I can honestly say that my attitude to my body became markedly better when I accepted that I was fat. The moment I could say this, without blushing and being disingenuous - the moment I stopped hoping that someone would step in and say, "Oh God, no, you're actually really thin!" - my life became much more straightforward. For a sense of how verboten the word is, you only have to recall last week's opening of Neil LaBute's play Fat Pig. I've heard a lot of people say how nasty they find the title; one newspaper described it as "luridly offensive". And while of course it is offensive to call someone a pig, and that's the point, it's also clear that no one would have found that bestial term anything like so offensive if it hadn't been twinned with the word "fat".
Why is it so offensive to be called fat? Because of all the related synonyms. Ugly, stupid, feckless, lazy, sweaty. I could go on, but I'm not going to give all those ridiculous, boring, thoughtless, stupid, dumbass fattists the ammunition. The opinions of those people is what makes it frightening to claim the word, and so instead a host of other euphemistic, and in my view, often more offensive terms are used. Full-figured, big-boned, voluptuous, curvaceous, and my least favourite: "real woman". I cannot stand this phrase. It is extremely patronising to fat women: there is clearly nothing more "real" about being fat than thin, so it is an entirely lame attempt to make fat women feel better about ourselves. It is also tacitly insulting to thin women, who are apparently "not-real": cyphers, fakes and liars the lot of them. It therefore pits women against women, and, in my experience, makes precisely no one feel any better. If you need to use a specific term, to me, "overweight" would seem to suffice. It's direct. It's literal. Fair enough.
I spent years denying I was fat, and I can now appreciate the irony. If there's one characteristic you can't hide, it's this one. Embrace it. What does it mean? Does it mean you're ugly, stupid, or feckless? Of course not. It means you're overweight. Be ashamed of being rude, nasty, mean with your money, or malevolent. But having eaten more calories than you've burned off? God, if that's the worst you've ever done, then pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a drink.
If I'm so unashamed, why am I trying to lose weight? Well, as I've said before, though being fat is a comfortable, happy situation for many people - fantastic, all power to them - it's made me less physically active, and less physically comfortable in general, so it makes sense to do something about it. What I've found is that it's been much easier to eat healthily since I've squared myself with being fat. That may seem counter-intuitive, but the fact is that the bubble of self-hatred that you inhabit as an inhibited, ashamed fat person makes it very difficult to do anything positive at all. You start a week raring to go, ready to suck down a few salads, and by Wednesday, some arsehole has called you "fat bitch" in the street, and you find yourself tucking into french bread and brie. Zut alors! Once you can shout back: "Yes, I am fat, and you, my friend, are a wanker," this cycle ceases to exist.
Of course, that last example underlines an eternal truth. Just because someone talks freely about their size doesn't mean that it is acceptable to direct the word "fat" at them: it can still be very nasty coming from somebody else's mouth. I was reminded of this when newsreader Katie Derham called the Lucian Freud model, Sue Tilley, "Fat Sue" on air, and was firmly put right by Tilley herself. I was also reminded of it when a radio researcher called me to take part in a discussion about fat people. I was busy, so gave the name of some other journalists who had written about their weight. "Yes, but are they really fat, like you?" she replied, a phrase she certainly had not used when she was trying to entice me on to the show. "Well," I replied, "that's for them to say, isn't it?"