Fat Cow, Fat Chance – Dame Jenni Murray

Published by: Doubleday
Pages: 253
Date released: 02/07/2020
Date read: 28/05/2021

At sixty-four, Jenni Murray’s weight had become a disability. She avoided the scales, she wore a uniform of baggy black clothes, refused to make connections between her weight and health issues and told herself she was fat and happy. She was certainly fat. But the happy part was an Oscar-worthy performance. In private she lived with a growing sense of fear and misery that her weight would probably kill her before she made it to seventy.

Interwoven with science, social history and psychology of weight management, Fat Cow, Fat Chance is a refreshingly honest account of what it’s like to be fat when society dictates that skinny is the norm. it asks why we overeat and why, when the weight is finally lost through dieting, do we simply pile the pounds back on again? How do we help young people become comfortable with the way they look? What are the consequences of the obesity epidemic for an already overstretched NHS? And, whilst fat shaming is so often called out, why is it that shouting ‘fat cow’ at a woman in the street hasn’t been included in the list of hate crimes?

I am going to address the elephant in the room to begin with and say I am overweight. Always have been. In the (nearly) 28 years of my life, I’ve always been the chubby one. I was the chubby baby (the only time it seems acceptable for a female to be chubby), a stocky child, and then a voluptuous adult. I choose the word voluptuous as it paints a nicer picture than chubby or overweight or fat. I did lose quite a substantial amount of weight…oh about 12 years ago, but it turns out I had chronic colic and ended up being hospitalised. So it’s not a diet I would recommend. I am not morbidly overweight, but  carry slightly more than is probably healthy. I could blame my recent mobility issues or health conditions, but when it comes to it, I eat too much and move too little. That’s the very basic thing. But could there be more to being overweight than just eating too much and moving too little? Well that’s what Jenni’s book aims to discover.

At 64, Jenni’s weight (20+ stone) had become a serious disability affecting her present and her future. She actively avoided the scales (as do I), drowned herself in baggy clothes (my favourite clothes tend to be oversized and black), and insisted she was fat and happy.

And it is perfectly possible to be fat and happy at the same time. Happiness doesn’t just come hand in hand with being skinny and toned and “perfect” in the eyes of society. And yet society says that if you are overweight, you can only be depressed and miserable. Anyone fat and happy is lying to themselves. But that’s just not the case. Yes I could do with losing a bit of weight, it would make me fitter and help with my mobility problems I’m sure, but it doesn’t make me spend everyday moaning at my reflection in the mirror, or stop me laughing with friends over a nice dinner and glass of bubbly. It is important we get out of the mindset that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. I tell you now, a lot tastes better than skinny feels. Freshly made bread smothered in butter; pasta with fresh tomatoes and cheese; crispy roasted potatoes; a big bag of crisps; chocolates, sweets, full-fat yogurt, wine, gin. Need I go on?

I understand that for some people, carrying excess weight is dangerous and can seriously impact their health and life expectancy, and therefore, a strict diet or surgery is the only answer to get their life back on track and that’s absolutely fine. But for me, I would much rather have a life expectancy five years less, but enjoy what I’m eating, than have that extra five years but spend it miserable because I can’t eat that bowl of pasta, or I can’t finish that bottle of red wine (this is just my opinion).

I grew up in a household where one parent loved food and was overweight, and the other was very thin. One lived to eat and the other ate to live. That’s two very conflicting mindsets to grow up with. But given that, I’ve never actually given much thought to the science behind being overweight. Sure we’ve all heard the “my metabolism is too slow”, “I’m big boned”, “I can’t exercise because of my dodgy knee” – but is any of this actually true?

The scientific chapters later on in this book, whilst interesting and definitely gave me food for thought (pun definitely intended), they didn’t hold my interest nearly as much as the chapters about Jenni’s own story. About her childhood, her teenage years, and her adulthood; her experience is fascinating and you are completely hooked from page one.

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