We know how much our children learn from us and I believe we have the biggest role to play in how they regard their bodies and their relationship with food. We are the ones filling up the shopping trolleys, making their school lunches and cooking dinner.
At a fabulous evening of girl power, I heard the super-stylish and smart Paula Joye talk about how mindful she has become about the body-shape conversations she now has in front of her daughters. She has replaced the word "fat" with "pink" – their favourite colour. It now means that having a "pink" day is the best sort of day you could have.
I'm with her. We don't talk about fat or thin, either. We use the word "pink" to describe our favourite things: Barbie's wardrobe, Princess Aurora dress-ups and my dyed hair – which was pink, but my husband threatened to divorce me if I didn't change it!
Jessica Rowe is a news presenter on the Seven Network's Weekend Sunrise. Follow Jessica on Twitter @msjrowe
From: Sunday Life