Note: this post appeared this morning on the fabulous blog The Outlier Collective, which invites two bloggers weekly to engage in often controversial topics from various perspectives. You should definitely check that blog out (the editors are lovely, lovely people), and the post can be found in its original context here. And thanks again to MadameWeebles for inviting me to write a guest post – you should all definitely check out her site as well!
“Where are you putting all that?”
My hand stopped halfway to my mouth, the thick, crispy, delicious french fry left hovering halfway between me and my plate. My friends around the pub table continued eating, and I sighed. Here we go again.
That’s the trouble trying to have a social life while in recovery from an eating disorder: sometimes you forget just how much of our culture revolves around food. We bond by going out to eat, out for drinks, out for ice cream, out for popcorn at the movies. What I’m noticing, though, is that as women, we’re encouraged to bond around not eating.
I’m not talking about pro-ana groups specifically, though I’ll argue with my last breath that they’re a more dramatic manifestation of the same impulse. All I’m saying is that it’s easy to bond over shared problems, and the common denominator of personal malaise for the modern woman tends to be the size of our bodies.
Diet culture is not only a cash cow for mail-order food programs, it’s a great way to build community. Think about all those throwaway phrases you and I have used while out with friends.
“God, sometimes I just can’t stop eating.”
“I know I shouldn’t have the pasta, so I’ll have to hit the gym extra hard tomorrow.”
“Ugh, I can feel my food baby after that sandwich.”
Maybe you have that friend who looks at you when you decide to order that white chocolate cheesecake and jokingly sneers, “All right then, fatty.”
Speaking in huge, broad generalizations, we are bonding over an association between food and feelings of shame and self-loathing.
As if there were something morally heinous about ordering the giant beef burrito you’ve been daydreaming about for days.
As if an ice cream sundae had the power to transform you into the Antichrist.
As if the food you put into our body says anything about the quality of the character you carry around in it.
Eating can be a source of pleasure and enjoyment, but in the end it’s the shame as shoveling coal into a steam ship. Everybody does it. It keeps us moving, and when we stop doing it, or don’t do it often enough, we sink. Simple as that. And if sometimes you can make your coal-shoveling a little more exciting, and do it around a table with friends and ambient lighting, why on Earth wouldn’t you?
The reasons for why we wouldn’t are endless. Pop culture and the media telling us we need to be waif-thin and order salads with dressing on the side, otherwise we’re worthless and unlovable. Doctors and the American Medical Association telling us that obesity is a disease, and it’s contagious by simply looking at a plate of churros (I exaggerate, but only slightly). Well-meaning family members and friends looking us up and down, commenting on our bodies like we’re public property, and if we don’t look a certain way we’re on the fast track to death or old-maid-hood or some other horrific fate like being left on the side of the ballroom while Mr. Darcy dances with someone else.
Or simply the voices in our head, telling us that if we eat what we really want, if we don’t behave like the perfect mental construct of what a woman should be, we are in some way less than, imperfect, failures.
Those voices are more difficult to ignore than any of us like to admit. Time was, the question around my nearly-eaten french fry would never have been asked, because you couldn’t have gotten me near a plate of fried, salty potatoes with a ten-foot pole.
Which is a shame, because this was one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten. It was a dinner of salty delicious chips, a pint of Guinness, and a bowl of soup that may or may not have included octopus tentacles. And you know why? Because while I still have moments where I hem and haw and panic over the moral consequences of a plate of pasta, in the end, I’m starting to relearn that food is food. And if I only end up in this pub once in my whole life, am I going to be proud of myself for bypassing the chips and the octopus for a chicken Caesar salad, dressing on the side, while staring longingly at my friends’ meals?
I doubt it.
“Where am I putting all this?” I repeated, looking down at the fry. “In my mouth. And it’s delicious.”