Keira Knightley
Keira Knightley

Cult of skinny chic is stronger than ever

By SARAH VINE Time of article published Jul 10, 2014

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London - My daughter and I went to the doctor the other day. She’s had mega-hayfever for the past few weeks and her medication just wasn’t working.

He was very sympathetic. “I think it’s time we tried something new,” he said, reaching for his medicine book. “Tell me, my dear, do you know how much you weigh?”

I was just about to open my mouth when, quick as a flash, she told him herself, adding proudly, “My best friend weighs much less, but I have big muscles, you see.”

We left, armed with our prescription. But it’s stuck with me.

I had no idea she knew how much she weighed - or, for that matter, that she knew how much her best friend weighed. It brought back anxious, ancient memories.

I’m not sure when, exactly, I became aware of my size and strength. But I remember a growing sense that there was a lot of me. Too much, in fact.

Not so much fat, just big. Big face, big head (I’ve always had trouble finding hats), big hands, wide shoulders, muscly legs, size 8 feet.

As to weight, I have always been too heavy. I’ve never managed to be my “ideal” weight (73kg, since you ask). Not even when I was 15 and a size 10.

Not even when I was starving myself to the point where my hair started falling out and my hands shook and I had ulcers inside my mouth.

Not even when I had to go and stay with my granny, who fed me chicken broth and told me I was beautiful and that it didn’t matter that I wasn’t a long-limbed, doe-eyed ballerina and that she loved me anyway.

Realising that my daughter, who’s 11, was entering a new phase in her life - one during which she would become conscious of the views of the world around her, a world in which she and her classmates might discuss such things - filled me with a sense of dread.

Entirely unfounded, I’m sure: she’s a very different child to the one I was, so much more confident and articulate, and growing up in entirely other circumstances.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel an anxious pang. Young girls are not stupid. They look around and what they see is this: a world full of glossy, glamorous, beautiful people, with charmed lives and successful careers. They look at what unites those people and increasingly they see one thing: they are all super-skinny.

Take pictures from the Serpentine Summer Party in London recently, featuring some of the most talked about and celebrated young women of our age. To me they represent the ultimate triumph of our super-skinny culture.

Cara Delevingne, etiolated in top-to-toe black, posed along with Alexa Chung, her bony feet bird-like in pointy shoes, her shoulder blades and collar bone sharp as razors.

They were joined by the queen of the super-skinnies, Keira Knightley, the only woman alive, with the possible exception of Angelina Jolie, who can look svelte in a dress made out of old cushions.

Beautiful, effortless social x-rays.

Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with being slim. It’s laudable, in fact, especially in these days of junk food and sofa slobbing. It’s not being slim that’s wrong. It’s being super-skinny and being adored for it.

It’s the equating of skinny with virtue: beauty, goodness, style, femininity. The thinner these actresses, models, whatevers get, the more the fashion and showbiz worlds lionise them. They get all the best invitations, all the VIP passes.

Designers name handbags after them, magazines fawn over them. Not because they are great scientists, doctors, lawyers, politicians. But because they go to parties in ever-tinier dresses.

Every time we see them the gospel of super-skinnyiness spreads, and not just through party pictures and glossy magazine shoots. Many of these girls - such as model Mary Charteris, another of the Serpentine party skinnies - post endless selfies on Instagram and Twitter, silently rubbing our noses in their protruding hips, their tiny upper arms, their flat stomachs.

They make it all look so fabulous, so cool and glamorous - and so damn effortless. Perhaps for these girls - and for all their genetically blessed friends - being that thin really just does come naturally. But what if being skinny just isn’t in your genes? What if, like me, you’re more of a Welsh pit pony than an aristocratic gazelle?

And what if, like all young girls without exception, you aren’t quite sure who or what you are but you do know that you want to fit in, to be cool, to be liked? What then? You stop eating. You exercise. You obsess about every last morsel and calorie.

And when you still can’t feel your hipbones, you run the lovely, healthy body that God gave you into the ground, you starve it and torture it, you hollow it out from the inside until all that’s left is skin and bone.

When I was young, the celebrity influence wasn’t even half as bad as it is now. Back then we had Christy Turlington and Sophia Loren and other Amazonian role models and besides, I grew up in Italy, where hips and thighs are part of the culture.

And still I was infected. Still I longed to be a 45kg weed, with bony ankles and sparrow-like wrists. Being strong and clever didn’t come into it. And so I set out to re-shape myself to that mould in the only way possible: dieting.

What is it Kate Moss said? ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.’ I loved this new absence of padding: it made me feel pious and strangely powerful, like I was in control.

Lighter physically, but emotionally too. At a time when my body was doing all kinds of strange things that weren’t necessarily welcome (periods, breasts, the whole messy, complicated transition from childhood to womanhood), I felt small again.

And I had funny little OCD-ish tests I used to do to see how thin I was. I would lie in the bath on my stomach, and delight in the touch of my ribs against the enamel. I would stretch out on the bed and place a ruler between my hipbones, like a bridge. But at least the only person I was hurting was myself.

Three decades on I am 48. I wear a weave because I have weak, thin hair that frightens small children. I have the teeth of an 84-year-old Elizabethan. I have an underactive thyroid, broken by years of bad dieting.

Who knows, I probably have osteoporosis (I’m too scared to check, but I did suffer a severe Colles wrist fracture a few years ago, also known as an “old lady fracture”).

I struggle to keep my weight stable not because I’m a lazy layabout junk food junkie, but because my body clings to calories like a drowning man to a raft.

This is what happens to normal girls who try to be like Cara and Keira.

I like to joke that I am a failed anorexic; but it’s not a joke really. I got lucky. Too many girls don’t.

And as long as we live in a world that fetishises female thinness and treats it as the most desirable of all virtues, we are condemning successive generations of girls to a lifetime of self-loathing. - Daily Mail

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