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AMANDA PLATELL reveals the 'epiphany' that made her stop fat-shaming

‘We’ve been worshipping the abnormally thin for far too long’: AMANDA PLATELL reveals the ‘epiphany’ that made her stop fat-shaming women

My fat-shaming epiphany occurred earlier this week as I gazed at a picture of the actress Jennifer Coolidge.

Here she was, an undeniably stout-looking 61-year old-woman, posing on the red carpet clutching her Screen Actors Guild trophy and looking . . . utterly magnificent.

A size 16-plus, by anyone’s measure, she knocked them dead with her cleavage, wit, and sheer chutzpah. This was a woman who once admitted to eating six pizzas a day, and look at her! An icon of middle-aged talent and joie de vivre who has swept the board at this year’s awards ceremonies for her role in TV hit The White Lotus.

I was struck by a thunderbolt. Bigger can be beautiful, I realised. Women like Jennifer are glorious. And as I acknowledged that fact, I realised, with a stab of guilt, just how fat-phobic I am.

For decades in my columns I’ve chastised larger ladies. I’ve accused them of being lazy, gluttonous, and bad role models for young women. I wrote how the American singer Lizzo was a walking advertisement for type 2 diabetes, lack of self-control, the antithesis of everything healthy and happy. (If it’s not too late, sincere apologies, Lizzo.) I called the plus-size model Ashley Graham ‘gargantuan’. (Ditto, Ashley.)

‘I was struck by a thunderbolt. Bigger can be beautiful, I realised. Women like Jennifer Coolidge are glorious’

Plus-sized model Ashley Graham turned heads as she strolled down the runway for Dolce & Gabbana during Milan Fashion Week

‘Fat is not fabulous,’ I wrote in one of my columns. ‘It’s greed that makes you fat. Not ignorance about the dangers of junk food.’

‘Like all normal-sized people, I have to work hard to stay trim,’ I proclaimed in another. ‘Everyone knows endless burgers and crisps, washed down with litres of fizzy drink, are bad for you. But fatties lack the willpower to stop eating.’

Or try this one: ‘Someone once said that inside every fat woman there is a thin one crying to get out. No, there’s just a fat woman crying. Time to bin the biscuits, ladies…’

How wrong I was — and it’s not just Jennifer Coolidge who has persuaded me. Go back a few weeks and see, yes, Lizzo, posing at the Grammys, looking as fantastic as fellow winners Adele and Beyonce.

Last month we saw Sarah Lancashire smashing it in the finale of Happy Valley as Sergeant Catherine Cawood, a bigger woman with a huge heart whose courage we wanted to emulate (who can forget her telling her colleagues to ‘kiss my ample a**e’). We didn’t just fall in love with Catherine — we wanted to be like her.

The larger lady has definitely arrived and different female body shapes are now accepted. It’s just taken me — and many others of my generation — a while to realise that we’ve been worshipping the abnormally thin for far too long, and criticising any woman who didn’t live up to an often unobtainable body type.

And now I’m starting to wonder why? What made us so fattist?

For most of my life I have looked down on fat people. I thought they were slothful, stuffing their faces with croissants and lashings of extra butter or full English breakfasts in the cafes near my house while puritanical me was heading off for a run.

Superstar Lizzo attends The BRIT Awards 2023 at London’s O2 Arena last month

When bigger friends, scoffing their second slice of cake, asked me how, at 65, I could still fit into a size 12, I’d bluntly say: ‘Eat less and exercise more’. They’d insist being slim was easy for me because it was ‘in my genes’.

But if that were true and it was all down to genetics, I would now be the same size as my darling Mum was at 65 — so large she had to get her dresses made by my Aunty Charmain because no shops back in the 1970s offered size 18-plus frocks.

Mum was big. As a little girl, walking along the street hand in hand with her, I was already conscious of it. People staring at her — and at me. I could almost see them thinking: ‘Gosh, that woman produced that little child!’ And even then, I began to believe that I was fat, too. Sadly and stupidly, for most of my life I’ve thought I was at best chubby and at worst a real roly-poly.

In fact, pictures of me then reveal a fit little urchin who ran everywhere. Playtime was chasing my brothers around the Aussie bush, climbing trees, and swimming fast in the local river to avoid the jellyfish.

Perhaps that’s where my fat-phobia began — watching Mum go from a normal-sized mum of three to a much, much larger lady. Back in those days, people from her post-war generation simply weren’t fat. Like any kid who wanted their family to be ‘normal’, I was ashamed of Mum’s size and would ask her to wait in the car, not at the school gates, when she came to collect me after basketball practice. I still wince at that memory. Sorry, Mum.

The truth was, she suffered delayed post-natal depression after losing her second child, who was stillborn at six-and-a-half months. That was a year after my older brother Michael was born, and a couple of years before I arrived.

‘Mum was big. As a little girl, walking along the street hand in hand with her, I was already conscious of it’ (Pictured: Amanda Platell, right, on holiday with her mother Norma)

They didn’t talk a lot about depression then — you just got on with it — and Mum took to comfort eating in secret to cope. Over a cup of tea she could demolish a pack of chocolate biscuits in one sitting. She didn’t want to be that size. Memories of her endless diets and the misery they brought her are forever etched on my mind.

The boiled egg diet where she ate nothing else for weeks, except grated raw carrot. Then the Ford diet pills with the slogan: ‘Ford, Ford, Ford pills, keep you really slim and happy’.

They didn’t work either. Slimming drinks, prescribed pills, salads . . . nothing ever did the job — until she stopped taking them all, walked more and returned to a healthier weight. Mum was still a larger lady, though, around a size 16, and she forever lamented her flabby arms and wobbly tummy.

And yet, of course, I still loved her. Even at the peak of her weight, probably a size 20, she was the person I wanted to be with more than anyone else in the world. So how did I end up looking down on fat people? Where was my empathy? I wonder whether, in part, it was fear. That I too would end up a size 20. That nothing could protect me from the stares and cruel comments she’d endured.

Growing up in the 1970s, being skinny was the ultimate affirmation of femininity. Chubby girls — and I thought this was me, though it wasn’t — were looked down upon. We can all remember the group of slim, cool girls at school who hung out together, sneered at us, and nabbed all the hot boys.

In the 1980s and 1990s every role model — Jerry Hall, Elle Macpherson, Kate Moss, crikey even Neighbours’ Kylie Minogue — were all slivers of womanhood.

Of course, we subliminally judged ourselves against them and found ourselves wanting. The bathroom scales became our best friend and worst enemy. We weighed ourselves incessantly, felt euphoric if we’d lost a pound and despair if we’d put a couple on.

Then came an explosion of fad diets and we tried every one — Atkins, Scarsdale, the Beverly Hills, the Cabbage Soup, all those liquid diets with their daily 500 calories that meant you shed a stone in just weeks, but were constantly, stomach-gnawingly hungry. One friend desperate to stay slim used to proudly boast ‘every dawn a new diet’.

We were just normal, growing girls, but with every new stick-thin celeb, every new weight-loss programme, we learned to obsess about other women’s weight.

Men don’t think much about the size of other men, on the whole, and certainly don’t obsess as much over women’s. As Julia Roberts said in the film Eat, Pray, Love, most men are just grateful to see a woman naked. But my generation was hooked, and many of them still are.

A few years ago I was very ill and off work for three months. I returned to the office having lost two-and-a-half stone, and in truth was too thin, but I know other women my age thought I looked great. One particular female colleague told me so and asked how I’d lost so much.

‘I’ve been sick,’ I told her. To which she replied: ‘Whatever it was, any chance I could catch it?’

Yes, she was joking — but it betrayed a mindset. And that is why I now realise my generation needs to change its ways. We need to celebrate the slow but encouraging change we have seen over the past decade, initiated by the younger millennial generation we like to brand ‘snowflakes’.

If I’m honest, it is wonderful to see larger women doing extraordinary things rather than hiding themselves away. It is liberating to see bigger models on catwalks. There aren’t many — they are a token gesture perhaps — but they are there (thank you Chanel, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana).

Mannequins in High Street shops come in plus sizes, and so too do increasing ranges of lovely clothes we actually want to wear, whatever our age and shape.

Finally, the world of fashion is accepting that larger ladies still want to look fabulous, and for once social media has played a positive role in this transformation.

When labels, including Miu Miu and Tom Ford, regressed during last season’s shows, returning to stick-thin models on their catwalks — and Gucci shocked audiences with worryingly thin models in last week’s Autumn/Winter collections — today’s influencers rightly called them out, protesting they were hardly promoting diversity and fairness and the true range of women’s body shapes today. Such a critique would have been unthinkable in the 1990s.

When the body positivity movement began around 2010, I derided it as a free pass for fatties. I denounced the young social media stars who emerged demonstrating how they loved their shape. I was wrong — I was behind the curve (or curves) in understanding how they felt about their bodies. Too stuck in my ways to recognise my own bias.

Another confession: when dresses for plumper women first became fashionable, I was sceptical. Wasn’t it just a cynical commercial exercise to get people to spend money rather than to go for a run, or exercise a bit of self-discipline?

And yet, looking around me, I see the world has changed. I accept that it is me who is the dinosaur.

Yes, we have a serious problem with obesity — and especially childhood obesity. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve changed my mind on the health problems that come with being hugely overweight.

A lifetime of type 2 diabetes awaits people who are dangerously obese. But women’s bodies have changed. You can be big and healthy too, as so many young women prove.

Now when I see a younger woman in her 20s or 30s in size 16-plus skinny jeans and a midriff-glancing T-shirt — even with a little muffin top — I think how great it is that they are relaxed in their skin.

Young women celebrate their shape and their womanhood in a way my generation never felt we could — and I salute them. Would that I’d had their body confidence when I was growing up.

So, I am a fat-shamer no more. Sincere apologies to anyone I’ve ever offended. And thank you to every woman in the public eye who has provided that belated lesson in embracing our gorgeousness, no matter what the scales say.

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