Secretarial: The Temp - Skinny, stupid and starving

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The Independent Culture
SOMETIMES YOU have to take stock, and Doug's e-mail, which compared my bum to two bowling balls in a rucksack, brought about one of those moments. Straining to see over my own shoulder into the mirror, I realise that though the comment might have been unnecessarily cruel, he had a point. I know that most of the world has their excuses for being overweight, but it really is difficult to watch your diet as a temp, when you don't have access to a corporate gym and meals often consist of a packet of crisps and a bottle of chocolate milk snatched from the station newsagent because you've no idea where the local food outlets are.

But yes, over a long winter when, like most office workers, I didn't see daylight at all except at weekends (jogging on a rainy night dodging muggers, tramps and Combat 18 members somehow fails to appeal), my backside has expanded, though I'd say it looks more like two footballs in a saddlebag. So there's nothing for it: I have to go on the secretarial starvation diet. It's all very well every publication in the country publishing neat little lists of menus to help you shed that reluctant stone, but only someone whose life is based around the home, who has absolutely regular hours or is totally obsessive can track down beetroot and cottage cheese on a bed of lettuce in the average high street.

It's worse for men, of course. I worked at a big engineering company a while ago that had a canteen. Every time one of the male employees ordered salad and fruit for lunch, all the other blokes would gang up and start putting a rumour about that he was gay, which would have him back on the pie-and-chips diet in no time at all. So if you're gay and you're out, at least you can eat what you want without worrying about the repercussions. Which is probably why there are so many more good-looking gay men than heterosexual.

Then again, the pressure on men to be thin is infinitely less. I get up 15 minutes early every morning now in order to wolf a bowl of fruit and fibre to get the old system moving and give me a fighting chance of surviving until a lunch of cullings from the bag of bananas, grapefruit, pears, oranges, grapes, kiwis and apples that I bought in the supermarket on a speed-raid at the weekend. Sometimes in the evening I have beans on toast (no butter) for a treat. Those footballs are deflating nicely, but then, so is my brain power.

My typing is riddled with errors, I forget things if I don't write notes to myself, I find my mind drifting away in the middle of dictation BECAUSE I'M SO BLOODY HUNGRY. And aside from the acidic explosions in my stomach, the consumptive weakness, the constant short fuse, I can't actually think about anything other than food. Juicy steaks, buttery spuds, wild mushroom risotto with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan, chunky KitKats dance across my vision. I cry myself to sleep as my body begs for hot chocolate and a couple of biscuits.

Someone suggests going out for a pizza and I have to be restrained from throttling them. And this period of starvation, as I watch other women squeak in feeble voices and order mineral water in bars, has made something very clear to me about the gender wars. This is it: men claim to like us whippet-thin. Strange, though, that this taste for bones on a chick only kicked in around the time, in the 1920s, when we got the vote, started going to university, began, slowly, to creep into the workplace, isn't it? Maintaining the state of near-starvation required to look like Kate Moss when you've got the genetic heritage of Miriam Margolyes means that half the world's working women are only functioning at half-cock.

By allowing ourselves to be slaves to our insecurities, we stay skinny and stupid, and the boys get the promotions. Clever, eh? So clever, in fact, that it must have originally been thought up by a woman.