Saturday, 13 February 2010

Cosmopolitan

This month my decade-long battle with bulimia was given two sacred, glossy pages in the style, life and everything Bible which is Cosmopolitan magazine.

When I first decided to go public with my struggle, I made the decision that I'd spend however long it took waiting for a publication I could trust to report it responsibly. A number of offers were made to me for my story, but when Cosmopolitan showed an interest, I knew I had to give them exclusivity.

I'd learned my lesson about 6 months earlier- A popular glossy women's weekly had approached me and promised free high-quality photographs for my portfolio in exchange for me persuading my ex to do an interview for their article "the real reason you broke up". Sensing an opportunity, I dragged my very lovely, very obliging ex into the studio (who then proceeded to commune with his inner posey-model type personage and thoroughly relish every click of the camera).

We spent the best part of an hour being manipulated into believing that the journalist really understood the circumstances surrounding our breakup and, from her uniquely objective stance could find sympathy with both of our perspectives. Two weeks later, the issue appeared on the shelves and I had a m-ephipeny (an epipheny relating to the media, see what I did there). You see, in this instance, the story wasn't actually about us. There was a story, which has been pre-decided long before we came on board, and into which our particular set of circumstances had fit. We were a mere cog in a much larger, more powerful machine.

The real reason my ex and I split, which was explained with painstaking care and at great length to the journo, was this: I was singing his sister down the aisle at her forthcoming nuptuals, which were taking place some way away and, as I was unemployed at the time, my ex had agreed to pay for my train ticket to the venue. Two days before I called him to see what the score was and he had already taken himself there, conveniently forgetting to make adequate arrangements for me to do the same. A stupid row ensued about money (which wins hands down on the list of most pointless things to argue about) and my ex slammed the phone down on me, leaving me with the words "do you know what, don't come to the wedding and don't contact me again". He called me after the wedding, full of apologies, which I found myself unable to accept, not because after a reasonably happy year together a minor argument about money wasn't unsurmountable, but because he was the sort of man who would allow his sister to be let down on her big day. I didn't want to be with someone who couldn't swallow his pride, put his own feelings to one side and thus allow for a crucial part of the happiest, most important day of his sister's life to take place.

My ex explained to the journo that 5 years previous to the wedding (and it's important to note mentally at this juncture that it was 5 years before), his Dad had died, meaning that he had the responsibility of walking his sister down the aisle. Completely freaked out, nervous and generally under mental strain at the enormity of what he was about to undertake, he hadn't been thinking straight and allowed himself to overreact to the argument with me.

Which all seems fair enough, in retrospect.

I read the published article with a mixture of disbelief, horror and fighting the urge to burst out laughing. Three couples were case studied. One couple were both lovely and had split amicably, conceeding that it was merely a question of a lack of chemistry, the second were comprised of a perfectly lovely girl and a bit of a bastard wanker. Which of course meant that the third had to make up the missing component in this trio of relationship cliches- The lovely bloke and the utter cowbag of a girlfriend. And that was the catagory into which my ex and I had been appointed. The article, which was written from my ex's perspective, read something along the lines of "my Dad had just died, Natasha was going on at me and something had to give".

It was at that point that I started freaking myself out with maths (and it's not every day you can say that), working out the readership of the magazine -vs- the number of people in the country and concluding that every 80th person I encountered in the street thought I was the devil incarnate. Fortunately, I wasn't too distressed- It was a topic of little consequence and I got some nice photos and a rather fetching, one shouldered dress out of the deal.

My eating disorder battle and the work I now devote the largest chunk of my life to, however, was something I wanted treated with due care and attention. Which is why I'm so glad I waited for Cosmopolitan to publish it. The article was candid where necessary, but without the usual drama, embellishment, self-pity and hyperbole one associates with "real life exposes" and ultimately conveyed what I wanted it to - That there is hope, even in our darkest moments when we find ourselves unable to see it, or even imagine that it is there.

Thank you Rosie Mullender at Cosmopolitan. To read the article, get the March issue (it has Jessica Alba on the cover), out now, and turn to page 53.

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