The question ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ feels like a distant relic of early noughties culture. Worrying about fitting into our jeans conjures images of Bridget Jones crash dieting. Of Gok Wan’s early body positivity. Of the entire concept of the film Shallow Hal.
So, when leading diabetes expert Professor Roy Taylor said that people who couldn’t fit into the jeans they wore when they were 21 risked developing type 2 diabetes, the use of this crude, archaic-sounding measure was greeted with shock. Speaking about a study that found that shedding the pounds could help people of ‘normal weight’ with type 2 diabetes ‘achieve remission’, Prof Taylor said that people who had outgrown their 21-year-old self’s denim were ‘carrying too much fat’.
The response to Prof Taylor’s suggestion - from hurt and outrage to sharing pictures of questionable early 20s fashion choices - amounted to a resounding ‘Really?!’
‘I see no one has told them about what happens to the human pelvis after giving birth,’ responded one Twitter user, referring to the changes to pelvis bone structure which happen before and during birth. Another commenter pointed out that ‘hormones play a huge part in older women's weight gain’, citing the effects of reduced oestrogen levels during menopause.
Others recalled experiences of having eating disorders at the age of 21, pointing out that their size at the time was not the pinnacle of health that Prof Taylor’s comments would imply. ‘I hope I can never fit into that size of jeans again,’ wrote disorder awareness campaigner Adam Fare. ‘I was underweight and pretty unwell.’
These concerns are echoed by eating disorder charity Beat, which pointed out to Grazia that, while eating disorders can affect anyone, ‘they are more likely to develop in late teens and early twenties’.
‘Highlighting the age of 21 as being the blanket age to be at an ideal weight is irresponsible, especially if someone was unwell with an eating disorder at the time,’ says Beat's Director of External Affairs Tom Quinn.
Quinn tells Grazia that ‘weight is just one factor that makes up an overall picture of someone's health’ and ‘changes in shape and size are natural over the course of someone’s lifetime’.
Even for those who have a less complicated relationship with food and diet, simplistic advice about slimming down neglects the context in which weight loss - and gain - happen. Factors including income, mental health and education make accessing a desirable diet and exercise regime far easier for some than others. ‘Shouldn’t we be focusing on making healthy food cheaper & more accessible & making cities built for daily exercise of walking/cycling?’ asked Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, in response to Prof Taylor’s comments.
Prof Sridhar told Grazia that women’s bodies, in particular, change over time: ‘Wearing the same jeans as at 21 isn’t a good marker of being healthy’. The expert added that, rather than a specific size, our focus should be on eating a balanced diet, maintaining an active lifestyle and ‘moderating alcohol consumption’.
One-size-fits-all health stipulations are far more likely to leave us feeling ashamed than motivated, and lambasting people for existing in bodies that haven’t stayed static throughout different eras of life is counterproductive. People need encouragement, support and, most importantly, sufficient resources to take care of themselves. And, please, let’s leave our holey Joni jeans in the recycling bank.