In October 1984 I managed to get unpaid leave from my wine merchant employers, and for two months stayed with my parents where they were living temporarily in Johannesburg, South Africa, during which my mother did all she could to help me. She took the decisions about meals out of my hands by putting me on her strict Scarsdale diet, and I enrolled locally on an aerobics class three times a week. I went to a local public swimming pool and sunned myself to get a tan, so the first few weeks were an agony of hunger and complaining muscles mixed with sunburn.
Gradually it all settled down, and though I never got to like the hideous practice of leaping about causing myself discomfort and breathlessness, I could appreciate that it speeded up the process no end. There were no scales around, but I must have lost at least another 1.5 stone (21 lbs, 9.5kg) – there was nowhere to cheat or get food, and the aerobics teacher had known what was at stake, and she worked me hard in the 30 degree heat.
Picture № 19, Christmas Day 1984, Johannesburg, South Africa
– about 9 stone (126lbs, 57.5 kg)
My Dad was very proud of my achievement, and took lots of pictures of me. It was a mercy however that my mother had her little cheap fixed focus instant camera with her and insisted on taking a few herself, because good ol’ Dad had forgotten to put a film in the camera... (Likewise my extraordinary adventure the day before in a cheetah enclosure when I had posed sitting with and stroking them had gone unrecorded for the same reason.) He was mortified, but my regret was that there were now virtually no records of my great effort – except this one above, clutching a tin of hairspray.
I returned to England early in the new year of 1985, tanned and slim, to find it was already too late. My husband had opted for his mixed doubles tennis partner, a former mutual friend, and I moved into a flat in February.
25 years on, I think I see it all more clearly. I believe what feelings he had disappeared after the first couple of years, and whereas a mature person would have ended it then and there with a minimum of fuss, an immature one such as he was then, stayed on for another six, feeling increasingly trapped and resorting to unkindness as a release, whilst letting himself drift off towards someone else. Leaving someone you no longer love is so much easier when there's someone you do waiting round the corner.
Strictly from my own experience, I find men to be like children where relationships are concerned - they would far rather the woman took the lead, while they concentrate on the macho aspects. They don't on the whole understand their own feelings, or how to handle them. Rarely are they able to analyse their own or their partner's behaviour and draw conclusions which drive the relationship forward. If they get it right, it's instinctive.
...Anyway..., these posts are about the history of my weight problem and not about other aspects of my life, so suffice to say that the next few months were very difficult, and for the first time ever, I lost my appetite almost completely.
Picture № 20, Spring 1986, aged 33
(compare with № 18, I’m wearing same dress,
which now fitted properly…)
My weight went down to 7.5 stone (105 lbs, 47.5kg) and this is virtually the only photo of me at the time – friends and relations were reluctant to take pictures of me because of my state of mind. As usual it’s written all over me – I’m not very good at hiding my feelings. Despite the unhappiness I could acknowledge when I looked at myself in the mirror that I was at last slim, though I remember smiling ruefully to myself as I gazed at the amazing petite image before me, reflecting that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy it. I did however buy size 10 denims, and derived a grim satisfaction from having to lie down on the floor to do up the zip, though getting up afterwards was a bit of a challenge.
Unfortunately I also thought that this was it now, this was how I would be forever. It had taken divorce to finally ‘sort me out’. Oh but it didn’t.
In trying to climb out of the doldrums, I got myself involved backstage with an amateur opera company, and made new friends, among whom was John, now my partner. Somewhat older than me, he was gentle, kind, undemanding, understanding and totally uncritical about all matters regarding weight. He also loved my experimenting on him with my cooking.
After eight years at the wine merchants, where I had progressed some way up the secretarial tree and had studied part-time to get a diploma in wines and spirits, I opted for voluntary redundancy when there was a change of boss, and moved to an office equipment company to be an office supervisor, where to my surprise I learned that I enjoyed pure admin (do stay awake…).
John and I spent weekends going out and about looking for subjects to photograph, and ate out a lot.
Picture № 21, mid 1988, with John, in Tenerife, Canary Islands
Gradually it started to pile on again, helped in no small measure by the appearance of Haagen Dazs ice-cream, which I ate by the tub full when on my own. Hardly surprising then that I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, since it was present on both sides of the family anyway, though I only learned about this afterwards.
Picture № 22, late 1988, aged 35 with my niece.
I have a wonderful relationship with her (you may have seen a picture earlier in this blog where I’m holding her little son), and once again I’m hiding behind my favourite Bolivian alpaca poncho, which you’ve also seen before.
Meanwhile my job with the office equipment distributors ended in redundancy following a series of takeovers, and I spent a bizarre 6 months working as a PA in a crematorium.
(Anecdote: a member of a bereaved family thought it would cheer them all up to tuck the dead man's mobile phone – switched on - into the coffin out of sight, which the bright spark then rang during the funeral as it was taking place by the graveside. The crem’s funeral administrator, a prim, permanently worried little man who was always hovering in the background to ensure everything ran smoothly, appeared at the office looking white as a sheet, and as he gulped down a cup of tea told us the story, and that the family, far from being ‘cheered up’, had been absolutely livid, and had to be stopped by the vicar from beating up their relative.)
When this job came to an end, I ended up as an office manager at wholesale seed merchants for 19 years, and much enjoyed being in agriculture. Though I grew up in the capital city of Buenos Aires, my mother's farming background had ensured we spent every available holiday on working farms, so to some extent I understood the business and greatly sympathised with its difficulties.
Four years after divorce, and many gorgeous dinners later therefore, this was what I looked like:
Finally admitting I needed outside help, I went to slimming club classes and at first the kindergarten approach suited me – over the next few months I lost two stone and was one of several chosen to go to London for the day to meet the Slimming Magazine Slimmer of the year.
Picture № 24, 1990, with Slimming Magazine’s Slimmer of the Year
But… and this is so familiar to slimmers… I couldn’t keep it up. Now that there was no pressure, and experiencing something like contentment for the first time in my life, my weight zoomed up again. It wasn’t just that I felt better – I had at last ‘allowed’ myself not to think of diets and food. I realised that a large part of my brain and waking hours for years and years had been spent worrying about it, planning meals, feeling guilt and self-loathing, worrying about what other people were thinking about me – and when I let myself off the hook, it was wonderful: I became interested in so many different projects and subjects. The main new enthusiasm was photography, which has never left me.
(to be continued).