Show me a girl with an eating order

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The Independent Online
WHEN is a normal diet a couple of lettuce leaves and half a yogurt? When you're a teenage girl. The 15-year-old who isn't avoiding breakfast, chucking away her lunch, and just about swallowing a few mouthfuls of cabbage for dinner is an oddity.

Samantha Kendall, the four-and-a-half-stone woman whose twin sister has already died of self-starvation, focused attention back on anorexia last week. If it's hard to detect eating disorders in the early stages, it's partly because, for a teenage girl, there's no such thing as an eating order; it's virtually impossible to find anyone between the ages of 13 and 20 who doesn't have a wacky attitude to food. At Milham Ford School, a girls' comprehensive in Oxford, a selection of Year 10 and 11 girls, aged 14 to 16, told me last week how they deliberately get up too late to eat breakfast, have a Mars bar for break, and skip lunch. At one point I thought I'd found a girl who was blissfully untroubled by her size, shape, or calorific intake, who actually ate three meals a day without thinking too much about it. Then she confessed that she owned five exercise videos.

They were resentful of ubiquitous pictures of stick-thin models, of mothers who passed comments on extra potatoes, and of pig-ignorant boys who say to each other: 'You surely don't fancy that fat cow?'. They were on top of all the arguments about food being the one thing teenage girls feel they can control. The trouble is, there's so much of it to control - crisps, chocolate, cake, burgers, potatoes, not to mention three meals a day - and taking control is an unfamiliar, uncertain sensation for them. They keep mucking it up and eating what they aren't supposed to, and that makes them feel sick and disgusted and hate themselves, especially in leggings.

A few do manage three meals a day, at more or less the accepted times, although everyone eats lunch at break. Katie, fairly typically, skips breakfast, has a chocolate bar at break, more chocolate and crisps at lunchtime, a sausage roll on the way home from school, and a proper dinner, 'with vegetables, so that's all right'. She thinks this is a healthy diet and, relatively speaking, it is. Melissa skips breakfast and lunch and has a sandwich in the evening - a very thin, salad sandwich. 'I think I'm fat,' she says. (Not 'I am fat': somewhere, deep down, she must know she's very thin). Melissa doesn't live with her parents since they split up, so there's no one to do anything about it.

Catherine wishes her mother would do less. 'She can't lose weight herself, so she says my clothes don't suit me. Well, they don't, but she looks worse.' Catherine's hoping to start jogging again soon: she and her sister used to do 12 miles a day, getting up at 5am. Her sister is now anorexic.

Boys, they insist, won't go out with fat girls in case their mates laugh. Jessica (who isn't the thinnest girl in the class, though the implications of this seem to have passed everyone by) is the only one actually to have a boyfriend. She says she wouldn't eat in front of him in case he thought she was stuffing her face. 'No one likes eating in front of boys,' her friend Vikki explains. Boys don't worry about their own weight; they act tough instead. But as Catherine says, that's a lot easier than losing two stone.

AMERICAN doctors have developed a novel technique for removing cockroaches from the ears, according to a report in the Independent last week. The traditional method required forceps and 'much dexterity'. Now they spray in lignocaine, a local anaesthetic, which makes the cockroach 'exit at great speed'. The doctor can then despatch it as it skitters across the floor, using a 'simple crush method', especially useful, I read, for patients who have cockroaches in both ears. One question. How do they get there?

I NOW understand why the Child Support Agency is so widely held to be incompetent. Last week's industrial tribunal hearing, in which Stephen Davies is claiming sexual discrimination, revealed that agency staff are much too busy dropping their trousers and jumping into bed with one another to work. They seem to spend most of their time at parties, trying to kiss each other. There were confusing, contradictory allegations of affairs with best friends' husbands and wives' colleagues. Even in court, Mr Davies, a self-confessed trouser dropper and adulterer, accused Mrs A of smirking at him. 'I find it very disconcerting that she has been smirking at me all through this tribunal,' he said.

MY SISTER telephoned our house last week to be answered by the police. Our burglar alarm had gone off (again), they'd found the back door open and thought we might have been burgled. My boyfriend, who is becoming accustomed to chasing burglars, rushed home to be greeted by perplexed police officers. Nothing seemed to have been disturbed downstairs - my laptop was lying around - but they thought the intruders had probably been through our things in the bedroom: there were messy clothes and open underwear drawers everywhere. They all trooped up to look and, rather sheepishly, my boyfriend explained. The mess was all mine.

I DON'T remember what I was doing when President Kennedy was shot. I can't even remember where I was when John Lennon was killed. I won't, though, forget John Smith's death - partly because I minded very much about John Smith, but partly because (incredibly, but then the whole thing was incredible) I found myself sitting next to the newsreader as he was making the announcement. I was on Woman's Hour, being flippant about football. The programme was interrupted for the newsflash, and then, almost farcically, there were seven minutes of football flippancy (during which the newsreader crept out of the studio), before the news. It was difficult to give football any thought at all.