A while back, The Rotund wrote a lovely post about being — fasten your hairnets — a fat woman who doesn’t like food. I loved that post, but I can’t say I relate to it.
In terms of my relationship to food, I fit every stereotype of the fat chick: I love to eat. And I love to eat high-fat, high-calorie foods, in addition to dozens of other kinds. Food gives me pleasure and alleviates pain. I use it as a drug sometimes. I eat myself sick sometimes. I order dessert when I’m already full sometimes. I often eat more than my boyfriend, who outweighs me by a significant amount. I eat fast, unless I consciously tell myself to slow down and savor it. (I’m obsessed with tapas and small plates restaurants these days, because they tend to make me slow down and enjoy the food more, without my having to think about it.) I eat more than I need to sometimes. I am fat in part because of the way I eat.
And the question of the day is, what’s wrong with any of that?
I got to thinking about all this the other day after reading the review of Barry Glassner’s book and this post at Every Woman Has an Eating Disorder, though it’s certainly not the first time I’ve thought about it. For most of my life, I just accepted that loving food was bad, immoral, undisciplined — you know the drill. Now that I’ve come to accept my body, I’ve also started to wonder why I should think there’s anything wrong with getting a mild buzz off of bacon. Why should I apologize for enjoying food any more than I do for enjoying sex? Eating is fun for me — maybe more fun for me than the average person, maybe not. I have no way of knowing. What I know is, it doesn’t harm anyone else, it doesn’t seem to be harming me so far, and I fucking like it. What’s not to love about something that fits that description?
Please also note that since I started thinking this way, I have started slowing down and enjoying my food more, even when I’m talking about an oversized burger and gigantic portion of fries, not tapas. Because, when I remove the guilt I used to feel for wanting such a meal, let alone ordering it, then it’s okay to let myself fucking taste it. And when I slow down enough to taste it, sometimes I even notice when I’m full and stop eating, because I don’t want to feel sick for the next hour and — what’s this? — I feel satisfied.
I’m not sure I knew what it was like to feel satisfied by food for about the first 28 years of my life. Especially when I was eating something everyone told me I should be ashamed of eating, my m.o. was to wolf it down and then sit around feeling disgusting, nauseated and self-loathing for a while. It’s actually hard for me to understand intellectually why I did that routinely for so long and still do it occasionally; the length of time spent in physical discomfort is way longer than the length of time I spend getting a rush from the food. Logically, I should have developed an aversion to eating that way, wouldn’t you think?
But I didn’t. There are a lot of possible reasons for that, and I make no pretensions to having a clue what the real one is. I’ll just say this: people don’t always avoid punishment when they believe they deserve it.
It’s a testament to the power of “good food/bad food” messages that food acceptance, if you will, came much later for me than fat acceptance. It was way easier to get my head around the idea that there’s nothing wrong with my body than it was to say, “You know, it’s really okay to eat cheesecake.” And I don’t think I’m alone in that. A lot of people, including me, came to fat acceptance via the concept of Health At Every Size, and the news that fat itself isn’t particularly dangerous — it’s poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle that cause health problems. That makes intuitive sense to a lot of us who don’t spend our lives on the couch eating Ho-Hos, and then, when you see all the science to back it up, it’s like, whoa!
Problem is, if that’s the only reason you’ve got to accept your own fat body and others’, you feel an obligation to demonstrate at every possible opportunity that you eat your veggies and work out — and are still fat. So then, if you skip the gym for a couple of days or eat something “bad,” you feel like you’ve failed as a healthy! fatty! Suddenly, you’re just an ugly stereotype again.
(And all that’s without even getting into the fact that some fat people do have unhealthy lifestyles, but they are still human beings who deserve respect and dignity every bit as much as anyone else. Judging people based on your impression of their health is absolute horseshit any way you slice it.)
The thing is, healthy people of all sizes eat burgers and fries and cheesecake. It’s just that no one stares at a thin person eating “bad” food and then goes home and blogs about how disgusting that was to watch, and how the obesity crisis is going to cause the fall of Western Civilization. No one looks into a thin person’s grocery cart and freaks out about the bags of chips and cans of soda. No one expects thin people to represent for People of Good Health with every single decision at every daily crossroads. The thinness serves as proof that you’re “taking care of yourself.”
Never mind that thin people can have exactly the same health risks as fat people, and being underweight is every bit as dangerous as being “morbidly obese.” All that matters is perception. If you’re thin, you’re healthy, period. If you’re fat, you’d better be ready to produce food logs and blood test results and multiple affidavits from medical professionals to prove you don’t lie in bed all day having extra-large pizzas delivered on the half-hour.
That can make it kinda hard to enjoy your food.
But it really is okay. It’s okay to love eating. It’s even okay to love eating food that fat people aren’t supposed to eat, ever. It’s okay to take sensual pleasure in, you know, a sensual pleasure. Fuel is not the only point of food any more than procreation is the only point of sex; if we agreed, as a culture, that it was all about fuel, we would certainly have given up eating and switched over to getting nutrition in pill form by now. We don’t do that because eating tasty food is fucking fun. We all know it, we just don’t all feel comfortable admitting it.
And that’s ridiculous. I am a fat woman, and I love to eat — and for the most part, those are two separate issues. One is about being the daughter of fat parents, who were the children of fat parents, etc. The other is about being human. Human beings, curiously enough, generally like food. And that is okay.