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The Feminine Paradox: Shrink and You May Be Considered Attractive

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I am currently considering going on the 5:2 Diet - the one where you fast for two days a week and eat normally for the other five days. I'd like to lose, ooh, about 5lbs... nothing too dramatic, just to streamline the waist a bit, flatten the tummy, generally look a bit leaner...

Why am I thinking about turning myself into a crazed, hungerstruck zombie for two days each week when all my clothes fit me perfectly; when I haven't gained weight in 10 years and am - for all normal purposes - a perfectly slim, healthy size 10/12?

The key is in that phrase "for all normal purposes"... because, come February, I am giving a platform talk at PURE London, one of the fashion industry's most prestigious exhibitions (and, with London Fashion Week now almost totally catwalk-focused, the biggest event of its kind in the UK). I will be talking about how the fashion industry can better serve the grown up woman, for her benefit and also for that of the industry - or, at least, those bits of the industry ready to recognise how vital the older demographic is to their business.

As a co-founder of SoSensational.co.uk, the shopping and style site for grown up women, where we edit all the fabulous clothes so that grown up, stylish women don't have to plough through pages of inappropriately short skater skirts and inappropriately tight and strappy Lycra bandage dresses, it is a subject close to my heart. And while I need to put in some serious study to ensure I don't send those who rock up to listen into a Valium-style slumber, I am comfortable with speaking to an audience.

What worries me, I am embarrassed to admit, is not the words that come out of my mouth, but how I will be regarded by those from the industry who sit down to listen. Will they concentrate on the spell-binding (come on, allow me my fantasy) presentation, or will they be thinking: "Hmm, she'd look better a few pounds lighter." Tragically, it is that concern that leads me to being just a mouse-click from purchasing the UK best-seller, The Fast Diet, the bible of the intermitten fasters, by Dr Michael Moseley and Mimi Spencer.

And the sad truth is that, despite being 62, despite a decently successful journalistic career (including a prestigious award), despite a thriving website business, despite a husband who adores my every curve, my insecurities surface when it comes to "thin".

And here the words of writer author Lionel Shriver, speaking last week during a debate at The Times Cheltenham Literary Festival have a real resonance. The best-selling author of We Need To Talk About Kevin told the audience that "the device-ridden world where we see images of ourselves more often" had led to an obsession with "how many pounds we have put on".

And girls - and I am the proof it's not just girls, but also mature women who should know better - were being "suckered into the competition of being thinner.

"They are picking up social cues that to be tinier is to beat the system. It's defended as an achievement. Ambitious girls are falling prey to that and it's heartbreaking: it's a grotesque mis-channelling of ambition."

She went on to admit to "a kind of photo-shoot anxiety", which is not very different from my PURE platform talk-anxiety.

"We now look in the mirror and make a harsh judgment about what kind of people we are depending on whether we have put on a couple of pounds," added Shriver.

Speaking in the same debate, Emma Woolf, the presenter of Supersize v Superskinny and a recovered anorexic, observed that "as women get into the public eye, they get smaller.

"You look at Samantha Cameron, Kate Middleton, Sophie Dahl..." she said.

Woolf believes we encourage women to be smaller "so they take up a smaller space in the world when they become more powerful."

I think it's less existential and more aesthetic: women make themselves smaller (aka thinner) because they see their image on the TV news or, if they are civilians, on Facebook or Instagram, and decide "normal" isn't good enough; "normal" doesn't look angular and fashionably underfed; only "thin" measures up...

It makes me wonder when we decided that protruding bones and hollow cheeks were something to admire and emulate rather than to be horrified at. What perfect storm of multi-national fashion corporations, women-hating photographers, embittered caption writers, gay designers and twisted stylists made women and girls feel that to be a size 12 was to be a "heffer" and to be an emaciated size 4 was "attractive".

It's an attitude that we urgently need to change if we aren't going to breed another generation of girls with eating disorders and stratospheric levels of self-loathing.

So, I am stepping away from the Amazon page displaying The Fast Diet because I am no longer considering reducing myself in order to be more acceptable to those members of the fashion industry who may wish to hear me speak...

This is normal; get over it...

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