Dawn French admits feeling uneasy in her new body… so can you truly miss being FAT?

Can you truly miss being FAT

After losing eight stone, Dawn French admits feeling uneasy in her new body. Here, TRICIA HUDSON, who has shed the same amount, reveals how it has changed her life…

My heart started thumping as I prepared to walk into a friend’s 40th birthday party a few weeks ago, and I could feel beads of sweat breaking out on my forehead.

Looking at me, you’d have thought I had nothing to worry about. In the figure-hugging, emerald green satin dress I’d chosen to complement my auburn hair, I have to admit I was looking good.

But I was so nervous that it might as well have been the first time I’d attended a social event. I am no shy teenager, however. I am a 39-year-old professional mother-of-two known for being the life and soul of the party. So what made this occasion different

Half the woman she was: Tricia today, left, and before her diet

Half the woman she was: Tricia today, left, and before her diet

Half the woman she was: Tricia is a dress size 10/12 today, left, down from a size 24

Well, in a sense, it was the first party I’d been to — because it was the first time I’d ever truly gone as ‘myself’. In the past 18 months I have lost 8st. I am now down from size 24 to a size 10/12. My weight has dropped from 18st 6lb to 10st 4lb, which is just about right for a woman of 5ft 5in.

I have never looked better in my life, but inside it’s a different story.

For as long as I can remember, there was a ‘pretend’ me and a ‘real’ me. The ‘pretend’ me had an outgoing personality as big as my size. The ‘real’ me, however, was a shy, home-loving woman with a gentle sense of humour. Without my fat to hide behind, it’s the real me who is now in the limelight.

When comedienne Dawn French admitted recently that after losing 8st she misses her old body, everyone was stunned — except, perhaps, me.

‘I have a great fondness for that other body,’ said Dawn, 55. ‘I knew it very well, and I don’t know this one as well.’

People wondered how any woman who had battled to lose weight could say they were fond of their fat body, but I understand exactly what Dawn meant. I am proud to have lost weight, but in the process I have lost the old me — all 18st of her — and there are times when that’s bewildering.

I’m no longer big, fat, cuddly Tricia — the huge woman who doesn’t merit a second glance.

As a fat woman I was able to delude myself that if only I was slim, I’d be successful and confident, but now I can’t blame my weight if things go wrong. In fact, being slim has changed everything. I’ve had to re-assess the most important relationships in my life, and I have lost friends and alienated relatives.

I was fat for as far back as I can remember. My mother, Lesley, weighed around 16st, and I was brought up to believe this was the way women in our family were supposed to be. It was part of our genetic make-up, as was a larger-than- life personality.

Cuddly mum: Tricia before her diet with her daughter Natasha

Cuddly mum: Tricia before her diet with her daughter Natasha

Mum was outgoing and exuberant with a huge booming voice. She would talk to anyone from the tramp in the street to the lady behind her in the bus queue. Yet inside she was shy. She told me once that she just wanted to live up to the idea everyone had of a fat, jolly lady.

I can see now that although Dad adored her as she was, Mum wasn’t really happy. She didn’t take any pride in her appearance. She never wore make-up and made all her own clothes so she wouldn’t have to go shopping.

‘That will do,’ she’d say as she pulled a tent-like dress she’d just made from a pair of curtains over her head. She loathed having her photo taken. Even at my sister Carol’s wedding she tried to hide from the camera.

She was only in her late 40s. She should have been in her prime.

One of my earliest memories is of my grandmother looking at my legs approvingly. ‘Just look at those chunky knees,’ she grinned. I was about four at the time.

My father was a Methodist minister who left the clergy after I was born because he wanted to devote himself to family life. When I was growing up, he worked in a bookshop and Mum was a housewife. She was a fantastic cook, and mealtimes were always the highlight of the day. Our plates would be piled high with potatoes, dumplings and old-fashioned sticky toffee puddings. We were never allowed to leave food. Mum had been brought up just after World War  II and loathed waste.

'Hitting my target weight was like winning the lottery. You're on cloud
nine and think all your problems will now be solved… but then you come
down to earth with a bang and face a whole new set of issues'

Inside I was a shy little girl, but it was easy to hide behind a cheerful, chubby persona. /02/15/article-2101750-01641D0F000004B0-8_306x496.jpg” width=”306″ height=”496″ alt=”Getting used to her new body: Dawn French has admitted her weightloss journey hasn't been easy” class=”blkBorder” />

Transformation: Dawn French has admitted getting used to her slimmer shape, right, hasn't been easy

Transformation: Dawn French has admitted getting used to her slimmer shape, right, hasn't been easy

I was left with two young children to bring up alone, and life was tough. To compensate I comfort-ate, and when the children were in bed I’d gorge on biscuits, pizza, and cheese and onion crisps. It was madness, but it made me feel better — briefly.

Then my mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and started having heart problems. In January 2006 she died in hospital of septicaemia. She was only 62.

Her death was like the end of my world. I didn’t know how I’d cope without her, so I turned to food again. The more I binged the worse I felt about myself, but I kept up a cheerful front and always joked about my size.

Then, in September 2009, all the teachers at my school in Bradford had our photographs taken. The pictures were projected onto a screen so the new pupils could get to know us.

I was stunned when I saw mine. Could this elephant of a woman really be me I wasn’t just plump and cuddly, I was huge — and clearly that’s how everyone else saw me.

Then the photos were put up outside the classrooms, so every day I had to walk past this fat woman staring back at me. It was horrific.

WHO KNEW

Nearly a quarter of adults in England – 22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women – are classified as obese

/02/15/article-2101750-11C065D8000005DC-230_306x449.jpg” width=”306″ height=”449″ alt=”Breaking the cycle: Trisha's mother Lesley was also overweight and developed type 2 diabetes and heart problems” class=”blkBorder” />

Breaking the cycle: Trisha's mother Lesley was also overweight and developed type 2 diabetes and heart problems

But that spurred me on as I started
dieting, eating lots of lean protein, fruit and vegetables, and giving
up wine, crisps and pizzas.

As
I lost weight, I felt increasingly motivated, but at the same time I
felt as if I was somehow rejecting my mother, turning my back on her and
the fat, jolly girl I’d been brought up to see myself as.

It
didn’t help that my sister Carol, who’s 41, started dieting with me.
She had only about three stone to lose, but I felt guilty when I did
well as she struggled.

The
truth is, my new shape has put a barrier between us. Now it’s as if we
don’t share the same things any more — and she admits she’s jealous.

She’s
told me she envies me for losing weight, and often complains that I’m
showing her up because she’s still overweight. ‘I don’t know who you are
any more,’ she says. ‘You’re not the kind little sister you used to be.
You’ve got so cocky.’

That hurts. I know Carol feels that my losing so much weight is an implicit criticism of Mum and her, so we’ve had to work hard to stop this destroying our relationship.

I reached my goal weight of 10st 4lb last September, after 16 months of dieting. It was a fantastic moment and the children were thrilled for me, but it’s like winning the lottery. You’re on cloud nine and think all your problems will now be solved, but then you come down to earth with a bang and face a whole new set of issues.

I’ve had to wake up to what people really thought of me when I was fat — and that has hurt me terribly.

A few weeks ago, I was in the staff room when one of my colleagues said: ‘Do you know, a few months ago your bum was so big you’d have taken up two chairs.’

I laughed: ‘You’re right,’ I replied.

Inside I was amazed that she could be so rude, and suddenly it hit home. People must have been looking at me all those years and thinking I was grotesque, but I never guessed.

For the first time in my life, I’ve also had to contend with other women being jealous, and I find that very difficult.

Friends never felt any competition when I was the ‘big fat bird’, but now I’m as slim as they are, they have begun to put me down.

I was stunned when one friend said: ‘You’re beginning to look gaunt, Tricia. Isn’t it time you stopped trying to lose weight’ Then the truth dawned: she felt threatened because I no longer made her — and every other woman in the room — look slim and attractive by comparison.

Treated differently: Trish is delighted with her her slimmer figure but is still getting used to the male attention, and jealously from other women, it brings

Treated differently: Trish is delighted with her her slimmer figure but is still getting used to the male attention, and jealously from other women, it brings

Treated differently: Trish is delighted with her slimmer figure but is still getting used to the male attention, and jealously from other women, it brings

I find the reaction I get from men even more disconcerting. When I was fat, I might as well have been in a burka. The opposite sex never gave me a second glance, and I was used to feeling invisible.

My weight was like a coat of body armour. No one could get close enough to hurt me and that suited me fine. Now I feel as if I’ve emerged from a nunnery. The first time a man looked at me admiringly in the queue at the supermarket a few months ago, I blushed like a teenager. I didn’t know where to look or what to do.

Even now, when I’m driving and a stranger waves, I still think there’s something wrong with the car. It takes a while for it to dawn on me that he’s just saying ‘hello’ to a pretty woman. Me.

I won’t deny that male attention isn’t pleasant, but it takes some getting used to. I had written myself off the dating scene and I’m still too insecure about my body to even think about being in an intimate relationship.

All my life, I’ve been able to use my weight as an excuse for everything that went wrong. When I didn’t get a job I wanted or had an argument, I blamed it on people being prejudiced against the overweight.

Now I don’t have that excuse. It’s all down to me and who I am — and sometimes that can be tough.

When I was fat, no one ever asked my opinion on anything. In staff meetings I was able to feel totally invisible, but suddenly people expect me to have opinions and that’s incredibly daunting.

I wouldn’t turn the clock back but, as Dawn French is finding out, it takes time to come to terms with a new body. It’s like going to bed one night aged 60, and waking up the following morning 30 years younger.

It’s energising and it’s exciting, but it’s also terrifying.

Interview: Tessa Cunningham