Nothing Tastes As Good As... Food
Every woman I meet has some strange relationship with food. Each and every one of us at some point in time has skipped a meal, a dessert or an event with the desperate hope of avoiding ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.’ Whenever I get the inevitable water-retention before my period, I have moments of self-loathing for this inexplicable weight gain - until I realise its origin. Despite not necessarily disliking how I look, I am repulsed by the fact that I am objectively bigger than I was the day before. This isn’t me body-shaming myself or saying I am fat, I am just candidly observing my subconscious reaction to my body as it changes at certain times. A subconscious voice that tells me that, if I am fatter, I have done something wrong, shameful or embarrassing. I look at the Victoria’s Secret models and I think they're beautiful, ethereal, goddesses: hungry, tiny and fragile, all at once. I am confronted with my understanding of bodily functions, hormones and how difficult it would be to achieve that physique - which I know all too well from my own experience of achieving very low body fat - whilst simultaneously being utterly dazzled by their svelteness. I look at these women and a million and one questions buzz around my mind; is that how I am supposed to look? If I don’t look like that am I failure? Am I failure because I don’t seem to have the willpower to even want to try and look like that?
Don’t get me wrong - I know Gigi and Bella Hadid aren’t going to have a restless nights sleep because some random blogger is speculating about their health, they’re probably very happy making large swathes of money and being adored and fancied by the entire world - literally, who wouldn’t love that? But this isn’t a personal attack, I simply want to understand the implications for us non-models and whether or not this is just a performance - like any other - that we should watch objectively and without consequence. Or perhaps more, whether it is possible for this performance to be entirely inconsequential? It would seem that since this isn’t just a piece of art but also a capitalist venture, we cannot avoid the fact that it is designed to inspire some desire, want and need in us as consumers. However, I watch that show - and I don’t want new underwear - I want a new body and a new face.
I would pin myself as someone with fairly good body confidence and a fairly positive relationship with food, but that mindset is in constant flux and can be bolstered or obliterated easily and frequently by many variables. That isn’t really all too surprising, as my frame of mind is self-taught, it is a subversion of my cultural conditioning.
‘You look so tiny’
‘Omg you’re so skinny’
‘Your tummy is so flat’
‘Look at your thigh gap’
When I was growing up these compliments were like gold-dust, they were the best you could offer up to a friend. I do think you see it less - the celebration of diminution - but it still exists. I am not talking about an overweight individual losing weight, I am talking about slim girls/women tipping the scale so they ever so slightly edge toward a level of boney-ness or gauntness - a certain je ne sais quoi which insinuates she has made some sort of sacrifice to get there and that we as a society fucking commend that.
I remember boys at school calling me fat and I remember it being so soul-destroying. They probably didn’t mean that much malice by it- or maybe they did - but in an ideal world ‘you’re fat’ should be just as much of an insult as ‘you’re blonde’ or ‘your eyes are blue’. It’s the weight (pun-intended) we have put on the word that makes it sting. Of course there’s the age old argument of ‘fatness is unattractive because biologically we are attracted to healthy individuals’, and I don’t doubt that we are attracted to healthy individuals, but I also don’t doubt the power of ideology and conditioning. If that argument were entirely fool-proof, models who are crippled by awful conditions such as anorexia surely wouldn’t be celebrated as sexy or attractive? Least of all the bar for which we should all be aiming. And also, just to be clear, in this particular instance I am not talking about genuine obesity, I am talking about ‘fat’ as in the presence of fat on a woman; the kind of fat we as women have pinched at and stared at and cried about. The kind of fat that is literally necessary to live, or genetic, or hormonal - that kind of fat.
I am not trying to skinny-shame. Some women are naturally skinny with flat tummies and thigh gaps and unfortunately they are probably conditioned to hate themselves just as much as the fat(ter) woman. Ironically the conditioning of self-worth-based-on-weight doesn’t seem to discriminate, you could always look better, right? I do not mean to insinuate without grounds that any model has achieved their physique via unhealthy means, but I do believe that it isn’t wholly unhelpful to speculate over why we aspire to look a way - a way that is fairly extreme if not unattainable for most individuals. I will never deny that being beautiful is a currency that will never die. For the exact aforementioned point of biology, we are instinctual creatures who want to procreate with the best partner. Having said that, we have evolved beyond basic instinct. We have evolved a consciousness, and a language, and an ability to manipulate and create common understanding of prejudice and desire. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful or loving beautiful things, it is the very small prescription of beauty that we have conceived that I take issue with. A prescription which not only brings about literal ill-health (eating disorders, mental health issues etc.), but also completely neglects entire demographics, races and abilities. I have literally just plucked this from the dictionary on my laptop; ‘a beautiful woman: she was considered a great beauty in her youth | he arrived with a blonde beauty on his arm.’, we have quite literally defined beauty - it is quantified. Beauty should be recognised as something that engenders some emotion within any one individual, not a box-ticking exercise, ‘young - tick, blonde - tick’.
The other interesting nuance to colour this story is, of course, the very pertinent one of echo-chambers. Social media is the ultimate architect for our bubbles. Our friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances most likely occupy largely similar spaces of understanding. As we move further outside of friendship groups, cities, countries, religions and cultures, those bubbles will become ever more disparate. In my industry, (my very niche understanding of a vast industry that I operate in), the conversations surrounding body positivity, wellness and eating disorders are loud and evergreen. Not a day goes by that I don’t see at least one individual championing #balance over #thighgap. In my naiveté I spend my day-to-day life believing that the world of commentary surrounding women’s bodies - whilst still being as vociferous as ever - had become somewhat more inclusive and understanding. I think the affronting feeling I get when looking at Victoria’s Secret Models isn’t necessarily one of my own physical inadequacy, but more of an embarrassment that I had started to believe we actually were expanding our paradigms of beauty. I suddenly feel self-conscious that I am stupidly enjoying the way I look when the rest of the world could probably still look at me, and with one look, reduce me to feeling like that fat-little-girl at school. Horrible to think, even more horrible to write - but I know I am not alone.
Shame. It is massive. I think I have found shame more instructive than any other emotion. Shame over my body was the vehicle that carried me to the gym. Luckily through years of unlearning I have finally been able to see my body as more than an object for the male gaze. Luckily I find my body sexy, attractive, functional and fit. It took me years just to be able to say positive things about my body without feeling disgustingly unfeminine, crass or arrogant. We as women are programmed to think we aren’t good enough - our insecurities profit millions of industries. I am genuine in everything I write about my body, my self-confidence and my new found love of exercising for the sake of feeling alive. However those feelings can only exist when I consciously believe that I will never be shamed for not fitting an out-dated model of physical beauty. In my day-to-day life I am shielded from those unnerving feelings that plagued me so terrifyingly as I was growing up - that instructed me to restrict my food, put myself down and make myself sick. We all have had an unhealthy relationship with food because for so long we were presented with an unhealthy image of beauty.
Every woman I have ever met has had some kind of complicated relationship with food, because it would seem as though the most amazing thing you could do to be attractive, is to have an ability to resist indulgence (food, sex or otherwise) and to be as small as possible. It is always a process of reduction; how little can you eat, how many dress sizes can you go down, how many inches can you lose. We literally take away parts of ourselves to fit into this tiny-ridiculous-ideal of feminine beauty.
Stop taking things away - see how much you can add to your life.
By the way, you look amazing, go and eat - nothing tastes as good as skinny feels food.
(Thanks to my best friend Livi for proof reading this and helping me get rid of a ridiculous amount of semicolons)