Tuesday, July 24, 2007

You're not fat!

Coincidence is a funny thing. On the train this morning I sat opposite two boys and a girl, delightful teenagers of about 14 or 15. No, really, they were lovely - chatting among themselves about school, homework, friends, and what they'd done over the weekend.

But trains being what they are, I caught most of what they were saying, and when the girl started talking about a classmate, whom she eulogised for her face and figure, my attention homed in on the phrase "She's so skinny... whereas I'm fat."

I glanced across to see a sylphlike creature, with a waist you could have circled in both hands. And I winced. But I wasn't the only one - her male friends immediately took up the challenge. "You're not fat... come on... you look great."

The Sylph was having none of it. She protested, argued, pushed back. But worryingly, this wasn't out of false modesty; there were no flirty giggles as she asserted that she really ought to lose the fat on her stomach (what stomach?). She was deadly serious in her belief that she was overweight and needed to lose half a stone. I winced again.

As we reached London and all got up to leave the train, my wincing turned into an active discomfort - and suddenly I abandoned that English rule about never talking to strangers. I tapped the Sylph on the shoulder and gently made my point... that she wasn't fat but slim, slim, slim... that I received countless letters from women with eating disorders... and that she desperately needed to rethink her body image.

The Sylph was shyly polite. Her male friends were fabulous "we keep telling her that... maybe now she'll listen...". We parted with mutual smiles.

But I did wonder, as I walked away, whether if she didn't listen to her mates she would listen to that strange woman who had accosted her on a train. And I also wondered whether, if she didn't listen, how she would end up.

I began this blog entry with the words "Coincidence is a funny thing." - and you're probably wondering where the coincidence in this tale lies. Well here we go. This morning's press covered a study by the Schools Health Education Unit which revealed that over half the teenage girls in Britain believe they need to lose weight, while 40% typically miss breakfast - and sometimes lunch - in an attempt to emulate the sticklike status of their celebrity idols.

I strongly suspect that one of that 40% travelled opposite me on the London train this morning....