Hazel McHaffie

obesity

Body image

The end of a year is traditionally when one takes stock before resolving to do better in the future, so in this spirit, on the very last day of 2014, I shall share one of my (many) failings with you.

I’m one of those countless people who feel dissatisfied with what they see in the mirror … in spite of being told donkeys years ago by a lovely man (himself a skilled potter) in our church that it’s a sin to do so on the grounds that the insignificant clay pot has no business criticising its all-powerful Maker. Sorry Derrick, but I genuinely do sympathise with folk who don’t like the casing they come in for whatever reason, and my personal problems are compounded at this precise moment by the ongoing necessity to define myself as ‘ill’. Me? I’m the strong energetic type who can rise above all weakness and still live life at a hundred miles an hour … Not any more it seems – at least not until the cardiologists ‘fix’ me! Since October when these shenanigans with my recalcitrant heart began, I’ve been aware of the need to consciously work at keeping my mood buoyant in the face of physical frailty. I don’t like what I see or feel.

So I suspect it wouldn’t take the genius of Freud to deduce that that abiding angst has quite a bit to do with my present conflict with my writing about body image. I’m struggling with the effort of trying to stay inside the skin of some of my characters who are even more tortured than I am. Body image, huh? Big subject. Cue size zero models, toddlers dressed provocatively, the obesity epidemic, self harming, cyber bullying, celebrity culture, cosmetic enhancement … you know the kinds of things our society is obsessed by nowadays. So where am I with it at the end of this chequered year?

Books on eating disordersRemember this row of books I bought by way of research a while back? Well, I’ve now read them all. Phew. Good job I’m stubborn! You’ll have noted that I haven’t reviewed any of them in this blog. Why? Because I don’t think you’d be interested. But for my own records I kept a tally of my assessment of them as I went – just a brief resume and my score out of 5. Hmm. Only three stood out as an enjoyable read, but, in fairness, a large percentage are teen fiction which isn’t my bag. Having read them all, though, I’m confirmed in my resolve a) not to write for young adults; b) not to focus on anorexia but to embrace a wider context; c) to strengthen the hooks to keep readers reading.

Question now is: can this new, more-fragile me personally cope with taking on a story which presents a much more challenging set of issues? Only time will tell.

However, thus far, I haven’t been dragged below the plimsoll line of my own tolerances, but total absorption with this topic would definitely not be good for my mental health – goodness, I’m borderline neurotic as it is! I’m also conscious of another phenomenon: the more I grapple with my characters’ uncomfortable emotions, the less they disturb me. So it will be important to remember my own initial reactions in order to be sensitive to the potential shock or outrage or revulsion or whatever of my potential readers coming to this subject without preparation.

Work to do then. But there’s a silver lining. At least when I’m absorbed in the lives of my protagonists l’m not sighing at the mirror! And I did get a stack of Christmas knitting done as I ploughed through this set of books. So it’s an ill wind …

Polo jumpers

Boys pullovers

So, here we are at the end of 2014. Thank you so much for visiting my scribblings. Special appreciation to those who’ve taken the trouble to contact me; it’s so heartening to hear about your thoughts and reactions and simply to know you really are out there. And I wish you all – whatever your hang-ups and issues – peace, health and happiness in 2015.

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Moral mazes

Well, I’m counting myself lucky this week that the people who came to the launch of Saving Sebastian on Tuesday were kindly folk, asking reasonable questions, and not trying to trip me up or tear holes in my arguments.

Blackwells window

Blackwell’s bookshop hosted the event this time: the right kind of bookish atmosphere; comfortable for lone people who didn’t know anyone else; lovely supportive friendly staff.  And it meant we got a big slot in one of their windows – without a photograph of me too which pleased my mightily. That very day there was a two page spread in the Edinburgh Evening News with THREE pictures of me on one page! Horrors.

the newspaper on display

Here’s Luath‘s Director, Gavin MacDougall, displaying it – with some glee too by the look of it!

me in full flight

But back to the audience and their kindliness … I couldn’t help comparing it with the ferocious questioning of witnesses on the Moral Maze the other day where the participants and witnesses were discussing organ donation. On the panel: Melanie Phillips, Michael Portillo, Claire Fox, Anne McElvoy. All brilliant. All incisive. All very challenging. Which is why they’re chosen, of course.

It was a fascinating debate and I recommend listening to it. But it was also rather unnerving. It made me realise the power of eloquence, and the dangers of clever sophistry. And why I’m not good at these kind of confrontational events myself.

My instinct would have been to be especially gentle with the first witness, Henry, a young man who’d had two kidney transplants already. The panel had no such qualms. He was clearly an ardent campaigner for donation but even his motives were called into question: ‘Are you not avoiding the obvious way to increase the number of organs, which is by the act of persuasion? By morally motivating your fellow citizens?‘ Persuading is exactly what he does do, I’d say! And I’m quite sure he’d be a terrific advocate for the cause in real life. The genuine voice of experience can be much more powerful than theoretical argument.

And even the fluent and erudite Professor of Practical Philosophy at Oxford University, Janet Radcliffe-Richards, who was not in the least intimidated by the combined power of the inquisition, was dealt a low blow after she’d gone off air, when one of the panellists accused her of being ready to kill people off who weren’t actually dead. (Although the chairman, Michael Buerk did give that wholly unfair side swipe a gentle reproach.)

It was great listening though and the questions have been haunting me ever since:

Should elective ventilation be permissible to accrue a store of organs for transplantation?

Could you justify taking the organs from someone in a persistent vegetative state?

Are the rights of potential donors who are dead or dying and the rights of potential recipients of organs morally equivalent?

The Welsh Assembly is moving towards a Bill changing the law to an opt out one – it should be in effect in 2013. Is this a good step or not?

Would you give an organ to a complete stranger just because it feels like the right thing to do?

My current book is about organ donation so these issues are close to my heart and mind right now. But other sleep-depriving matters recently in the news have been bugging me too. Things with no easy glib answers.

Should someone who eats herself to a state of gross clinical obesity (40 stone) be entitled to an expensive package of care to enable her to carry on living her self-indulgent life?

Is it ever acceptable to lie to patients to cover medical mistakes?

Should a woman who has paid to have breast implants inserted for cosmetic reasons be entitled to corrective surgery on the NHS if the implants prove faulty and endanger her life?

Should there be limits set to the age at which women have babies, given the discovery that women possess a potentially limitless supply of ovarian stem cells which can be converted into mature eggs in the laboratory?

I’m not going to be running out of subject matter any time soon! But if you come across anyone in the process of inventing a 48-hour day, do let me know.

 

 

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