SOFT AND FLUFFY

‘Should I take a towel from the drawer’, my son asks.
‘What are they like?’
‘There’s the aubergine one, or this’. He holds one up.
I can see sunlight through it. I wrinkle my nose. ‘Take my good one. It’s on the stairs.’
‘But that’s yours’
‘I don’t want your friends to think we have crappy towels.’
‘Only our close friends,’ he says confidently.
‘No. Not even them’.
Towels have haunted me all my adult life. When I moved unexpectedly to London to be with a man he took one look at my towels and dragged me into Marks & Spencer. Ah, he’s buying me lingerie I thought. But no. Even better than that. He bought me two big fluffy bath towels. Heaven. That’s not the only reason we have stayed together but it looms large.
These days I suffer from towel-envy. Not sure if there is a support group for this affliction. I sit on the beach eyeing gorgeous striped towels that have fluffy depth from the other side of dark sun glasses. Bright colours decorating the sand like a towel mosaic. One of my closest friends has French style towels. Beautiful, floppy pieces of elegant material. A cross between a posh picnic rug and a soft throw. Sophisticated.
My towels are frayed towels, holey towels, even hand-me-down towels from family. Towels I’m embarrassed to own. I only hang them on the line because we live on acreage. No one can see.
If my mum read this blog I know what she would say, after falling on the floor laughing. ‘I knew that would come back to bite you on the bum’, or some such wise words. She would be referring to my teenage years when I refused to use any towel twice. Once wrapped around my ample bosom and it went straight in the wash basket. I washed my waist length hair thrice a week. That makes 10 towels a week, 40 a month, nearly 500 a year . No wonder Mum spoke to me through gritted teeth until I left home. Don’t tell son no.1. He’s turning out to be quite like me .
But is that it? Or is the humble towel a metaphor for some other yearning in me. A strong desire to lay down my towel on a faraway beach or lounger crowded round a pool. Is it symbolic of my wish to travel?
Does measuring my threadbare towels against other people’s well-kept towels reflect possible self-esteem issues?
There was a phase a few years ago when middle-class people rolled their towels into a sausage shape. Displayed them on open-plan shelving. Mine are shoved unceremoniously into a drawer which often gets stuck.
Years ago a colleague was disgusted when her boss bought her a towel for Christmas. Perhaps she had hoped for jewels or a silk scarf. The towel was deep blue with gold edges. A sumptuous towel. I had visions of lying on a damask covered sofa wrapped in that towel, like exquisite gift wrapping. Or shaking it out on the sands of St Tropez.
I have one good towel. It’s white with red stripes – the colours of our local rugby team. Bought by son no.2 for my birthday. If we ever win lotto, I’m going to fly to the best department store in the country to buy up all their towels.
NB Despite my towel-needs I have never stolen one from a hotel room. I may be a bit strange but I’m not a fool.

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A WEIGHTY SUBJECT

I am at best curvy. At worst a bit of a plumpy. But it hasn’t always been this way.
I was a skinny kid, a skinny tween and a skinny early teen. I wore 4 inch heels to school at 14, looking like a pipe cleaner in school uniform.
When we moved too far away to attend the same school I visited my old friends in the school holidays and comfort ate on weekends at home. Double bills of horror films to the accompaniment of lumps of cheese and packets of crisps. My thrifty mum couldn’t keep up with school blouse button popping and my bra size went from 32B to 38DD in mere months. I’d stopped cycling everywhere at about the same time – it was easier to stalk the boy I fancied on foot. I felt more confident in my bigger body. I felt sensuous. I’d always thought myself pathetic as a thin girl. Now I was brave and courageous. Full of life.
About a year later I discovered that most boys didn’t like my overflowing flesh. They wanted a girl their mates envied. They wanted a girl who was hot. I looked down at myself in confusion. Was I not hot then?
My confidence evaporated. The ground beneath me swayed and broke up into pieces. I started to diet and fell in love with the feeling of abstinence. Hunger pains gripped me lying in my bed at night. I fought my will to eat. Sometimes I only ate apples, another time just one bowl of cereal a day. I refused to eat with anyone else so that I could stash the meal my mother had cooked me into a plastic bag to be thrown away later. This was real control and at the end of it I had a concave stomach. Hurray for me!
By that time I had reached the weight of six and a half stone I was a waif. Now it wasn’t just my mum on my case. My boyfriend was concerned. His mother said I was so thin I resembled a drug addict. When Karen Carpenter died from complications from anorexia I was getting the hard word from most people.
I was lucky. I wasn’t so emaciated that I couldn’t turn back. I still had enough vanity to be shocked that I may look like a heroin user. And although slim was the preferred female shape of the day, boobs and hips were sought after too. Writing this I am appalled that the body-fashion of the day should be relevant to young women but it was.
And it certainly is now. I could spit feathers at the skinny images of young women that are out there for our youth to see. The other day I saw a pathetic, but alarming, article containing drawings of what body shape men and women prefer in females. Women prefer a slim shape with a modest bust apparently. Nice swivelly hips. Whereas men were reported to prefer a version of femininity that wouldn’t exist without starvation, and a boob job not far short of Dolly’s. Not a human form, a blow up version surely.
There are naturally thin women and these are the girls who are picked to model clothes. I get that – they sell more. But to encourage further weight loss and air brushing away so called imperfections puts an unnecessary strain on girls and boys. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Why are we even focusing on our looks? Didn’t magazines used to have interesting articles in them? Instead of page after page of pouty ads for make-up, diet food and stuff we used to consider frivolous.
I grew up subscribing to Spare Rib magazine and reading Herman Hesse. If anyone caught me looking in the mirror I was teased. Look at her, how vain is she! I have wondered how I would deal with raising a girl, as one blessed with two sons. But it affects boys too. Son No.1 works out nearly every day and feels blobby if he doesn’t. When should I start to worry?
I don’t know the answers. I don’t really know how we got here. Fame culture, porn culture, reality TV? The husband blames Twiggy. Even I still involuntarily suck my stomach muscles in when watching celebs on the red carpet in their confectionery gowns. It’s hard to be part of an age when Marilyn, if alive today, would be considered fat. 