November 12, 2020
Author, journalist, and broadcaster Caitlin Moran joins Jameela this week to discuss how she became a writer, her knack for explaining feminism to young women in bars, how to become a “big ball of love” to a child with an eating disorder, the ways she failed and learned in her own daughter’s eating disorder journey, how eating disorders can happen at any size, why superhero movies are really about motherhood, and her book More Than A Woman, which is out now.
32 — Caitlin Moran
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil. I hope you are well. I’m feeling fucking great. I know that we are not out of trouble when it comes to politics in the United States of America. But Christ, I feel hopeful in a way that I haven’t in four years. And I cannot tell you the impact that has had on my mental health for the better. I feel as though I have finally been able to exhale, and I wonder if you feel the same way. And it’s okay to bask in that for a second, just enjoy that, and allow ourselves just a moment of peace and respite before we take on the challenge of making sure that justice actually comes from this decision that has been made just about by the American public. Yeah, I feel good. I can’t believe it. I’ve been so stressed all year, and this has been… God, it was a magical weekend. I was in New York City, and I was going on a walk. And I suddenly started hearing pots and pans being hit to like a rhythm. And I looked up and, you know, they have all these apartment blocks in Manhattan. And there were people on their balconies playing their pots and pans and dancing. And then other people on different balconies across the street started also playing their pots and pans in rhythm to the other people’s, I don’t know, dishware. And suddenly you had people singing in the street and dancing. And I thought, “What the hell is going on? This is Saturday afternoon.” I checked my phone, find out that they’ve called the Biden win. And I cannot stress enough that I’m not saying that I align with Biden or Harris’ pasts, but I do feel hopeful for their futures. But it felt like this magical moment where people were smiling, which in New York is not terribly common. Someone even told me to have a nice day when I bought a coffee, which was very shocking. And if you’ve ever been to a coffee shop in New York, you’ll know what I mean. And I love New Yorkers, but it’s definitely a kind of get-your-shit-and-go, keep moving kind of place. And to be here with everyone, full of so much love and community and joy–I saw the best of New York, and it felt like we were going to break into sort of, like, mass choreographed dance, like 500 Days of Summer, in the street. And I think it might be one of the most magical days of my life–seeing that–seeing the joy and the hope again in a country that has been so terrified for almost five years now. So, I hope you had a good weekend last weekend. I did. And I hope you’re going to enjoy this episode because it means a lot to me. When I first started out in this industry, I, you know, decided to take a leap into writing. And one of the first people who ever started to use their platform to circulate my writing, even though she’d never met me, she had no reason to have to do this, and I was actually kind of, you know, an up-and-coming competitor of hers… We were being nominated for the same awards, and she would always win. I would always be runner-up. But we have a very similar vibe when it comes to our message in the world. And she never looked at me as a competition. She looked at me as someone to nurture, help, guide, and promote. And she’s just the most genuine, empowering, interesting, and fabulously mad– I mean, she’s just like no one I’ve ever met or heard of. And her writing has meant so much to so many people. I’m talking about the absolutely excellent Caitlin Moran. And the chat that we had in this episode means the world to me. I have learned so much from this hour and–even since we first sat down to talk in the last week–have been going around, imparting her wisdom onto other people, and seeing the impact that it’s having on the way that they see the world. She’s so thoughtful. And she really goes there at all times in everything she does. She’s always 100% authentic, warts and all. And she brought 100% of that game to this podcast episode. She talked to me so openly about being a woman, being a feminist, but mostly being the mother of someone who is struggling with a mental health issue–with an eating disorder. And we talk about how much she didn’t expect that someone as body positive, open, and, you know, just mentally sane and progressive as her could possibly have a kid who struggled with this thing that you always assume is the product of bad parenting. And we talk about that, and we talk about the mistakes that she made–things that people don’t admit to or they don’t even understand about themselves. She talks about things that she got wrong when it came to helping her kid with an eating disorder, things that she finally got right, how long it took her to get there, all of the advice she can give to other parents out there in order to stop them from making her own mistakes–which is kind of what this whole podcast is about. I just find it fascinating. I’ve never heard a parent speak about what it’s like to have a kid with an eating disorder and all of the things that they think and that they worry about. And I think for anyone out there who struggled with one–as in an eating disorder–themselves, you might find this really healing. I did. I found it so healing to hear this from a parent’s point of view–and to hear how useless they feel, how impotent they feel, how much they also just don’t know what to do because there’s not enough literature out there. She’s written a book recently–and she’s written so many wonderful books throughout time, and I’m sure you already know them, or you can look them up. But More Than a Woman is the book she put out this year with her daughter’s consent; it was kind of her daughter’s idea now that her daughter is in recovery from this eating disorder. She’s written kind of a manual of what not to do and what might help for all other struggling parents out there. And I wish that we had more role models who were willing to be accountable for their lack of perfection because I think perfection is such a disease that is destroying mostly women because we’re the ones who it’s expected of. So anyway, I’m rambling, but I’m just in a good mood, and I feel lots of love and a kind of burst of feminism every time I talk to Caitlin. And I’m so excited for you to tell me what you think about this. Please message me. I love reading your messages. Message her. Your input and the things that you say, instruct me to change, question, or enlighten me on mean the world. Anyway, yay! There’s hope in America, which means there’s a bit more hope in the world because it isn’t the world, but it does have an impact. And yeah, I got to sit down and talk to one of my heroes, and she was as fabulous as I could ever have hoped for her to be. This is the excellent Caitlin Moran. This woman has beaten me to numerous Column of the Year awards, and she has been one of my role models for well over a decade. She has been one of my first and my biggest champions and supporters. I love her so much. I look up to her so much. I am so glad that she exists in this world. Oh, hello, Caitlin Moran.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:07:57] Hello, Jameela. How are you? That’s one hell of an intro. I’m just blowing love, hugs, and kisses to you from across the Atlantic. Hello.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:08:05] There is so much that I want to talk to you about. I feel like we would need an entire series of our own just to cover everything that I could get from you about feminism, radical acceptance, self-discovery. You are the queen of all of those things. You were one of the first women in Britain to really just come out swinging, telling all of the truths, and talking pubes, vaginas, periods, and patriarchy in such an unapologetic and unashamed way that has inspired an entire generation of people to just start to stop hating ourselves so much because that’s the whole ploy, isn’t it? The whole ploy of patriarchy is to train us. The ultimate crime is to train us to harm ourselves so that they don’t even have to do it anymore.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:08:50] So that the calls are coming from inside the house–that’s what the patriarchy does. The calls are coming from inside the house, like in horror movies. So. Yeah, you need to get control of the voice inside your head. Realize there’s a voice in your head, get control of the voice in your head, and make sure the voice in your head is being at least as nice to you as you are to your friends and indeed, dog. If you are talking to yourself worse than you are talking to your dog or your friends, you need to talk to yourself in a much better way.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:09:13] I have exactly the same rhetoric–it’s exactly what I believe–and it’s been the journey to my own self-discovery of wondering, “Would I tolerate that being said even to a stranger?” I feel like I would stick up for a stranger over the things that I gladly say to myself for my own head–or I did before I stopped doing that terrible thing. Anyway, so, firstly, where did this come from? Where did this ability to just, like, word vomit all of your thoughts come from? Were you always like this as a kid?
CAITLIN MORAN [00:09:44] Yes, I always knew I wanted to be a writer. And I was very lucky that the role models that I grew up with were amazing because I only watched classic 1950s musicals from the MGM stable. And they would all be about weird girls, who kept saying they weren’t beautiful, even though they were Judy Garland. And instead of being silent, gorgeous, and passive as women are in non-musicals… Like, you know, if it’s The Godfather–you know, all the classic great films of all time ever–the women’s roles, they just have to be gorgeous, sultry, and dangerous.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:10:13] And very thin.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:10:15] Very thin and very silent. They must wear beautiful white bias-cut silk gowns. They stand at the top of the stairs to make you a cigarette and looking kind of mardy. Whereas in musicals, they’re jolly, they’re funny, they’re upbeat, and they can do something. They’re amazing at dancing, singing, and being funny. So yeah. So that was all I was watching, and I was only reading books by women. That wasn’t a conscious decision because I didn’t go to school. I was taught at home. I never had to read any of the classic, you know, great white male novelists. So, it was only when I got to the age of 35 and started reading Philip Roth or Ernest Hemingway that I suddenly realized what a bullet I dodged because, again, the way they describe women… Like, instance, the amazing Raymond Chandler line where he goes, “She was the kind of dame who could make an archbishop kick in a stained-glass window.” And that’s a beautiful line, it’s amazing. But if I’d read that when I was 14, I would have gone, “Oh my God. So first of all, I can’t be a woman. I’ve got to be a dame. And I’ve got to anger the priesthood so much that they destroy property. Like, how would I do this? This sounds terrifying.” But I only ever read books by girls. I would just read Jane Eyre. I would read Anne of Green Gables. I would read Little Women. And they were all, again, usually about working class girls, who are a bit weird, who just had to find jobs and work. So, I didn’t realize that I was just unconsciously imbibing this entire pantheon of the kind of women that I would feel comfortable growing up into myself.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:11:31] And so your parents–what were they like? I mean, were they encouraging of this? Were they like this? Was it any of this from them?
CAITLIN MORAN [00:11:38] So my parents are big hippies. They had eight children. And I would describe their parenting style as… not mammalian. So, mammals have children one at a time, they care for them, and they nurture them until they reach adulthood and then they’re pushed out to the nest. Whereas my parents kind of bred more like salmon. They sort of laid a huge amount of eggs very magnificently and then just swam away down the river. So, I was the eldest. And every two years, there would be a new kid. And then as soon as the new baby arrived, the toddler would then be my business, and I would then sort of adopt the toddler and look after the toddler. So, it was very feral. They believed in the end of the world. It was quite apocalypsy. So, we had lots of plans for if a nuclear bomb was dropped. And yeah, we were very much left to our own devices, which thankfully we were just a really funny, lovely bunch of kids, who just read books and just made each of the love incandescently and incessantly, right up until 20 minutes ago when I was talking to my sister and I actually did a bit of wee talking to her, as I always do.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:12:34] Oh, that’s so great. I love hearing that. So, it’s kind of almost as though their hands-off approach just left you space to gorge on feminism.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:12:43] Yeah, very much so. They weren’t feminists themselves.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:12:49] What does that mean?
CAITLIN MORAN [00:12:51] They just weren’t. The reason there were eight kids is because I was born first, I was a girl, and they wanted a boy. So, they had another child that was a girl. And then they had a third child, and that was also a girl. Then they finally had a boy, and then they were like, “Well, he can’t be the only boy or he will get bullied by the girls.” So, then they had another two girls before they finally pumped out two boys.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:13:12] Bloody hell.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:13:13] I know, right? And the boys are treated as princes. And so, the first time I felt a feminist feeling without knowing what it was, was noticing that all the jobs the girls did were, like, the long, repetitive, endless ones–the child rearing and cooking and cleaning–whereas the boys just emptied the bins, which is an incredibly easy job. It’s not really a job at all. It takes 30 seconds. So that was the first feminist feeling I had. I was like, “Boys are being treated differently to girls. That doesn’t seem fair.” And then the only mention of feminism I ever heard in the house is if my mum ever complained about something or asked my dad to do something, he would go, “Alright, Germaine Greer, put a sock in it.” So, my presumption was that feminists like Germaine Greer were just angry nags and that probably feminism was not something that my father would encourage in the house.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:13:58] Wow. Well, I mean, that’s so many of us–so many of us–where feminism was a bad word. Like I remember–the irony of this–that up until I was, like, 24, I refused to call myself a feminist. I was like, “Oh, no, no, no. I’m not a feminist,” because I didn’t understand what it was. what I thought that meant was, “Oh, no, I don’t hate men.” And now I realize that actually, no, we can all be feminists regardless of our genders. And we should. And it’s just humanity.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:14:22] Oh, absolutely. Well, there was a poll in the UK as recently as 2017 that said that 67% of people would only use the word “feminist” in a negative way–just kind of like, “That’s a bit too feminist,” or “You sound like an angry feminist.” And, you know, there’s been an amazing wave of feminism in the last ten years. But still, I think, you know, if you are a feminist, you have to spend most of your time explaining what feminism is. And the reason that I wrote How to Be a Woman was because I was getting genuinely exhausted from the amount of young women that I would meet, who would just go, “Oh, I’m not a feminist.” And I go, “Okay. Okay. Let’s take you on your word. I believe you. So I’m presuming that you didn’t get an education, that you didn’t go to university, that you didn’t get a job, that when you were married, you went from being your father’s property to your husband’s property, that there’s no such thing as marital rape–that that would be perfectly legal–that your children could be taken away from you at any point, that you could be consigned to a psychiatric institute on the say-so of your husband, and if you ever did earn any money, it would not go into your bank account but your husband’s and become his property? Now, if that is the case and that is the life that you’ve led, then you are not a feminist. I totally agree with you. But if, on the other hand, you’ve had the exact opposite life, you did go to school, you do believe in all these rights, and you can vote, then I have wonderful news for you. You are a feminist. And the reason that you’ve lived this life is because women who did call themselves feminists came before you, changed all these rules, and changed society so that you could live the life that you wanted to lead.” And at that point they would nod and go, “Oh yeah, I didn’t know that’s what feminism was.” And I would go, “Congratulations! Today’s the day you realize that you’re a feminist.” And I got so tired of saying that in bars–usually quite drunkenly, at 3:00 in the morning. And I was like, “Right, I’m going to write a book that explains feminism in a funny, accessible way–that gives instances all the way through your life that when something happens…” And this is the big breakthrough with feminism, I think, for so many women. So often we think that if something’s happened–like we’re sexually harassed, or, you know, we’re in an abusive relationship–it must be us. “It’s just us, there’s something wrong with us, and that’s why that particular circumstance happened.” And feminism is realizing women getting together, talking, finding out that we all have these experiences very often and that it’s not just us making mistakes–that it is a societal problem–and there is a cause that addresses this, and it is called feminism.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:16:34] Absolutely. It’s a whole system of oppression. Well, hopefully anyone who has any family members out there who do not describe themselves as feminists, perhaps you could just play them even that last five-minute excerpt of Caitlin explaining it to everyone. One of the reasons that we are talking today is because you and your fabulous daughter made an unbelievably generous decision to share the experience of her eating disorder with the world and what it’s like to be the parent of someone with an eating disorder. And you wrote about that alongside many, many other things. And I would love to get into talking about that.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:17:16] Yes. You know, well, I’ve got endless amounts to talk about here.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:17:20] Absolutely. And also trends of the internet has just been awash with people talking about the importance of your new book, how you go into this, and how much it’s illuminated them and reassured them. And I feel that there are about 45 different angles when talking about not only eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food and body, which I know that you can relate to, but also how to be the parent, the supporter, or the lover–the love–of someone who is struggling with this unbelievably complex condition.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:17:52] Yeah, I mean, it is a vicious condition. You get given a talk of doom at the beginning of a diagnosis in this case for our daughter. And they tell you it’s roughly 30/30/30. So, 30% of people with an eating disorder will recover entirely. 30% will recover partially and be functional but still have major issues around food that will make their lives difficult. And 30% remain severely ill or die. The mortality rate on this is the highest of any psychiatric illness. And the average span of an eating disorder tends to be between five and seven years. So, when you’re told this about your 11-year-old daughter, suddenly there goes her entire teenage years. Like kind of it all just goes up in flames. What I had thought would be parties, boyfriends, and fun is suddenly now hospital appointments, bandages, and medication. And as a parent, it’s really hard to deal with because I come from a generation where mental illness was massively stigmatized and kept a secret. And it was presumed also that mental illness would only come about because you had been badly parented. There was very little understanding of it. And so, when my daughter said–she’s my hero for doing this–when she said when she was fully recovered, “I do want you to write about this because for my generation, there is not such a stigma around mental illness. We do see it as very much like breaking a leg or getting leukemia. We will talk about it on social media. But your generation that are looking after us–you have the problem, and you can’t help us while you’re dealing with all this guilt, shame, anger, and fear.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:19:21] And misinformation.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:19:23] Absolutely. And also, the kind of information that you get… Like, I looked around desperately to find any books or memoirs by people who had eating disorders that has a happy ending. And I literally couldn’t find one. And although we know, you know, what the stats are on whether you will make a full recovery, when you’re in the midst of that, you do want a story of hope. You know, you are so desperate to hear one story and see someone’s path to recovery. So that was another big reason why I wanted to write about it. And I’m very honest about the mistakes that I made because I genuinely do think I’m a very good parent. We’re very close. We’re very honest, very open, very supportive, very body positive. Like, you know, I would just walk around naked, wobbling my tummy and going, “Mm. I love a cheese sandwich.” It was not a body hating house.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:05] No, I can’t think of a mother who I would look to more as an example of someone who wouldn’t raise their kids with body image issues.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:20:14] Oh, thank you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:14] Honestly, like, you’ve just always put out such a healthy rhetoric. And I think therefore that that’s almost more important for people to hear and understand–that it’s not all like obviously parents have such a profound impact on our body image sometimes. But sometimes you haven’t actually done anything wrong. And sometimes it’s just a surprise clusterfuck.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:20:40] Yes. Yes. Very much. That is its official title, I think. It feels like it is. I was very aware that–I mean, this is also part of the problem–the good side of having the kind of image that I do and sort of, you know, talking the way that it is that I knew if someone who generally seemed quite sorted and happy with themselves sort of came out and was honest about what had happened in their family, it would hopefully take a lot of the shame and guilt away. It’s like, God, okay, if it can even happen in a family like that, then perhaps it isn’t, you know, the evil parents doing this to their children and screwing them over. But the bad side of it was, of course, that, like, when I first started going to meetings with therapists or going to group therapy with other families, I felt incredible shame because I still had that idea in my head that it maybe was caused by the parents. And I was like, “Oh, here’s this feminist who walks around, you know, wobbling her tummy on stage in front of all these people, and yet she still screwed up her kids.” So, you know, that was my problem to deal with. And my biggest problem was that I was scared of her sadness. I could deal with anything else, but I was scared of sadness. I was brought up in a house where you just weren’t sad. No one cared. “Just don’t be sad.” And so, I tried so many things in the first couple of years of her eating disorder that were completely incorrect. And I put them all in the book so I would try to rationalize her out of it. I would sit down and give these TED Talks about the history of eating disorders and how the reason that she felt so bad and low at the moment was because she was suffering from malnutrition and as soon as she ate, it would be easier for her to get a handle on it. That didn’t work. I would try being angry with her, you know, hoping that she would see what an extreme thing it was and that she would bend to my anger. That did not work. We would try and jolly her out of it; we would turn to these light entertainment clowns, and as soon as she came through the door, it’d be like, “We’re going to go watch Glee in the front room. And I brought you some pet rats. And we’re going to play Buckaroo and Hurrah!” And that didn’t work. And what she needed–and it took me two horrible years to realize–is that all I could be was love. You just have to become stupid in a good way–just non-talky, non-full-of-ideas, not full of anger. You just need to become this beautiful, dumb ball of love. You need to not be talking, not coming up with the theories, not being angry, not being anything other than completely loving–sitting down, looking them in the eye, and acknowledging what’s happening, going, “You are sad. You are angry and sad. I am not scared of your anger and sadness. I am going to be with you all the way through this. And nothing you do will stop me from loving you.” And astonishingly, I have not said those words in that sentence that bluntly and plainly. And the minute I did, things changed. Like, she stopped. She started being able to communicate with me, and her body language changed. She would hug me again. We started being able to talk about it. So that was one of the main reasons why I wanted to put this in a book. I was just like, “Here’s some information that’s going to be really important to people out there.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:23:23] Yeah, because also I imagine, like, when you can see that someone is railing so hard against your mental illness that you almost feel maybe like you’re letting them down every day that you continue with it… That might stop them from opening up to you because you can see how desperate you are. I mean, I think you said, “I would just parent her better. She’s worried about her body. I will show her a better, more stable way. I will take her swimming after school–her, me, playing together–and she will work up a healthy, childlike hunger that she can’t deny. And then I will make her something delicious that fits in with her dietary preferences, but still give her all the nutrition she needs. And I will positively affirm eating it and everything will be better.” God, it’s such a relatable paragraph. And also, when I was reading all of this, I just couldn’t help but think that–Christ–even with everything I know about eating disorders and having had an eating disorder myself for so long, I would totally fucking make those mistakes. Those are all of the things that I would have gone to.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:24:21] Well, especially as a parent as well because every technique that you’ve used previously as a parent… You would, you know, put in incentives, like, “If you do this, then we’ll have a lovely treat.” But someone who is so self-loathing will not accept a treat. They already feel guilty. You can’t punish them, obviously, because they’re already punishing themselves. So, it’s making the switch in your head. You stop being a parent, and you have to become a mental health professional. And there’s an amazing book by an author called Eva Musby, who’s the mother of a daughter with an eating disorder. I think it’s just called Coping with Anorexia. And she puts scripts in there–pages and pages of scripts of, “Say this. If they say this, you say this. If they do this, you do this.” And in the heat of the moment with someone who’s very emotional and very upset, you can often accidentally say just one wrong word. And to have these scripts to follow was such a relief. Those books are such a blessing.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:25:11] Wow. I didn’t even know about them, and I will definitely, definitely go and put them on our I Weigh Instagram. I think that’s so unbelievably helpful. And just to have parents on side because that’s just no fucking information. School doesn’t tell you shit all. Your friends don’t know anything because they’re all young as well. And our parents don’t have the vocabulary; they don’t have the range to understand these things or how much worse things are for our generation. You and I grew up in a time where we had to go out and spend money to buy the magazines that would make us feel like shit. We didn’t have TV. You and I grew up very, very poor. Maybe we didn’t have, you know, necessarily cable or all these different things. And so, because of that, we can’t relate to what they’ve grown up with and what they’ve seen. And so, this is so wonderful to know about all these resources. And thank you for furthering that conversation. So, can I ask, do you know where her eating disorder came from then if it wasn’t inherited from, you know, your own body image issues? Did you ever get to the bottom of that?
CAITLIN MORAN [00:26:18] Well, a lot of it is genetic. So, there’s usually a sequence of events that trigger an eating disorder, from what I understand. So, a third of it will be genetic; there will be a genetic predisposition to mental illness in your family, particularly anxiety, depression, and control issues. So, my family has that in spades. And then a third of it is societal, so what you’re surrounded by. And then a third of it–there’s often a trigger starting at school, being bullied, having a bad boyfriend, or putting on weight and feeling unhappy about it and not realizing that it’s so natural when you’re young, especially through your adolescence. You’ve got to grow outwards for a bit, you put on weight, and then you grow up. And then you grow out and you grow up. But if you’re in the middle of a growing out phase and you’ve got that puppy fat, you think, “This is me forever,” you panic, and suddenly you go into this huge controlling exercise that becomes very rapidly an illness. So, it was a combination of those things. As is often the case, and I’m sure you know this, it’s often girls who are very bright, have very overactive imaginations–they can’t control them–very self-critical, very high achieving because you need to be bright and imaginative to invent this voice in your head that is so awful to you. It’s like a dark, creative act. This voice in your head is more powerful than you or the people who love you and are controlling you and telling you what to do. And my daughter had a brilliant dietician. In the end, she said, “You know, you wouldn’t let a bad boyfriend treat you like this, but that’s like the voice that you’ve got in your head. You’re letting this bad boy in your head say these things.” And that was a huge moment for her, realizing that she needed to get control of the voice in her head. She needed to control her imagination and make it more positive.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:27:52] Exactly. And it’s also such a secretive illness. You know, you become such a master of hiding things. The ability that I would have with my little kind of, like… You know those 99p Sainsbury’s sort of microwave meals? I would get, like, this bowl and just sort of scoop a little bit of the bolognaise off the top. And there’d be four pieces because it’s a cheap meal. And then I would just go and, like, hide the pasta in bags under my bed. I was so good at, you know, wearing multilayers so that no one could tell that I was losing the weight. And no one could see my bedsores. I was so sneaky, so duplicitous. And I think, again, that’s something and all of my friends who had the worst eating disorders all are–bright and, you know, like, good schemers. And so, I think that that is also an important thing to talk about–the fact that there is a certain skill set that comes with achieving an eating disorder over a prolonged period of time, where it takes a minute for people to work out. How soon into that eating disorder would you say that you caught on?
CAITLIN MORAN [00:28:53] It’s such a common thing these days to suddenly go, “Oh, I’m going to be vegetarian,” and then to be like, “Oh, I’m going to be vegan,” and then to go, “Oh, I really generally like healthy stuff, like raw stuff.” So, for the beginning of it, I was really keen not to medicalize it. I was like, “Oh, we know. That’s fair enough. She’s, you know, changing what she wants to eat.” And this was part of my problem; I was too scared to go, “There is a problem here,” because in a weird way I thought that that might give her the idea–that maybe she didn’t have a problem. And if I said to her, “I think you might have a problem,” she’d suddenly go, “Oh, I do have a problem with food.” So, I was too scared to say it. It was my fear there was a problem. My husband was from the off just going, “This is wrong. There’s something weird going on here,” because there was this sense of her spinning faster and faster, getting sort of hotter and hotter, and emitting more light in a really worrying way.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:29:43] What do you mean?
CAITLIN MORAN [00:29:46] It was because she was on a mission–on a quest–and she had a secret. So, she suddenly was super organized, super together, and, you know, just running out the house with all these plans and stuff. And it was a really hectic, sort of overly bright, overly active phase that she was going through. And my husband was like, “That’s not normal or natural. I’ve seen people with manic depression, and it really reminds me of girls that I knew when I was younger. It feels like a manic phase. This isn’t just someone who has got their shit together. This is turning into something more sinister.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:14] Obsessive. Yeah.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:30:15] And secretive. And as you say, you do need to be really clever–you know, hiding things up sleeves, you know, sort of going off to the toilet and stuff. And as a parent, again, you don’t want to be suspicious. You don’t want to be the one going, “I’m going to check your sleeves. I’m going to stand outside the toilet when you go to the toilet.” So again, it was a fear of saying it at the beginning. I mean, now I’ve got friends and they’re telling me about their children who are displaying the early symptoms. I’m like, “Say it. Say it out loud to them as early as possible. Just put it on the table and start a discussion about it because your kids know when you’re trying to avoid a subject–your kids know when you’re scared.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:46] Also, I mean, they pick up on everything, even if they don’t even understand it. They just sort of ingest it via osmosis. But I always say that we need to stop thinking that ignorance and innocence are mutually exclusive.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:30:58] Totally.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:59] It’s such a ridiculous thing. It’s such an archaic notion that children cannot maintain their innocence if they’re told the truth. If anything–I’ve always said this–I would have maintained my innocence so much longer had I just known what was happening and what to avoid. But because I just went into everything completely blindfolded, I ended up losing my innocence much faster because I found myself consistently vulnerable to life. And so, I feel as though people underestimate the instinct and the smarts of children–that if you just arm them with some information, they will move forward knowingly, just in the same way we tell them to look left and right before they cross the road. We don’t want to make them afraid of being hit by a car and not give them the instructions as to how to avoid that happening.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:31:44] Absolutely. And if you can’t talk to your parents because you sense that they’re sad, angry, or scared about something, well, where are you going to go for that information? You’re going to go online. And, you know, we all know that there is terrible information out there–that there are groups of people out there who will encourage you and give you instructions and new, terrible ideas.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:32:01] I don’t really know what you mean. I kind of don’t really involve myself in the eating disorder community. I’ve never heard of this before.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:32:08] Well, it was one of the most horrible moments in my life when I was finally like, “I’m going to look at her internet history. And just all these awful people were in her bedroom talking to her. But yet she wasn’t coming and talking to me. That was the point where it was like, “Okay, I need to stop being scared of this. I need to be able to talk to her because I’d far rather she spoke to me than these people. This is weird.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:32:28] Also, I think I’ve read about you saying that, you know, she sort of looked healthy, so therefore you thought, “well, maybe it’s not an eating disorder.” One of the most important messages around this is that an eating disorder can happen at any size, and therefore we can miss them. Sometimes we miss them for a while until, you know, the weight loss becomes very extreme. Or sometimes they can happen in a bigger person, who never becomes that kind of, like, single archetype of skeletal that we kind of see sometimes, where you can see, like, every single part of someone’s ribs and vertebrae. Sometimes they don’t get to that weight where everyone is immediately concerned. We had Steph Yeboah on this podcast recently, talking about the fact that she was a young fat girl who had an eating disorder, who was starving herself, eating like 500 calories a day, over exercising. But most people wouldn’t even look for those clues, or anyone who caught on to what she was doing would just congratulate her for her, you know, quote unquote, “discipline.” So that’s another problem, is that we don’t realize that you can have an odd relationship with food and your body at any size.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:33:34] Well, it’s one of the least discussed eating disorders, but it’s one of the growth areas in eating disorders–EDNOS–eating disorder otherwise not specified. So, you’re not sort of, you know, the cliched image that we have of someone who has an eating disorder. And you’re not bulimic either. But you have such profound problems with food that you are constantly starving, malnourished, or unhappy. And you’re just in a destructive conversation in your head that, you know, is only going to get darker and darker until you get help to deal with it. So, yeah, eating disorder otherwise not specified is something we need to be talking about because once you know that that exists, suddenly a lot of stuff will fall into place and you’re like, “Well, my child looks healthy, but they clearly have a profoundly disturbed relationship with food and themselves.” And you’re expecting to see the clichéd image of a child, and you go, “Oh, right, okay. There’s this whole other thing I didn’t even know about–I’d never even heard of it.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:34:21] Also, we’re only just learning about Orthorexia, which is the kind of, like, fear of food and an odd relationship with food that I think we all need to investigate further. So how long did this whole process take? I mean, Jesus Christ, the messages I get all the time on my DMs are, like, terrified dads telling me, “My six-year-old is concerned about her weight.” “My seven-year-old wants to go on a diet.” I mean, this stuff is happening so young. But let’s say–I’m sorry if I’m trying to make you the authority on all eating disorder parenting, but it just feels like right now you’re the only one we’ve got–a parent comes to you with a ten-year-old or 11-year-old who’s just sort of starting to hit puberty, just starting to pay attention to pop culture, and developing these unhealthy patterns with food and body. What kind of timeline are they looking at? And each case is obviously individual, and some things will be easier than others.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:35:19] Well, this is not the problem because as a parent, you know that eating disorders can be a big problem in adolescence. But they start so much earlier these days that, you know, you get, as you say, six-year-olds, eight-year-olds, ten-year-olds. You’re just like, “Oh, well, it can’t be that because that only happens when you’re, like, 13 or 14. That happens when you’ve got your exams.” So, it’s being aware that it can start really early. You don’t want to give your kid too much information. You don’t want to, like, spill your heart out about all your fears about what might be happening. But you just need to say, “You seem to be a bit worried about food. Let’s talk about that. Are there any foods that you feel weird about?” And just start a conversation like that. Just naming what you see is such an important thing when you have a child with any kind of problem. Just going, “I can see you are worried. I can see you are unhappy. I can see this is making you angry. But tell me about that.” And sometimes you might have a child that doesn’t want to talk directly about it; that can seem too intense. So, you can start a conversation talking about their friends instead. Just go, “You know, are any of your friends worried about food? Have you got any friends who seem to sort of be having problems at the moment?” And often that’s a really good way to slip sideways into your child talking about their problems–by discussing friends that have got problems, too. So those would be the first two steps, I think. Just put it on the table.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:36:32] Super helpful. So, what you’ve now learned via kind of trial and error is that you then have to try to become that mental health expert and not necessarily bombard them with your expertise, but bombard them with love, understanding, and just an ear because I feel as though that is the most valuable thing you can be–the person that they can confide in. And losing that means that you end up in the dark once they’re no longer confiding in you. So, I guess being that non-judgmental ear and learning how to navigate their mental health with this expertise without making them feel like you’re constantly diagnosing and analyzing them.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:37:09] Yep. So even though you are thinking like a mental health professional, you are just presenting as a totally loving person. And I’ve had to talk quite a few friends through this because I talk to friends who have still got kids with eating disorders. And they’ll go, “We just keep arguing about it. You know, she won’t listen to any of my advice.” And I’m like, “Well, are you angry with her for having this eating disorder?” And she’ll be like, “Yes! I’m furious! I can’t believe she’s doing this to herself. I’ve raised her so well. Like, why does she not love me enough to talk to me about this and trust me enough?” And I’m like, “Because she knows you’re angry. You know, you’ve said it to me. You will need to go and get a load of therapy and go and talk to someone until you truly have no anger and sadness left in you because even if you have a scintilla of it left you, your kid will pick up on it.” It’s a very common thing for parents to go, “I just want you to be happy. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you look like, what you do at school, or what you do for a job in the future. I just want you to be happy.” And we think that’s a good thing to say to our kids–that we’re showing that happiness is the only thing that matters to us. But of course, a child hears that and just goes, “Well, that’s another thing on my to-do list, then. I must present as happy to my parents, or they will be sad, and they will then cover up their unhappiness.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:15] Yeah, exactly. And also, I think, you know, it’s important for parents to understand that while it’s not helpful, it’s very normal to feel when your child is unhappy that you then will be maybe triggered into thinking, “Well, I failed.” And then you can project your anger with yourself onto them, you know? Or you might feel embarrassed by the fact that they’re not coping. And therefore, what will everyone else think of you as a parent and what do they think of you as a parent? We all go through this thing of analyzing what our parents do wrong and being like, “I’ll never do that when I’m a parent!” You know, I feel as though I was, like, constantly taking notes–so were all of my friends–of just like, “I’ll be cooler than that. I’ll handle that better.” And so, you know, I think that when we find out that we actually didn’t smash it 100%, in spite of all of our criticizing over the course of our own childhoods… Was any of that going on with you?
CAITLIN MORAN [00:39:09] Well, it triggers an emotional reaction because as you might know from your journey through it, someone with an eating disorder–especially if it’s someone who’s very clever–they can outtalk, they can out-emotion you. You’re the good voice trying to help them. And they need to drown that voice out because they only want to hear the bad voice in their head. So, they are going to do everything they can to fuck you up and stop you from helping them. That is what the bad voice in their head is doing. And so, they’re very good at triggering you and making you feel angry or sad. They want to be in an argument. You know, the bad voice in their head wants to be in an argument. The bad voice in their head wants that to be a confrontation because then that avoids the issue. That means that you’re not talking about what really needs to be done. You’re just in a huge argument, which your child can leave the room, slam the door, and go, “You don’t listen to me!” or “You hate me!” Another key image that I was given was: Your child is out to sea. Your child is out in a big sea of emotion, and you are on dry land. Do not wade into the water and the seas of emotion and both be splashing around in it. You have to stay on the dry land, calm, loving, and rational, and get them to come to you. And again, I have seen so many parents who, when they’re dealing with this or with any problem with their child–any mental illness problem–they jump into the sea with their kids, and they’re both freaking out together. Justify it in your head to just stay on the dry land, keep telling them, “This is where you need to get to. I’m here. You need to move towards me.” If you take one step towards them in that sea–that’s what the bad voice in their head wants them to do. It wants to be able to go, “Look, you’re as screwed up about this as I am. You’re as angry as I am. You’re as sad about this as I am. We’re both weak people. We’re never going to overcome this bad voice.” Stay on the land.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:40:43] Fascinating. Oh my God. That’s such important advice. I’m so glad that we’re having this conversation before any of my friends’ children grows up. I feel so armed with, like, a bit more advice, a bit more of an idea because this generation, the next generation, what they’re growing up with is, like, they’re comparing themselves to AI cyborgs that they think are real humans. And by that, I mean Photoshop. I’m not just shading individuals on the internet.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:41:12] Or robots! I mean, there’s probably some lovely robots out there. I’m very open to the really lovely robots that may one day be my friends.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:18] Oh, shut up. You just know that they’re coming back to kill us, and you’re trying to, like, quickly suck up to them.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:41:24] I want a job; I want to be, like, the ambassador to the land of robots, so that they are nice to me. So let me lay my groundwork. I will speak up on behalf of all humans, I promise.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:32] Yeah, yeah, all right. The robot that is Zoom hears you. Okay, so, first of all, what I think you touched on earlier–which I think is a vital piece of advice for anyone struggling with a child with any mental health issues–is you mentioned the fact that the parent needs therapy. You put your child through CBT, I believe, right? That’s cognitive behavioral therapy.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:41:53] What happens in the UK often with the NHS, which is criminally underfunded when it comes to mental health… It should be 50% for mental health, 50% physical often isn’t, and it isn’t. And that’s the best help. You can’t go private. There’s no way out of this if you’re rich. The best help is with the NHS. You have to wait. And they often tell you that you’ll wait six months, a year, a year and a half before you will get cognitive behavioral therapy, which is the best therapy for them. And in the meantime, they might give you psychotherapy, which for a young child–if it doesn’t come from a troubled family–can actually be a step backwards because you’re suddenly getting a child to go, “Well, what do you think is bad about your parents? And what do you think is bad about your childhood?” And that’s not what someone who is starting to slip into profound anxiety and depression necessarily needs to be thinking about at that time.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:36] You also have this mental health analogy. You said the mental health unit is like a tiny rescue boat in a sea filled with drowning children. It’s the ones who are repeatedly slipping under the waves–the ones who are minutes from death–whom they must attend first. And in this world, your daughter–who is turning up to every appointment so politely and never arguing back, who’s still able to walk, etc.–is a low priority. And I think that that’s also something important for people to be aware of–the children who weigh, like, three or four stone or who need to be on, like, a feeding tube and cannot function are the ones who will get help first, of course.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:43:10] And of course, within that, I mean, I’m always very aware of not saying stuff that could be triggering or badly informative. But if you are a child that knows you are low down on a waiting list, there are things that would prioritize you, and you go to the Internet and they’re going, “Well, these are the things that might happen that would put you up the waiting list,” a very determined child will then go and make themselves even more ill and do things that will put you higher up the priority, which is such a torturous position for young children to be put in. They’re so desperate for the help that they have to make themselves even more ill to get the help. That’s like a terrible paradox that you see a lot of children stuck in, which is why there just simply needs to be more funding. And the problem is that when you’re looking after a child who is ill, you don’t have time to do that campaigning. And another reason why I wanted to write about it is now she’s thankfully completely recovered and astonishing. I want to devote my time now to making sure that people who are going through that system now don’t come up against the same torture of having to wait for help, watching your child slowly getting worse and worse, and often helping that situation to be worse because they know in a weirdly almost determined and brave way that if they do these awful things, then they might get the help they’re so desperate for sooner.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:19] Yeah. So, what are your next moves now within that system?
CAITLIN MORAN [00:44:23] Well, it’s been interesting. So, we serialized the bit about my daughter’s illness in The Times, and the response I got was astonished. So many people that I know, so many people that I know of, lots of people who are well known contacting me and going, “Yeah, our child is ill. We’ve been too ashamed and guilty to talk about this.” So, I’m in discussion with people who have ears of influence and platforms to see what we can do going forward. I mean, it’s a very simple thing–there just needs to be more money. I mean, it’s just one of those things. It’s, you know, crazy how simple it would be. There just need to be more facilities, and the waiting lists need to be shorter.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:57] 100%. And I also think because there’s so much ignorance around what anorexia or different eating disorders are, they don’t seem to understand the seriousness of it. You know, look, I could be wrong. I could be completely projecting. Are you ready for me to project?
CAITLIN MORAN [00:45:09] Project away.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:45:11] I sometimes worry that, I mean, a) the UK, the US, the West, the world does not take mental health seriously enough and doesn’t understand that it has a knock-on effect on our physical health, our economy, our environment, the GDP. Everything would be improved if we would just fund people’s mental health care. But I think specifically with anorexia, even though we have statistics, a lot of people don’t know that eating disorders are the leading cause of death, as you said. A lot of people don’t know that. A lot of people imagine that depression or suicidal ideation are. But specifically, this illness results in the most death from any mental health problem. And I wonder if a) people not really understanding that or knowing that fact contributes to that unbelievable negligence around eating disorders. b) We live in a very fatphobic society that would rather see a very thin girl–look at the way that we pile onto and blame fat people and yet will be concerned or slightly envious of very, very thin people. And then c) I think we think of an insecure, vain teenage girl when we think of anorexia. And I wonder if all of these old, straight, white men, who run all of these systems, control all of them, and allocate the funding, are looking at it as just, like, a bunch of silly little girls.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:46:29] In a phase they’ll grow out of.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:46:30] Yeah, who need to eat more but not too much more because we don’t want them to be fat. You know, that’s, I think, their mentality. I think the fact that we don’t have enough women at the top and enough people who may have experienced this at the top, who can allocate the funding, means that they don’t take this seriously. I mean, it truly took me 20 years to get it out of my head, Caitlin. 20 years of my life–all day, every day. Even though I wasn’t starving myself, my brain was punishing me for not starving myself. So, I missed everything. I can look at any single photograph, day of filming, or any party I ever went to throughout the last 20 years of my life–look at it and go, “I know exactly how much I weighed that day. I know exactly how I felt getting ready, how much I didn’t want to leave the house.” There’s a lovely Vogue photoshoot, and I’m just like, “I remember thinking I was three pounds overweight. And I remember crying in the changing room because I didn’t think I looked thin enough. And I had to be wrestled on set by my publicist.” I know this is a very unaccessible way of talking about it, but I’m just saying that I had all these incredible life moments–all of which I missed, just despising myself. And I look back, and I’m just like, “Oh, you were just a kid. And that was really fun.” That should have been so fun.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:47:43] But it’s also just that an eating disorder permeates everything because you need to be eating at least three times a day. Three times a day, at least, you are confronting your biggest fear and going through something that is increasingly traumatic to you. It’s so constant. And then it affects your sleep. You know, it permeates everything. And you fall behind in your schoolwork. And the thing is–the irony is–that very often the girls that suffer from eating disorders are the bright, empathic, high achieving ones. Those are our future leaders. You know, those girls, if they were not suffering from eating disorders, would just be on a fast track to ruling the world in 20 years. But they just have their legs taken out from underneath them during the big years when they would be building their careers and getting ahead in school because they have all the characteristics that would be that of a future leader or business owner. But just in these vital teenage years, it’s just taken from underneath them. What changed it for you? Like, what was your big breakthrough then with your eating disorder? What changed it for you?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:48:48] My big breakthrough… So, my first breakthrough was when I had the car accident that hurt my back so badly that a) I gained, like, 80 lbs. That’s about five and a half or six stone. And so, you know, I no longer had my little, anorexic, frail body to be able to hang on to. So, it just felt so far away. I just didn’t even know how to go about doing this. After so many years of having starved myself to that point, I was like, “Fuck me. That’s going to be a lot of work. I’m bigger than I was before.” But mostly it was the fact that I was able to piss on my own again after two years of having to be taken to the toilet by my brother. And I was able to use my arms and my legs. And I had this newfound respect for my body and this gratitude for my body. And I know that it can sometimes be alienating for someone to hear, like, “You should be more grateful.” I’m just saying for me personally–having overcome just truly all of my freedom being taken away from me so quickly–to be able to regain some of that body autonomy meant that I looked at my body very differently and I started to see it more as a machine rather than a tool for attraction.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:49:53] I think this is a really key thing. I hear this again and again and again in stories of women–that they grow up hating their bodies or feeling alienated from them. And then when something traumatic happens–in your case, an accident, or for a lot of women, giving birth–suddenly having been attacked by an outside force, this body that they themselves have hated and attacked… Suddenly they’re like, “Well, hang on. That wasn’t fair. Actually, I am on my body’s side. I feel so sorry for my body. I feel so respectful of my body through getting through this.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:50:19] It’s your best friend! It does so much for us all the time. It does so much for us all the time. And then we just shit on it. I really became so aware of that at 19. I was like, “Oh my God.” It was taking me everywhere. It was allowing me to do my exams, go out and see friends, or go to the cinema. I was able to do so much, and I just starved it, hated it, and cried. And I would, like, hit my body. I would sit there, holding my little, like, tiny rolls of fat, just being like, “Oh God, I wish I could just, you know, scissor this off.” I was so unbelievably cruel to this, like, best mate I’m ever going to have.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:50:57] Totally. And it’s like if you were going out with a really brilliant boyfriend or girlfriend and then someone else takes them away. And suddenly you’re like, “Oh, now I realize in this moment of loss what I had. What have I done? Why did I treat them so badly? I am going to get them back.” I had this brilliant phrase in my head about 15 years ago when I was dealing with some body stuff of just going, “I want to have an affair with my own body.” Like, if I met my body, I want to treat it like some kind of hot thing. I’m going to treat it like Mark Ruffalo. It’s come into my life. I’m going to love it and make it realize how much I adore it. And it’s going to adore me, and we are going to get on.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:51:35] That’s amazing.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:51:35] You have little sentences in your head every so often that change your way of thinking. And thinking, “I’m going to have an affair with my own body. I’m going to treat it. We’re going to have a lovely night in. I’m going to, like, get it some nice clothes, just stroke it, and have a hot bath,” can be quite a breakthrough if you are in an intense phase of self-loathing.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:51:51] That’s amazing. For me, so my second thing that I did was sort of, like, ten years after that first move, I realized that I was no longer technically anorexic and that I was sort of eating, sometimes not. You know, I had orthorexia, and I was going on, like, every single fad diet. But I thought as long as there was any food going into my mouth–as long as I was chewing–I wasn’t anorexic anymore. So, I was moving to America. I was 28 years old. I’d had a nervous breakdown already. I was in recovery from it and kind of on this sort of fuck shit detox of getting rid of all of the fuck shit from my life. And I came to terms with the fact that one of the leading issues of mine that was making me feel like shit was still my body image issues and my issues with food. You know, I grew up with food being very weaponized, food is rebellion, food is love. You know, my dad didn’t know how to show me love, so therefore he would just give me food and give me pizza. So, food was anything other than just fuel. And so having thought about that, I realized that “You know what, I’m just going to go…” I was doing EMDR therapy–I talk about it every fucking week–eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. It’s fairly similar to CBT, but I’d say maybe slightly more extreme, specific, and quite intense to do. But for me it was unbelievably helpful. And I was able to detach my thoughts and feelings around food, which is unbelievable. So now food is just fuel to me. But I’d say the combination of the big incident with my body at 19 and EMDR therapy over the last 20 years has gotten me out of it. And now I am amazed to say that I am free of an eating disorder. It is possible.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:53:28] I’m so happy to hear that. Those are beautiful words. They really are. But it’s so hard in this society to have a healthy relationship with food. The Western world is in such a destructive relationship with food. On the one hand, there is an obesity crisis, people are eating more and more junk food, and they’re just malnourished, even though they’re eating so much because there’s no nutrition in it. And then on the other hand, you have girls who are starving themselves.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:53:49] And then on the other hand, you’ve got people in our own country who are starving to death. Like, there is actual famine. There are food stamps. There is a crisis. We’ve seen the aerial footage of these thousand car lines for food stamps and people who get there, and all the food is gone. We have homeless people all over the street. And so, we haven’t even evolved as a society to understand the gratitude around food.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:54:14] And so as a parent, when you’re aware of, you know, all those issues–they all go in very extreme different directions in terms of how you would talk to your child about food. And, you know, one of the big things for me was realizing that so often, particularly for our generation, food is about, you know, treats. Is it good or is it bad? “Do you deserve this, or do you need to stop eating these things?”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:54:36] A guilty pleasure.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:54:38] “You need to stop eating these things to be healthy.” And kids just need to be sat down at a really early age and have food explained to them. It’s like, “In a day, here’s the stuff you need to eat to be healthy. You need to eat a rainbow. You need to eat, you know, a red pepper and some green leafy veg. Something of every color, you know, preferably veg and fruit. And then after that, if there’s still any room left in your body, you know, go with God–eat what you want–so long as you’ve had what your body needs. If you’re still hungry after that, you can have pretty much whatever you want. Make sure you’ve got some protein.” But, like, we never talk about it in terms of “This is what your body needs, and this is what’s going to make your body feel good. And then after that, you can have whatever you fancy–just for the rest of the day eating crackers and cheese. It’s fine, but give your body what it needs first,” in the same way that you would feed your dog. But again, there’s no conversation about this in school. People are just looking for stuff online. The wellness craze, just as someone who is the parent of somebody who had an eating disorder, horrifies me. When you see some of the advice that’s being given to live on juices–to live only on raw food. You know, when you get to your adolescent years, you start choosing what you’re going to eat. The things that you’re being told are normal, good, healthy, and, you know, aspirational to eat–it’s such toxic information. So, this is why we need to talk to our children early on and make sure you get in there first. So long as you are educated yourself, you are always going to be giving better advice than some blogger, who’s standing there, just drinking 12 juices a day.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:56:00] Who’s getting, by the way, paid to put all this bullshit out. And I think that’s really important–that even if they’re not sponsoring an advert, they’re getting paid in some way or via the adverts that run on their own YouTube channel. There’s so much nonsense out there, all of which I’ve seen, I’ve tried it all, and now I’m really ill. So don’t be like me. But you’re also right in the fact that eating disorders, once they get hold of someone, are very, very difficult–clearly not impossible, but unbelievably difficult–to divorce yourself from. So, anyone out there–nip it in the bud as early as you can. If you yourself are starting to register that, “I’m developing some odd feelings to do with food or my body, or I am spending a lot of time focusing on my image,” start seeking help now because you will find it so much easier to prevent this than you will to cure it once you’re in the full throes of it.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:56:52] And don’t have that thing of like, “Oh, I can just try it for a couple of months and see how it’ll work out.” I’ve heard lots of girls talking in those terms. No. It always ends up badly. It will control you so much quicker than you think. In the same way that you don’t try heroin for a couple of weeks to see how it works out, don’t try an eating disorder for a couple of weeks to see how it works out. That’s powerful stuff you’re messing with.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:57:10] Is an addiction. Yeah, it is an addiction. The thinness is an addiction, and it’s being reinforced. Everyone is a user, especially when you live in, like, a big cosmopolitan city or you exist in this fucking industry. Everyone’s a user, it’s all around you, so it’s like being in a crack house and trying to give up drugs.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:57:28] And what I didn’t understand when my daughter first got ill is that they describe an eating disorder as being like an iceberg. So, what you see above the water is the eating disorder. What’s below it is probably years of anxiety, depression, and worries about control of your life. And at the time, you think the eating disorder is the solution to the anxiety, the depression, and the worry. But, you know, at some point you’re going to have to, first of all, deal with the eating disorder, which will be so hard. And then you’re going to have to finally drill down into what’s beneath. So, if that’s what’s beneath, before it crests above the water, deal with the anxiety and depression first. Do the work early. Take care of yourself.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:05] So has all of this led you to reckon with your own kind of history of body image, or had you already reckoned with that? Because I know you’ve kind of had a history with it. You’ve kind of been up and down in size. And then, you know, once you’d lost a lot of weight, I think you said that you had, like, a bit of excess skin. And it’s kind of been the journey maybe of, I believe, motherhood that maybe has changed the way that you look at your body. Can you talk me through a little bit of that journey?
CAITLIN MORAN [00:58:29] Yes, we were comfort eaters in our family. Also, we were very poor. And the way that benefits work is you tend to get this sort of a lump sum once a month. So, my dad would go to the market and buy, like, loads of fresh fruit and vegetables. And there were ten of us. And so, because it was a rare thing, we’d gorge on fruit and gorge on grapes because we knew that tomorrow there would be more for another month. So, it was very emotional. It was like, “If there’s a good thing, eat the good thing now because it might disappear.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:55] Also if you have, like, ten kids, then everyone’s just sort of fighting for… They know it’s not going to last very long after.
CAITLIN MORAN [00:59:02] Absolutely. You can tell someone comes from a large family because they will eat very quickly. You’re so used to, if you take more than 30 seconds to eat your sausage, a fork coming from behind you, spearing that sausage, and going, “You’re not eating that?” and then eating it. So, we came up with a system whereby as soon as our food was served, we would like everything on our plate and then put it back on the plate and go, “Well, you won’t eat that now.” And some of the bolder siblings would still eat it anyway if they would lift it. So, there were resource issues, and we would often sort of run very short of food. Often by the end of the month, all that would be in the house would be flour. And we just made chapatis, covered them in margarine, and that would be all there was to eat. So, it was very much a kind of, you know, feast or famine kind of thing. So, there was an emotional thing about food. Get the resource quickly or we might not have anything later. And so, I was an overeater. I was a binge eater. And I also had a belief that, like… Because no one really understands how they are creative, I figured that in order for words to come out of me, something would have to go in. And that was usually a liter of ice cream. Like, “How could I write? How would a thousand words come out of me unless I put in a liter of ice cream beforehand? That’s how the machine works, right?” And I finally got hypnotherapy to solve that, which I found worked very well. They just took away the emotional connect. I got regressed to my childhood and found that when my mum had gone into hospital to have my next sister down, it was the first time a mother had been away. And I was crying and crying and crying. And my lovely nan turned up–big Welsh nanna. And she opened her handbag and went, “Have a sweet, it’ll make you feel better.” And I was like, “No, I miss my mom.” And she was like, “No, eat sweets, and it will make you feel better.” And she made me eat sweets. And then I knew she wanted me to feel better, so I was better. And I had not any conscious memory of this at all. It all came up through hypnotherapy, and I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting. I was literally told to eat my emotions. That was where that started.” So, the hypnotherapy undid that. I learned what healthy food was. Eat the things you need in a day and then anything else you can get on top of that. And then when I had my daughter–the first one–it was a terrible labor for three days. And at the end of it I just lay there, just looked at my body, and was just patting it going, “Oh, well done, mate. You did so well. I love you. You are a good old body. Smashing old legs. Well done, you.” And so that was by the age of 24. Those were the issues that I needed to solve, and they were solved. So, I thought I was in a pretty good position with my kids. But then on top of that, you know, we’ve been talking about society’s unhealthy problems with food and how you would even talk to your kids about food. But on top of that, it’s a uniquely anxious time at the moment. And I see families of whatever political persuasion–the conversation they’re having around the dinner table is about how the environment is farts, politics is farts, everything is so divisive, and there’s no hope for the future. And then we remember our kids are in the room, and we say to them, thinking it will make it better, “But don’t worry, guys, because your generation is going to sort this all out. You’ve got Greta Thunberg. You’ve got Emma Gonzalez. You know how to use the internet and campaign. You guys are going to sort it out, so don’t worry. It’s all going to be fine.” And we think that that will allay their worry and anxiety. We think that’s a good thing and a compliment. But of course, the kids are just hearing, “Save mummy and daddy! We don’t know what we’re doing.” You guys need to save mummy and daddy. And again, these things that we think we do as compliments, as kindness, or as reassurances to our children–you just have to imagine how you would feel if you overheard everyone in Parliament, the Senate, Congress, or whatever going, “Well, we fucked it. But, like, the citizens will sort it out.” And you’d be sitting at home, going, “What? You’re in charge! You’re the guys in power! You sort it out! I feel bad now!”
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:02:30] We are so stressed. I’ll never forget that video of Greta Thunberg just breaking down and saying, “I’ve lost my childhood because you adults just couldn’t stop running after money.” So unbelievable. Just the negligence. Yeah, I agree. I so agree. And so also, I love the fact that pregnancy and childbirth is how you developed love for your body because so often we are conditioned for that to be the moment that breaks us–where we lose control of our sides, we lose control of our body, we can’t stop eating because we’re making a fucking human being inside our body. And so, our bodies change sometimes forever after we have given birth and made a baby. And you get, like, all kinds of things–gestational diabetes, your metabolism changes, your hormones are all over the place–so you might never look the same again. And we are ashamed of that–this idea that you have to snap back immediately after a pregnancy and you have to be thinner than you were before, you know, so that you will be acceptable to society. The way that people worry throughout. The way that our industry fat shames women–we saw it with the Kardashians for example–the way they were fat shamed throughout all of their pregnancies. We just breed obsession upon obsession, especially around motherhood. So, I love the idea of looking at your body as this absolute genius that just pulled off this complete miracle.
CAITLIN MORAN [01:03:49] And it’s also a complete absence of talking about the realities and amazingness of motherhood. Like, there are plenty of books that will tell you about, you know, the tearing–these awful words like “tearing” and “never the same.” So, we know the physical side of it, but the mental and emotional side of parenting needs to be taught. And motherhood needs to be talked about in a positive way. In the book, I was like, “Why aren’t there any big films about actually becoming a mother? You grow an extra organ and pint of blood in your body, then your tits turn into a buffet, you sustain a life, you keep that person alive, and turn them into an adult. Why aren’t there movies about that? Why are there no TV shows about how you actually do it, what it’s like, and how psychedelic and weird it is?” And then I was like, “Hang on a minute. There are.” Like, all the biggest Hollywood movies are kind of about motherhood because in a superhero movie, the young man will be either bitten by a radioactive spider or some mad stone will fall out of the sky and change him. So, he comes into contact with a weird substance that suddenly makes him super strong with all these talents. And his job is to save the world. But the world doesn’t realize that he’s saving them and is really ungrateful. It makes it even more difficult, he never gets the credit for it, and he just goes off into the sunset and goes, “That’s okay. I’m Batman. You don’t need to thank me.” That is the story of motherhood. We come into contact with a weird substance–sperm. We then grow all these amazing powers; instead of web coming out of our wrists, it’s milk coming out of our tits. We look after these tiny, useless, little human beings, who are totally ungrateful about what we do and never know that what we’re doing is keeping them alive. And we never get the credit for it, and we just carry on doing it until we die. Superhero movies are actually the stories about–
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:27] About pregnancy!
CAITLIN MORAN [01:05:27] Instead of it being me, it’s Tom Holland. But once you realize that, you’re like, “Mothers are superheroes.” If we made the story about making human beings and raising them to adulthood as exciting, vibrant, brilliant, cool, amazing, and widely discussed as every plot point in the Marvel franchise, we would have a very different expectation of what will happen to women after they’ve had a baby because they’re fucking Batman. Of course, they’re not going to fit back into a size eight dress. Batman’s not a size eight dress! Why would I be?
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:56] No. And people who get pregnant should not feel this kind of ridiculous shaming. None of it’s about you. None of it’s about the truth. It’s all just about making you buy shit because they’re going to panic you about losing weight. I cannot tell you how helpful, interesting, and fascinating this has been. And I can’t wait to pick your brains on everything else. There are so many things I want to talk to you about. Maybe we should start our own show. So, before you go–before I let you run off to help advise the rest of the world–would you tell me, please–?
CAITLIN MORAN [01:06:29] I weigh that I am the proud inventor of the Cheese Lollipop. It is a lump of cheese the size of your fist, which you put on a fork, and you lick while you’re watching television in order to make the cheese last as long as possible.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:06:43] I’m so going to do that. Do you weigh anything else?
CAITLIN MORAN [01:06:49] That’s the main– I mean, the kids, obviously, the career–that’s all been amazing. But the Cheese Lollipop, man. Every time I tell someone about that, they’re like, “Yes! This is my life changed.” So that is my primary and proudest achievement.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:06:59] Well, I know what we’re all going to be doing tonight. We’re going to be licking our Cheese Lollipops. That is not a euphemism. Goodbye, and goodnight. Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnegan, and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson. And the beautiful music that you’re hearing now is made by my boyfriend, James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. I really appreciate it, and it amps me up to bring on better, better guests. Lastly, at I Weigh, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 1-818-660-5543 or email us what you weigh at email@example.com. It’s not in pounds and kilos, so please don’t send that; it’s all about your– Just– You know. You’ve been on the Instagram. Anyway. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our listeners.
I WEIGH COMMUNITY MEMBER [01:08:00] I weigh my strength, my determination, my perseverance, my ability to heal those around me, and my love and hope for humanity.
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