‘If we’re really going to make it work, this time around,’ he said, and paused, looking into my eyes. It was a misty October morning, and overnight, the leaves on the trees had suddenly flared up and turned bright bronze.
The setting was romantic, and I waited for him to say what I’d needed him to say for months. He was going to make more time for me. He was going to be kinder and stop making cruel dismissive comments.
He was going to keep his promises. His eyes darted from my loving gaze to my stomach. ‘If you’re serious about doing this, with me, then I need you to commit to some fitness goals. Your body should be in much better condition.’
There is nothing I wouldn’t give to travel back to 2011 and kick him in the balls.
When Kelly Brook revealed that her partner Jeremy Parisi had said she looked like a ‘little balloon’, I was furious on her behalf. I had an ex who constantly said cruel things about my body, and the comments reminded me of how miserable he made me, and how little confidence I had when I was with him.
However, Brook has said that Parisi’s words inspired her to lose weight. She seems happier than ever. And, touch wood, I am now living happily ever after with someone I adore, and occasionally diet with.
Together, my husband and I have tried the 5:2, the Sirt diet (we wore out two Nutribullets), some vaguely Atkins-y regimes and before Christmas, the Whole 30. Neither of us have ever looked at each other and said ‘you need to lose weight’. But we have made an effort to lose weight together.
My husband and I are both self-conscious about our own bodies. I would never, ever call him a balloon - mostly because he isn’t one and I don’t think that’s how you should talk to the person you love - but also because I know he was bullied about his weight when he was a little boy.
Similarly, he knows that I struggled with anorexia in my teens, and any comments about weight gain will make me obsessive and miserable. For both of us, body image is a mental health issue first, and we need to treat it with sensitivity.
However, Brook and Parisi are both models. While it’s well documented that this occupation can exacerbate mental health problems and eating disorders, I suspect they have both developed a fairly thick skin in order to survive within the industry.
When you’re a model, your body is your job. if someone tells you that they need you to look different, you can do what I would do – burst into tears and eat nine slices of toast – or you can bite your tongue and keep your job.
I still don’t think that Parisi’s comments were kind or loving, but the context – one model critiquing another model – means that the words probably weren’t intended to be as cruel as they sounded to the rest of us. Perhaps he’d expect Brook to say the same thing to him if he gained more weight than he was comfortable carrying. If you’ve grown up with plenty of body confidence, maybe ‘drop a dress size’ is as benign as a request as ‘get a haircut’.
Still, there is a fine line between practising tough love causing a person real hurt.
The most painful parts about dating someone who pressured me to lose weight was that he made me feel as though the way I looked was all he cared about. He claimed to be concerned about my health and wellbeing, but he didn’t seem to be interested in my happiness.
He wasn’t making a misguided attempt to motivate me, in an attempt to help me to achieve a personal goal. He was simply being selfish, and he didn’t care that his words made me feel miserable. Eventually I realised that I didn’t need to lose any weight. I needed to lose the boyfriend.
Ultimately, our partners should support us, and encourage us to become our happiest selves. Brook has said of her weight loss ‘It’s about body confidence, you’ve got more energy, you just feel so much better, it’s nice.’ Up to a point, we have to respect her autonomy and her choices. If she genuinely feels better and happier than she did before, perhaps Parisi acted in her best interests.
Still, it is never, ever OK to speak to your partner in a way that is cruel or controlling. Body image and confidence are complex subjects for the majority of us. If your partner wants to lose weight, there are plenty of ways to support them, by joining them in their endeavours and telling them how well they are doing. But I really don’t think there are any circumstances in which it’s OK to call someone a balloon. It’s best to cut the string, and float away.