“Three size of belt,” says the man in the souk, “salad,” he holds his fingers an inch apart, “tagine,” two inches, “and cous cous,” his arm span.

S- and I laugh. S- pats his belly and asks for salad. I pat mine and ask for cous cous. I’ve said it before and I’ll doubtless say it again, I’m not fat. Asking for the ginormous cous cous belt just seemed like the thing to do – an automatic sad mewling for a compliment.

Over the last few months, for whatever reason, I’ve lost a fair bit of weight – it hasn’t been a conscious thing but now a belt is actually necessary to prevent lower-body nakedness, whilst previously it was a mere precaution against the dreaded builders’ bum.

I made the point, not so long ago, that the numbers on the scale aren’t everything – that the size of your waist is as good an indication as any as to whether you’re a healthy shape – but I think that I had perhaps just scratched the surface there. I want to be a healthy shape for my age.

For all my outward bravado on the subject of my weight, my self-esteem never really recovered from taunts such as ‘jelly bean’ and ‘bet you can’t see your privates for your belly,’ which were issued daily throughout my time at school. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty resilient soul and believe that you’re only a victim for as long as you let yourself be one. People can say what they like, but ultimately, it’s how you interpret their comments that count – you can be offended by them, as I was for years, or you can take them at face value, politely raise your middle finger and walk on by. Generally, I do the latter, but the part of my brain that secretly enjoys reading fashion magazines seems to surface every once in a while, make a snide remark about my belly – reminiscent of those above – and then vanish off into oblivion. I suppose today in the souks is one of those days.

The cous cous belt arrives mid-reverie, just as I’m berating myself for the momentary lapse in self-confidence and the cheap attempt to make S- say that I don’t need the giant belt because I look a damn-sight better than any model does anyway.

He doesn’t say anything. Not – I might add – because he is a bad husband, but because my weight has never factored into his opinion of me. I don’t even think he’d notice if I went down the same route as the old lady who swallowed a fly and ended up the shape of an extra wide children’s paperback.

I slip the belt on and it drops over my hips, onto the floor.

“You no Shakira,” says the shop-keeper, disappointed.

He vanishes for a moment to find me a tagine belt and I stare at myself in the mirror. As I said, I’m not fat, but nor do I look like a runway model. On the plane over we’d seen this season’s Paris catwalk, viewed on those little overhead screens. The collection of women which they showed at the end put me in mind of a neon box of set-squares – the type which were popular at Tarves Primary School*. To me, in any case, these so-called beauties appeared as a mass of strange colours and hard angles.

I think of catwalk models as little girls in garish make-up – and that just isn’t me. I’m not a little girl anymore and so it doesn’t matter now what crueller children once thought – I can have curves and hips that stand out. I can

For the very first time a woman stares back at me from the mirror, a proud woman who knows that she is no longer a drainpipe teenager – in every sense of the phrase. She’s grateful that she’s come this far, lived this long. She’s thankful for the multiplying grey hairs and the crows feet by her eyes. She has had a life – not a diet.

Why on earth would anyone want to turn back time, endure the teasing that we’ve all inevitably endured, and regain the clumsy frame of an awkward teenager?

We leave the souk, S- with his salad belt and me with a confidence and peace that I have never felt before. Older – definitely. Wiser – perhaps. Happier – without doubt.

I eat two dinners.

_______

Another great article on this topic can be found here.

* At least they were from around 1994-1997

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