who cares what i eat?

(img via tumblr)  not wellness approved

(img via tumblr) not wellness approved

The first time I remember crying over the way I consume food, I was about 10 or 11 years old. I left my yearly physical in a fit of tears, after my doctor told me that I was way over the “normal” BMI for someone my age. I ran home bawling in tears and self-hatred. In reaction to the news, I downed a pint of Oreo ice cream and a container of powdered donuts. I told myself I enjoyed every bite but I also remember it feeling like a punishment. Though I wouldn’t have described it as such back then, I was definitely a binge eater, and I definitely had an eating disorder.

If you talk to a lot of women, stories like this one are not out of the regular. Based on conversations alone, most women I know have dealt with some sort of complication with food and the way they consume it since they were children. I’ve had friends who spent junior high trying to subsist on a diet of plain popcorn. I’ve underwent diets with friends that saw us diligently recording our meals, and allowing ourselves to manically indulge (re:binge) on so-called “cheat days”. Again, none of this is new. Living as a woman in a patriarchal world in which your worth is often measured by your beauty—and beauty is defined by thinness—means that from an early age you’re taught to think about food in a very controlling way. Whether for nourishment or pleasure, food becomes something that could easily destroy you if you let it. And so, twelve year old girls go on Weight Watchers and get refuse to go the pool, lest somebody tell them that once they lose their baby fat they’ll beautiful.

For some people, the era of fad diets is one of the past. Oprah might be the face of Weight Watchers but the modern feminist knows that diets are just a tool of the patriarchy. The modern feminist knows that to spend an excessive The modern feminist subscribes to something else: wellness. Unlike the fad diets of the past, wellness is a lifestyle that is focused on overall health and wholeness. Now, if you restrict yourself to two meals a day and count a smoothie as a satisfying meal, it’s not about losing weight or anything messy like that. Now if you restrict yourself, it’s about shaping your body and its systems in order to reach the best version of yourself: full of energy, successful, and strong. Although the narrative may be different, the process and the goals are still the same.

In a recent op-ed for The New York Times titled “Smash the Wellness Industry” writer Jessica Knoll discusses her experiences with restrictive eating and how her recent discovery of “intuitive eating” has changed the way she interacts with food and her consumption of it. She describes her experience with wellness as “a poisonous relationship between a body I was indoctrinated to hate and food I had been taught to fear.” Knoll names diets like Whole30 which is premised on only eating “whole” foods for 30 days in order to determine foods that are harmful to you. It involves giving up things like gluten and alcohol (typical) as well as legumes and grains (not so much). Starving oneself (intermittent fasting, anyone?) is now acceptable in the name of wellness.

In his essay “On Food” Mark Grief talks about the ways in which, as homo sapiens, our relationship with food has changed now that many of us do not face scarcity. He touches on a variety of subjects, but what I strongly remember is how he talked about the relationship between food and health. What I generally got from the essay is that in our obsession for immortality, we turn to food as a way of controlling our lifespan. This attitude is one that I think plays a strong role in the wellness narrative. With more and more people being diagnosed with cancer at increasingly younger ages, it makes sense that people find comfort in the idea that you’ll be ok as long as you stop eating tomatoes. Furthermore, wellness encourages the idea that if your diet is wholesome and clean, your life will be as well. In his essay, Grief claims that we have come to “privatize food care as a category of inner, personal life.” How we eat has become a defining element of how we live.

Of course, having beautiful, wholesome lives is extremely appealing, and if it’s as simple as only drinking juice for breakfast, what could be the harm? For Knoll, and for me as well, the issue is that “at its core, “wellness” is about weight loss.” And while losing weight is not necessarily a negative thing, most women’s desire to lose weight is founded on the idea that thinness is the ideal, and that women who are fat or “fat-bodied” or whatever you want to call it, fail to care about themselves or their quality of life. As someone who constantly deals with guilt over my choice to order onion rings and avoid the gym, I can attest to how quickly one can fall into harmful habits (like finding satisfaction in missing meals) when living in a world where wellness is king.

As an idea, wellness is great, and being conscious about how we treat ourselves should never be a negative thing. But I would love to get to the day when thinking about what I eat and how I eat is the least important thing I have to think about. A hyper-tech future sounds frightening, but if that meant food became a passing thought instead of a ruling force, I think I might be okay with that. Or maybe that’s still dangerous thinking. Honestly, who cares?

I obviously love to talk about my relationship with food and my body.

Blossom Out: Hulu's 'Shrill'

I don’t think I paid much notice to ‘Shrill’ when it first came out and only really knew it existed based on a passing Instagram Story. But when it became available to watch in Canada, I was excited to watch it right away. Although we live in a time when body positivity reigns supreme, representation of fat people is always disappointing. We live in an age when ‘Insatiable’ was made with little concern about what it was saying to fat people. Lena Dunham might have bared it all on ‘Girls’ but fat bodies in the media are often depicted as things to diminish and dismiss. Which is why ‘Shrill’ is so appealing on one level. Based on Lindy West’s book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, the show stars Aidy Bryant as Annie, a young woman who wants to write things she cares about at the publication that she works at, and is in a situationship with a guy who makes her leave through his back door. It follows Annie as she gains more confidence to ask for what she wants, both at work and in her relationship. While the show addresses being fat in the world, it is not the thing that defines Annie and she doesn’t pay much attention to it. In fact, it’s the people around her that bring constant attention to her body and associate it with negative connotations. In one scene, Annie is accosted by a fitness trainer who tells her that there’s a small person (in Annie) “screaming to get out”. Later that same fitness trainer calls Annie a “fat bitch” for refusing her services. ‘Shrill’ has its fair share of hostile moments like this (Annie deals with an Internet troll), but even so, the show is overall lighthearted and funny. In what I think is the best moment of the whole season, Annie lets herself dance goofily and freely at a pool party, and the joy that she experiences is so tangible I burst into (happy) tears. Lolly Adefope (Loaded, The Spy Who Dumped Me), who is absolutely hilarious, plays Annie’s commitment-phobe lesbian best friend and roommate, Fran, and is absolutely hilarious in the role. My biggest complaint with the show is that we don’t see enough of her. Thankfully, ‘Shrill’ has been picked up for a second season, so there are more chances for the purest moments.


Watch ‘Shrill’ on Hulu (US) or Crave (Canada) or however you want to

*gif courtesy of GIPHY

To Have a Body

"Grace Meets Matisse" (2016)  Elise Peterson

"Grace Meets Matisse" (2016) Elise Peterson

Body positivity. Body confidence. Love your body. These days, messages like these are hard to avoid. In the past few months, it’s become extremely popular to see Instagram posts in which people compare the differences in their body in a posed photo and when it’s relaxed. There are so many messages for us to love our bodies, although these are often followed by images of thin and toned bodies and ads (upon ads) that all promise you a "better" body in as little as 14 days. The conflicting nature of these messages make the cry for body positivity/confidence feel artificial. 

I’ve always been concerned about the size and shape of my body. As a kid, I was always aware that I was bigger than most of my friends, who were small and quiet and cute. I, in comparison, was big and boisterous, and often felt like Princess Fiona when she first hugs her parents in her ogre form. Despite this awareness, I still wasn't bothered much. I was pretty confident and happy as a kid. I was smart and sociable, and the shape and size of my body didn't define me.

In middle school, that started to change. I started to binge eat to combat feelings of loneliness or inadequacy. I didn’t have words to describe what I was feeling but I knew that if I felt horrible, scarfing down a container of cookies and cream ice cream and a pack of powdered donuts was a momentary remedy. I gained a lot of weight, which made me more insecure, especially when people in my life would bring attention to it--my doctor, my family, my best friend. I continued to feel lonely, angry, and insecure. I continued to binge.

When my family moved to Trinidad when I was in the seventh grade, I lost a lot of weight. The unwanted move, the sudden change of circumstance, combined with intensified feelings of sadness, led me to stop eating. Matched with the magic of puberty, all my fat disappeared and i became “shapely”. People began to comment on how much weight I had lost and how good I looked. But I still didn't feel good. Until that moment, I had always associated slimness with happiness and confidence, so it was a bit of wakeup call to realize that my now loose clothes didn’t make me feel any better about myself. Now I worried about keeping off the weight, hungry for compliments so as to validate myself.

Why did it matter if I was fat or skinny, chubby or toned? Why was I, at 12 years old, already evaluating my worth based on the size of my thighs and the roundness of my face? In all the time I’ve been alive, society has always promoted thinness. It has humiliated and shamed people for not fitting certain body standards. Even in our age of body positivity and confidence, this narrative still persists. And while in recent years, there has been a greater acceptance of women with larger bodies, there’s still a lot of work to do before there is an actual change in the way we see and talk about bodies. It feels like there's little room in the body positivity conversation to talk about the complexities of “loving your body”. I wish we talked more about how not loving your body doesn't mean not loving yourself.

I do not love my body. Every time I look in the mirror and tell myself that I love my thighs or that I love my belly, I feel ridiculous. But I also don’t hate my body. There are some days where I wish it was smaller and more toned. Those moments pass.

A body is just a physical vessel. We exist in them, but they do not define us. My body doesn’t say anything about who I am, except maybe that I really like donuts (like REALLY LIKE). My body doesn’t determine my worth, and I don’t need to love it. I think that's okay.