Weight! It's the one topic guaranteed to make even the sanest woman go mad, and as a long-term fatty, I have plenty of opinions on the subject. Given that carrying extra pounds causes so much angst to so many people, some seem to think I must have a screw loose or am in denial when I say that my weight really doesn't bother me.
I swear to God, though, I rarely think about it. I know I'm fat -- I weigh 17st -- but it doesn't trouble me or make me ashamed or embarrassed. You know that syndrome, body dysmorphia, where you think you look awful no matter how great you look -- I think I might have the opposite condition. I look in the mirror and think that I look grand.
Having said that, I'm only human, so of course it hurts me if someone says something unkind, and passing by a gang of teenagers is always particularly hazardous. Overall, though, I suppose I'm one of the lucky few whose self-esteem isn't bound up in my appearance, maybe because none of my close friends have weight problems and dieting is not a topic that we discuss.
That makes us unusual among women. I once worked in an office where everyone was on a permanent diet, and the manager weighed all of the girls in her department on Friday, recording their weight-loss on a chart on the wall. Whereas many women love discussing the subject ad nauseum, I find talking about pounds, calories, points, recipes, and what you can or can't eat to be excruciatingly dull.
I should confess that I used to be over 20st, but lost almost 4st last year on The Hospital Group's HCG diet and kept a diary about it in a magazine every month.
I went on the diet because I thought I'd like to have sex again before I die, given that men don't seem to fancy fat women and I haven't had a date in years.
And then there was the fact that although I'm the healthiest person I know and am never sick, my father had a triple heart bypass when he was 47 and I'm now 44. So tick tock!
I know that people are being kind, but I feel a bit patronised at times.
Most fat people will be familiar with the "pretty face syndrome," where well-meaning people praise our faces, or hair, or clothes, maybe trying to overcompensate for the fact that the pretty face sits on top of a tub of lard.
They never say the word 'fat' even though I always use it. We fatties tend to be described as cuddly, plump, fuller-figured, or curvy.
I've come to realise that most people would be devastated to be my weight, and, therefore, assume that I must feel the same. They suspect that underneath the happy demeanour there's a miserable, self-loathing person inside, but it's just not true. I think that we spend far too much time obsessing about what we look like, which distracts us from what's going on inside our heads and hearts. There are a lot of people out there who blame their unhappiness on their fat thighs or flabby tummies, rather than taking on the possibly more painful task of facing and addressing what is really going wrong in their lives.
What I realised when I lost a few stone was that people have an endless capacity to say the most outrageous things. Luckily, I mostly found them funny. "You can really see your features now that all that weight is gone," said one woman, tracing an imaginary circle around my face to indicate where the sea of flab had once been.
Many people stroked my arm as if I was a little bit slow, and said, "You must be so proud of yourself." Their poor faces would darken in confusion as I explained that I wasn't proud of myself for losing the flab, in the same way that I was never ashamed of myself for putting it on in the first place.
In the end, I realised that I was becoming defensive and they were just being kind, so like Miranda in Sex and The City, bemused when all around her were celebrating her unexpected pregnancy, I learned to slap on the fake smile, nod in agreement, and move swiftly on. When you lose weight, people fall over themselves to tell you how much better you look, as if it doesn't have the capacity to hurt that they are being negative about the body you previously occupied.
Dawn French expressed it perfectly when she lost 8st last year, and was reluctant to shout her weight-loss from the rooftops. "I was never actually unhappy then so it's not the case that I was miserable and I'm happy now," she said. "I had a great fondness for that other body. I knew it very well and I don't know this one as well -- not yet."
If I was to analyse why I got fat in the first place, I think it was more down to laziness and lack of self-discipline than anything else. When it comes to some areas in my life, work in particular, I'd be really fussy and thorough and disciplined, but I'd be much more casual in my personal life.
I had several jobs in my 20s that involved late nights, such as being a cinema manager, and I'd often come home and eat at all hours. And I've lived by myself for the past 12 years and have never cooked a meal during that time --I know, I know, disastrous. My oven has only been switched on twice in that time, so it is the most expensive ornament in my house.
Many fatties feel that they should hide away, and there is a truth in the observation that the bigger the space a woman occupies physically, the less visible she becomes in society. I remember working with a similarly overweight woman who couldn't understand how I could dress "so flamboyantly", as, in her opinion, that was just drawing attention to my weight. And I couldn't understand why she always wore a bland uniform of black trousers and plain, fleecy tops, because I felt she was trying to fade into the background, as fat people so often do.
"You must feel so much better," was the other comment I got regularly when I lost weight, even though I felt exactly the same at the beginning and at the end of the diet. I consider myself to be a fit fatty, due to having to walk my six dogs every day. I am not deluded enough to be unaware that carrying extra weight and having a poor diet brings about health risks, and I am trying to improve my diet these days.
I have spoken on the subject of weight on radio and each time an obesity expert was brought on to the panel. That always drove me mad, as once these experts start talking about the cost to the health service of obesity-related illnesses, that always became the focus of the discussion and it was impossible to defend my position. My belief is that I am as healthy as I am, precisely because I don't agonise over my weight.
The problem with weight is that it is on display for the world to see. It is possible to hide addictions, neuroses, worries, fears and other destructive behaviours, because nobody can see into your soul, but overindulge in too many chips and you wear your "weakness" on your hips.
I would suggest that more damage is done by the inner stress experienced by people agonising over a few extra pounds here and there, than is actually done by being fat in the first place. Women can be tortured by their shame over weight issues.
If I was to get slim, of course I'd be delighted and would check myself out in every shop window. But my life wouldn't be transformed, I'd just be a skinnier version of the same boring old me. I could never see myself declaring that the "real me" was hiding under all the flab like so many people do when they lose weight.
In my case, it simply wasn't. I lost a few stone and while I was pleased, the reality is that it didn't make the least difference to my life, apart from not having to ask for the extender seatbelt on airplanes. And men weren't beating a path to my door either, so maybe I mistakenly thought it was my body that was keeping them away rather than my hideous personality flaws.
Fat, thin or somewhere in between, I think we need to give ourselves a break. Reality is only relative, so if I am happy at 17st, and choose to focus on other aspects of my life, don't presume that I am secretly miserable and full of self-loathing, just as I won't assume that if you have the perfect figure and can rock a bandage dress, that your life is a bowl of cherries.
I think we'd live in a far more interesting and colourful world if the focus was less on how much we weigh or what dress size we wear -- and more on how vibrant and fulfilled we are.