My Sister, The FeministPosted: July 16, 2008
My sister is 18 – only 19 months younger than me. And, whilst I grew up tomboyish and vain, she grew up feminine and vain. So we make quite a good combination, all things considered, and never have to compete for being ‘the best’, because we’re so very different there’s nothing to compete for – I’ll be best at wearing skanky jeans, she’ll be best at wearing frilly skirts. It’s fine.
It also means that whilst I get quite animated about feminism, and LGBTQ rights, and fat acceptance, and so on and so forth, she…. doesn’t.
So when, a few days ago, she told me about this, it made me hurt inside. Because although I’ve read a fair amount about it, she hasn’t – and for her it’s personal.
My sister’s friend, V, is anorexic. Severely, can’t-leave-the-house-she’s-so-weak anorexic.
She had all her lessons at school rearranged for the morning so that she could get through her A-levels and not collapse and die. So far, she lives.
But she wasn’t the “fat” girl in their friendship group. Not by a long shot. That was my sister. Not that my sister was fat, of course, but when everybody around you is 4’6″ and wearing child clothes and you’re 5’3″ and wearing adult clothes, then you feel fat. And she did. But she didn’t diet, other than the odd half-hearted cutting-out-chocolate-for-a-month type diets, and eventually the tiny thin girls that she was friends with got taller and filled out a bit.
It’s just that when V filled out a bit, she took it badly.
And my sister got very upset.
It could so easily have been her, she told me. She read the same magazines, she saw the same adverts, she watched the same programmes – and everything told her that she needed to diet. It’s just that she never did. It wasn’t, she said, that she was any stronger willed, or any more clever – she just got lucky. It just didn’t affect her in the same way.
But it could have done.
The girl lying listlessly in her bed, refusing to eat, terrified of being “fat” whilst wasting away before her friends’ eyes – that could have been my sister. It could have been me.
And, she said, it made a real difference to the way she felt about food.
She and V have a male friend who is very close to them both. They’ve both known him for years. And he, seeing V wasting away, is now terrified that every female friend he has will do the same. Which means that my sister is faced with a dilemma whenever she goes out with him – because he wants to see her eating “normally”.
“I can’t eat salads in front of him now,” she told me, sadly, “he thinks it means I’m dieting, just like how V started out. He always wants me to eat burgers and stuff, and I don’t always want to. And I know he’s only scared but I’m scared for her too, and it’s hard enough as it is to not get funny about food without him watching what I’m eating all the time.”
My sister knows. She didn’t have to read Shapely Prose to learn about fat acceptance – she worked it out on her own, growing up. She didn’t have to read a few hundred articles about the pervasive messages of self-hatred that the patriarchy throws at us – she can see them in every magazine she picks up.
My sister is 18. And she’s a brilliant feminine feminist.