Thursday, January 21, 2016

Verging on Excess

"I have days, now, when I don't think much about my weight. I have days, at least, when I see properly, when I look in the mirror and see myself as I am - a woman - instead of as a piece of flesh forever verging on excess" - Marya Hornbacher

A 10 year old girl I was babysitting for recently said to me "you know... vegetables can make you fat". Non plussed, I asked her where she had picked up this gem of knowledge and she said that her older brother (who is 12) still weighs less than her, even though she eats more vegetables "and he can eat what ever he wants and still be skinny."

Alarming as this is coming from a 10 year old girl, I have to say that I think she and I have been drinking the same kool aid. Although I don't, and have never had, a serious eating disorder, the underlying worry about whether or not food is going to 'make me fat' is something that I have experienced in varying degrees throughout my teens and still do now. I first read this Hornbacher quote in The Female Eunuch and identified with it immediately. For me, it vocalises the fear of weight gain - not quite there yet, but if I eat this slice of pizza or that bar of chocolate it may just 'make me fat'. This feeling is often coupled with disproportionate feelings of self hatred, disgust and guilt when I do eat things I know could 'make me fat'. The older I get the more I recognise that complicated feelings about food are a symptom of other anxieties.

This was most pronounced in 2011, just before starting at University some friends of mine were killed in a bus crash. For my first year of University I was very controlling around food and exercise, constantly internally battling with myself and a very low feeling of self worth. It was only after a visit to a university counsellor that I began to realise that my thought patterns around food were actually a defence mechanism for the lack of control I felt after this confrontation with grief. Now, when these thoughts surface I am better at thinking about the mental context.

Things like The Sun's 'no more skinny' campaign are not an antidote to this but instead create a new unattainable standard. I'm increasingly learning that to be comfortable in my body, I have to make an effort to reject all messaging, including the so-called 'empowering' narratives, and just be.

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