Naturally Skinny Women are Boknaaiers

Dinner is served.

Please understand that I use the word ‘boknaaier’ to describe Naturally Skinny Women (NSW from here on) with the greatest affection. My very best friend in the world is an NSW. If she wants to lose weight she’ll cut her daily beer consumption down very slightly and be emaciated by the end of the week. If so much as the froth of somebody’s draught is blown my way by the south-easterly wind and it happens to land somewhere near my person it is guaranteed that I will gain 4kgs instantaneously and have to change my pants. This is simply the way of my genes, and it is vexing in the extreme.

It is unfortunately also the way of my genes that I am perpetually starving. If (god forbid) 10am rolls around and by some extremely unusual series of circumstances I have not eaten breakfast, small children standing close to me are in grave danger. Also, I think exercising is very, very poofy. I do it because if I didn’t I would be extremely fat, but I don’t like it one iota and I skive off every opportunity I get. And yet, knowing all of this about myself, I remain in the deepest denial around what I know I can get away with eating (one tomato hold the basil), and even though I really, really do know better, I still to this day manage to convince myself that ludicrous eating plans which insist they have discovered the dieting truth and light continue to lure me with their lies and false promises.

Just last month I was eating eggs with my butter and telling my long-suffering husband how finally I had found the answer. All you need is fat. Even though I have followed this eating plan five times (five, people) without success, hope springs eternal in my damaged little heart. For 6 weeks I fried the chicken in lard, snacked on streaky bacon, and ate cake-sized wedges of cheese and then, heart in throat, tentatively got on my scale. To discover I had gained weight. No problem, Butter Bob on YouTube insisted; you’re retaining water. Wait for the ‘keto whoosh’ (a state where, Keto converts insist, your body ‘lets go’ of the water it’s been retaining and you wee a million times and be thin). I’m still waiting for the whoosh. Aint no whoosh comin’ this girl’s way.

To cut a long and sad story short, cutting carbs didn’t work for me. Nor did filling up on fat ‘so that would become my fuel’. Nor did rawism, veganism, juicism (invented word) or starving. Well, starving might have worked if I could have kept it up for longer than half an hour. And all those theories about not producing insulin and starving your body of carbs so you burn your own fat and and… I don’t deny that they work for some lucky souls, but for me? Not in the slightest. And people say, but did you do it right? Did you follow the rules? YES. For once in my life I really, really did follow the rules. Because I desperately wanted to have found the answer; to eat delicious food and STILL LOSE WEIGHT. Unfortunately, my body doesn’t like all that fat. Or, it likes it so much it stores it for the next fast. Which, now that we have uber eats, unfortunately never comes.

So, I’m back to square one – dry Ryvitas and Marmite and enough chicken breasts to make me start squawking. And finally, slowly, I’m losing a bit of the fat I gained from my bacon bonanza. Is it delicious? Not in the slightest. Would I rather be eating racks of ribs with my hands? Certainly. But best I suck it up because this is the way it is. And I’m vain and want to wear what I want to wear. And it’s a choice I make, and maybe it’s un-PC and if I were a better feminist I wouldn’t care. But I know when I feel my best, and unfortunately it’s not at my heaviest weight. So, onwards and upwards and we’ll get there in the end. Or not. But NSWs are boknaaiers, and that’s my final word on the matter.

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When You Literally Can’t For Your Own Fat Bastardness*

burger pic miniature.jpg
Dinner is served.

So I read this really troubling thing yesterday. I was googling why am I fat – as one does – and I read that, past the age of 45 (which I am by 3, okay, 15 months) if you continue to eat what you did when you were in your twenties and thirties you will more than likely gain around 8kgs per year until you die. Which means that 10 years from now I will not be able to write this blog anymore because I’ll be taking up an entire king size bed and have a ventilator and a TV table holding a portable deep fryer where I’ll spend my days whipping up batches of bengali fritters while the producer from My 600 Pound Life asks me questions about my childhood and how this all happened and there won’t be space in all that gedoente for a laptop.

And the answer will not even be a mystery. I’ll tell that producer the truth. I’ll tell him about how, if you don’t start eating like an anorexic ant, this is what happens to you and so he’d better be careful. Also, wine. According to that sad article wine is just about the worst thing you can imbibe past 5pm, though food of any sort rates pretty high too. And my question to the writer of that article is the following: What is the point of life if you can’t imbibe food and wine past 5pm? What? And when are you supposed to drink said wine, in that case? Because I don’t know if breakfast would really be the best time in terms of productivity and getting your kids to school. The truth is that my whole day pretty much consists of waiting patiently (and sometimes not patiently) until I get to the point where somebody who loves me whips out a cold bottle of chardonnay and says there, there while they make my glass be very full and then they cook me an XL portion of pasta with bacon.

And this is due to the fact that all day long I’ve been driving around and doing stuff and watching kids play netball. What for the rudeness that now I must have water and cress? No. Not at all. So I suppose I must resign myself to this sad fate and be happy for small miracles, like the fact that my track suit pants and some of my jeans still fit me even though I refuse to accept that a bowl of cherry tomatoes will ever constitute a meal. For a while, in my twenties, I was au pair to the kids of somebody quite famous. She was very, very thin and not at all opposed to a dinner of cress. Cress was her middle name. Sometimes her landline would ring (that’s how long ago this was) and I would hear her saying, ‘I’ve just got in, can I phone you back once I’ve had some lunch?’

And I would pretend to play with the child but actually I’d be watching, closely, to see what lunch was going to be. Because, god knows, her fridge was a veritable feast of  pork pies and pates and expensive things with prawns and I’m perpetually hungry and always envious of anybody who is eating. And I can tell you for free that if that was my fridge, lunchtime would be festive. And she’d stand and stare at these delicious items for a while as if trying to remember what real food tasted like and then make herself a plate of undressed lettuce leaves which she’d wash down with black coffee. And while I pitied her in her madness I was also a little bit jealous of the fact that sometimes she’d put on her 4-year-old’s jeans by mistake and look rather fabulous if I say so myself.

And these are the options you face if you’re a girl. Either – like me – you eat the XL pasta and anticipate life in a fat bed or you chop an Israeli cucumber into tiny little pieces and eat it with a toothpick. And it’s not even really a choice. Sometimes I hear people say, golly, it’s nearly dinner time and I haven’t eaten today. I forgot. And I’d like to say, come here, no closer, no closer, and just slap them quite hard. The day I forget to eat you can guarantee I’ve been abducted by aliens who are using my face. This is not really me, help! Anyhow. I suppose what I’m doing right now is called ranting because again, it’s a few weeks before I’m due to go on holiday someplace warm where a bathing costume is a distinct possibility and again – even though I swore I wouldn’t let this happen – I’m lardy-girl-pass-the-grey-poupon** and wondering if drinking get thin milkshakes for 7 days will make me lose 5kgs or I should just give up and resign myself to that nice king size bed. I’ll let you know which way this all goes.

*Please don’t everyone write to me and say, but you’re so skinny. I’m not, and I’m also not fat. Like most of us, I’m somewhere in the middle and wrote this on a day when I felt – like most of us do some days – porky. That’s all.

** Wayne’s World reference – the old people will understand.

How Hard it is to Truly Be Okay with Yourself

Me in Montagu. 43 years old, no makeup, no highlights, sun damage and laugh lines. It's okay. It's me in Montagu.
Me in Montagu. 43 years old, no makeup, no highlights, sun damage and laugh lines. It’s okay. It’s me in Montagu.

Some months ago we spent a few days in one of my favourite places in the world, a house high in the mountains outside the Karoo town of Montagu. I love it there because there is nothing to do but swim in the dam, go for walks, read, eat and sleep. I can’t get agitated on social media because there’s no signal and my partner, removed from email, can’t worry about work. So we drink wine and make fires and sit long under the stars and our children are happy and it’s heaven. On our first evening there we came back from a late-afternoon dip and, as the shadows of the pines starting getting long and it was time for that first glass of wine I put on a sweater, went into the bathroom and automatically reached for my lip-liner. Because we were going to have drinks and snacks and chat and admire the view. Because I had been in the water and my makeup had washed off. Because… I’m a girl and if I don’t look pretty? Well, that’s a problem. I saw my reflection in the mirror, a woman of 43 with two children and a career and opinions and a brain and I looked away, out the window, at the trees and the big, blue mountain and I thought what the fuck am I doing?

Here I am in a remote holiday house with my husband and two daughters – the people who know and love and get me better than anyone in all the world – and I’m putting on makeup? It was a strange and sad moment where all the terrible, messed up messages I have internalised during my years on this earth hit me in my gut. I put the lip-liner back and went outside and looked out over the beautiful valley and tried to remember the incidences in my life that had led me to believe so doggedly in my own unworthiness. And how, in this world, I was going to save my daughters from the same fate. I remembered the earliest message where, compared to my cousin of the same age, I was labelled by family members as the ‘clever one.’ And, as any girl will know, you don’t want to be the clever one.

I remembered, many years later, a boy I was desperately in love with telling my best friend at the time he didn’t like me anymore because I was ‘fat’. I was 15 at the time and while I was never skinny, when I look at pictures of myself at that age I was definitely not fat. Still – I was mortified and ashamed, and it was the first time I have a clear memory of declaring war on my body – reading up on diets; taking small green slimming pills that made my heart race; sprinkling artificial sweetener on my All Bran Flakes and weighing myself every day. The idea that there was something wrong with me had taken root in my unconscious mind, and this belief would become more pronounced as time went by.

And, while I have learnt a lot in my time on earth, this is one thing I don’t really know how to change. How do you unlearn the negative messages that have been reinforced your whole life long? How do you decide you’ve had enough of this nonsense and you’re going to accept yourself just as you are – if not for yourself than for the amazing, clever girl children you’re preparing to send into the world? I read something once that posed the simple question: ‘when will you be thin enough?’ and I wept. A while back a girlfriend said something to me that was very scary and very true. She said, ‘your children don’t watch you with their eyes; they watch you with their whole being.’ I can tell my daughters what I think – propagate feminist values; go on about women’s rights; insist that no matter what they look like they are important and they have value, but when they see me unhappy because my jeans are tight; when they watch me eat salad while everyone else has pasta – all the words amount to nothing.

Last week my 8-year-old brought her school photos home. I could see she was unhappy. She sat beside me on the couch in silence and I let her be until I saw the big tears running down her cheeks. It took a while for her to admit that she was crying because one of her school friends had said she was fat and now that she looked at the photos of herself, she knew that it was true. I turned the TV off and I asked her sister to give us a few minutes alone. I didn’t really know what to say, to be honest. It was one of those parenting moments when you want to go, ‘hey, you know that manual? Now would be a good time.’

I opened the iPad and showed her pictures of herself taken at a recent ballet eisteddfod. I asked her what she thought of that little girl in the pictures. We found more pics, holiday snaps taken on the beach. I asked her if she agreed with what her friend had said. My daughter is little; there is no fat on her body. She had to concede that what had been said to her might not, after all, have been true. And then we talked about the fact that everybody is different. Some people are shorter, others are tall, some have dark hair and some are blonde, and some people will be heavier while others are lighter, and that the way you look has no bearing on who you are. I reminded her of the importance of always being kind and remembering that the outside of people says nothing about the inside. And she cheered up and started smiling again and we went and made hot chocolate, but it was a sobering moment which made me wonder, in spite of my best efforts, if I have failed miserably at my job.

Because the truth is, while I’ll order the Hunga Busta burger, throw back beer like the best of them and roll my eyes at women who succumb to cosmetic surgery, that’s only part of me. There’s another part, and one I’m not proud of, that looks at herself in a bikini and feels dismay. That has to beat down the guilt of devouring an XL portion of fish and chips on a Sunday in Kalk Bay. That secretly, while planning a holiday, determines to lose 3kgs so I can wear all the clothes I like. And who is very much a product of her environment. And what if it’s that version my daughters really see? How do I project an image of okayness when it’s not something I always feel?

But then, more than projecting a Stepford Wives-type image of perfection (which I could never achieve anyway) I’ve always been a firm believer in leveling with your kids and being honest no matter what. I mean, they see through your lies anyway. Could it be that there is room for ambiguity and contradiction in this ongoing conversation? After all, little about life is simple. Maybe if we keep talking and I ask them the right questions their (really awesome and strong) sense of themselves will be their lifeline when society tells that them the way they are is wrong. And maybe – this is my hope, anyway – because of the way they’ve been raised, they’ll be better equipped than I was to bounce back from the blows their self-esteem will suffer. For me, all I can do is put the makeup bag down, take a deep breath and go hang with the people who love me.

When Women Like Us Get Beaten By the Men We Love

Since starting this blog I have learnt to expect the unexpected, and one of the most unexpected things of all has been the people from far and near places who look me up and come to me wanting to share their stories. They are actors in L.A. and psychiatric nurses in Boston and moms in Brisbane and teachers in France, and they present to me (as one reader put it) the multi-coloured ‘ribbons of their lives.’ So, when one of the moms from my daughter’s school approached me this morning and asked if we could have a coffee because she had a story to tell me I wasn’t that surprised.

We met in an odd little coffee shop down the road from where I live, and once the niceties were out of the way she launched into an astonishingly brave and candid account of the past year of her life where she got involved with (and almost had kids with and married) a man who abused her verbally, physically and emotionally. She left him barely a week ago, and her right eye still bears the bruises from where he hit her the last and final time. And she said, ‘the physical wounds heal fast. It’s the other ones – the ones you can’t see – that take longer to go away.’

And as she was talking I couldn’t stop thinking about another beautiful, strong, independent girlfriend of mine who told me exactly the same story some months back, except she was actually married to the guy in question, and he hit her for ten years before she managed to escape. Nobody knew – not her mother, her siblings or her closest friends. Until one morning she found herself in another fight with him, and this time hiding his gun in fear that he would use it on her, and the reality hit home for the first time that this was not about getting punched now and again – if she stayed with this man she might not live to tell the tale.

And these two women are nothing like the stereotype of who gets battered. They are smart and streetwise and together. Which makes me realise that every single one of us is vulnerable; no-one is immune to falling in love with a violent, sociopathic man and getting caught up in a situation we don’t know how to get out of. Because it happens slowly, and for a long time you’re blinded by those brain chemicals that cloud your judgement, and the erosion to your sense of self begins so subtly and innocuously that you’re well into the relationship before you even have a chance to realise what’s going on.

And it’ll be a little poke or a shove, mid-fight, or a criticism cloaked in something that sounds like concern, but with every small piece of violence leveled at you your self-esteem takes a knock and you wonder if you are a bad person and you do deserve what’s coming and your friends really don’t care about you – like this man keeps saying. And then one day, in between the humdrum of washing and cooking and doing the school run, you find yourself being flung against a bedside table so hard that you sustain a fairly serious head injury and you go to your doctor for the second time in a few months and he gives you a knowing look and says, how long are you going to tolerate this? Because he has seen it before and he knows better than you do you how much danger you are actually in.

And the man you love has successfully isolated you from your friends and family, and you don’t know who you can trust enough to tell, and if you should even tell anyone because you are so ashamed that you have allowed this to happen. It was an emotional conversation, and the time when I lost it was not when she told me about how he threw things at her or the cruel words he used or how he tried to separate her from her child, but when she described her visit to the local police station to get a protection order, and she was anxious and distressed and just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, but the officer in charge was a gentle, kindly black woman who must, in her life, have seen and heard it all before, and wouldn’t let her get away with filling in a form and leaving.

Instead, she was made to sit down and tell her the whole story from beginning to end, (‘African-style’, was the expression she used) and asked her questions and never judged but took in the picture in its entirely and gave her endless time to speak, all the while listening with her heart as well as her big, brown eyes. And she said to my friend who felt trivial and embarrassed – a white woman from an affluent suburb telling her small, ‘insignificant’ story – ‘you don’t have to worry anymore. I will deliver this to him in person. He won’t be hurting you again.’

I dunno – there was just something so moving about this scenario. Like an atonement, or something. So, the protection order was delivered and he’s not allowed to come anywhere near her ever again, and she’s suing him for money he owes her and getting her life together. And even though it was a terrible story, it was kind of a good one, too. Unlike many, she managed to get out quick. It doesn’t always end so well. And there was a song. It was playing on the radio while they were driving one day and he was punching her on the leg and it was one of the many turning points that made her know she was going to save herself. Music has some incredible power. (In fact, she told me it was my Tori Amos story that made her come to me and want to tell me hers).

Later, once she had left him and had sat for hours at the police station doing the necessary paperwork, she was tired and hungry and stopped for a late night supper at a deserted pizzeria in Sea Point. She thinks the young Zim waiter must have overheard her talking and wanted to make her smile without being weird so he asked her what song she was ‘liking’. Immediately she thought of the one from the car that day, but she didn’t know the name or the artist so she sang it for him. He went away, found it and suddenly it was playing over the restaurant’s sound system. Spontaneously she got up and started to dance, and he joined her – two human beings in an empty restaurant somewhere on the southernmost tip of Africa. And she said, ‘I released a lot that night, but I received so much, too.’ Until she found herself, she hadn’t even known she was lost.

Why Men Still Need to Open That Car Door

In order not to drive myself demented with my own company all day long, I’ve decided to go down the road to Café Neo once or twice a week. At any given time of day, it’s full of folk with their laptops, probably also saving themselves from the insanity that comes with too much solitude. And it’s cosy and quiet and a good spot for getting things done. It’s also the regular hangout of a girlfriend of mine who works from home, and on Wednesday I agreed to met her there so she could tell me the sad story of her Saturday night.

Now, my friend (I’ll call her Emma) has a smoking hot career and earns a bundle of money. She doesn’t need any man to pay her bills, rescue her or look after her in any way. But, she’d like to share her life with somebody, so she dates fairly often and is on the lookout for a life partner. This particular Saturday she invited a guy a friend had set her up with along to a ball and, as one does when it’s a ball, went to a lot of trouble getting ready. She had on a beautiful dress, her hair looked gorgeous and she was wearing sexy heels. But, when she opened the door, he didn’t say a word. Not a ‘wow, you look pretty,’ or even an ‘I like your dress’ – nothing.

And it’s not like he’s obliged to or that she’s desperate for affirmation, but when it’s obvious that a woman who’s usually quite no-nonsense and in boardroom attire goes to a lot of effort to look good, isn’t it just manners or something to tell her she looks nice? Then, on the way to the car, she had to negotiate some steep steps wearing these high heels. When he didn’t notice and offer her his arm, she asked if he wouldn’t mind giving her a hand. And instead of realizing he was amiss, jumping to her side and doing the gentlemanly thing, he pointed out that her heels weren’t that high and that surely she could manage by herself.

And this pretty much carried on the entire evening – he’d pour himself a glass of wine and forget to fill hers; his attention would wander while she was talking, and when his phone rang he took the call even though they were half-way through dinner. Wrong, wrong, wrong. While one would assume he just wasn’t that into her, he actually was, but by the time the end of the evening came and he wanted to know when he could see her again and leaned in for a kiss, she was so over him that it was all beyond redemption. ‘He’s not a bad guy,’ she assured me. ‘He’s actually really nice and smart, he just didn’t get the memo.’

He just didn’t get the memo. And that memo is a big deal. It’s not about men being dominant and women submissive, and neither does it undermine feminism or contradict the truism that women and men are equal in all the ways that count. But, when a man and woman (and a man and a man or a woman and a woman) are together in a certain context there is a particular exchange of energy that happens; a sort of dance of the yin and the yang. And when men do stuff like not fill our wine glass or hold the door so we can walk through first or they walk ten steps ahead of us, that beautiful push-and-pull gets broken, somehow. There’s a type of old world graciousness, if you will, which simply ceases to be.

Of course we women are perfectly capable of pouring our own wine and opening our own doors, and we don’t need or want men to do these things for us always; just sometimes. Because what this really amounts to is a sort of ‘seeing,’ isn’t it? A recognition of our otherness; and a metaphorical kind of hat-tipping to our femininity. While all week long Emma is the boss and makes the decisions and wears the tailored pants, now and again she feels like relinquishing that role and relaxing into a different sort of space where she’s allowed to just be a girl being taken out by a boy. And that’s completely okay. So, men, next time you’re taking somebody somewhere nice and she’s put on a dress and perfume and is looking every part of beautiful, please don’t hold back from telling her. It doesn’t matter if she’s the CEO of the world – tonight she is on a date and in her heart she’s Cinderella. It’s just your job to be the prince.

What women get wrong about men

Somewhere between mainstream religion, university courses in gender politics and an emotionally absent male parent I developed a bit of a bad attitude about men. I assume things about them – bad things – and while I know that, intellectually, it’s wrong to judge people on the basis of their gender (what a hypocrite, right?) and I personally know plenty of men who defy this stereotype (my husband, for one) one visit to my gym, the sight of a woman in a burka or having a man drive by me and make a tyre sound with his lips, and these feelings resurface.

But now and again something will happen that slaps me upside the head and makes me realize that the good guys – Per, ex-boyfriends, male friends I love and respect – are as victimized as I am by a system that expects them to do and be certain things. And I’m grateful for these moments because being angry is exhausting. I wish they would happen more. So, here’s what happened: Per’s best friend is a member of what my friend Vanessa calls the lucky sperm club. Looks-wise, he’s something of a genetic freak – dark tan, piercing blue eyes, insanely straight, white teeth. He’s a very good-looking guy. Plus, he’s honest and kind and forthcoming, and he’s like family and we adore him.

So, a few Sundays ago he comes over for lunch and we’re hanging out by the pool when he starts telling us about how, in one day, two different women approached him at gym and invited him out for coffee. But not in a braggy, look-at-me way, rather in a contrite, ashamed kind of way because, as he went on to explain, he was so taken aback and intimidated that he didn’t know what to do, and even though he would have liked very much to go out for coffee (he’s between relationships and a little lonely and would love to meet the right woman), he mumbled his excuses and they went away. Now he’s berating himself for being such a wuss, and while I understand wussdom very well, I would never associate it with him. He is the kind of guy I would definitely make assumptions about. And they would be wrong.

I don’t know who these women were, and again, I’m assuming things, but if I put myself in their shoes, I imagine it took a fair amount of courage to approach the hot guy on the stationary bike, and I can only imagine that when he said no the last thing on their minds was the possibility that he was shy. They probably thought it was because he thought they were unattractive which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve been thinking about this story ever since, and how many times in my life I must have judged men and drawn erroneous conclusions based on my own baggage and ‘stuff.’

Who knew men (never mind hot men) were so easily flustered and daunted by women? I, for one, did not. And I’m glad I do, and I’ll try to check myself the next time I’m tempted to judge somebody because he happens to have a penis. I promise.