Are you happy with how much you weigh? If so, well done; I am most definitely one of you. If not, please understand that it has literally nothing to do with your worth as a human being. That said, nothing I could ever say will ever change your mind, so I’m just going to opine for a while. Okay?
There are days where I feel like I am surrounded solely by people who are obsessed, to the absolute exclusion of all other thoughts, with their ability to control the amount of mass they carry with them everywhere they go. No other subject will hold their attention for more than several beats.
I understand that control is the key aspect of all of this; that weight and appearance is only the very top-most physical representation of the driving need for control over one’s every conscious and unconscious behaviour. Control over an evil body, which misbehaves when one’s control slips.
This need to talk about weight, and weight-loss, feels like something where people assume “that’s just what you do”. That it is just assumed that we will all have broken relationships with what are perfectly ordinary bodies. It feels as ingrained as the knowledge that water is wet. That is not so.
Self-denial and food avoidance have become the unstated norm. A recent post from digital content providers Diply contained only the following statement: “You never realise how little self control you have until they put chips and salsa in front of you at a Mexican restaurant.” I like ‘chips and salsa’. I eat them because I want to.
I bought a cooking magazine, expecting articles on food producers, reviews of restaurants and food books, recipes of all shapes and sizes. I did find this, I found all of this, but there at the heart of the periodical was a section on “healthy” eating. They were good recipes, but sold on the fact that they would do you less harm than the food you actually wanted. I actually wanted these things, but not because they were supposedly “healthy”; because they looked like they were really lovely to eat.
It seems impossible to sell a cooking concept without one of two things: a celebrity host; a vow to improve your health with food. Or both; both really does it. Eating is such a core aspect of keeping ourselves alive, yet it is seen by many as a battlefield to be navigated with extreme wariness. The mental image of shells bursting all around; full of jelly sweets and bags of crisps and biscuits.
There is a rat gnawing at the base of my skull. It scratches, it scrapes and it screams. It is deafening and it is insidious. Its teeth dig for purchase while its wet paws scrabble against my sticky flesh.
The scab forms, it itches. I can’t stop seeing it, no matter how tight my eyes. I start gently, soothing the edges; a salve to the itch. But I can’t stop. I need to pick it all off, no matter how much it hurts.
I look in the mirror and I hate what I see. It is not human, it is worthless. I see only waste, its pitiless eyes staring back at me from the rotting, time-worn carcass. I want to scream; I want to cry. Now.
Other people mean nothing; they have nothing to do with the hideous image I see staring back at me; they have no influence on my decisions; they do nothing, and yet they are perfect. They know nothing. This is my struggle: it is mine alone. They mean nothing. I fight this fight alone, for me.
My body is my enemy. I cannot think of it without thinking of the shame of battles fought and lost, of years wasted in the service of an unforgiving, vengeful god. I am the mind, I have control here. Where does this limp rag of a bag of sticks get the right to control me? I have control here.
This view of metabolism as battle has a toxic effect on the minds of our children: they hear these conversations between adults, and are left to assume that it is natural to hate your body. It is not. Any set of behaviours which propagates self-loathing and the normalisation of unhealthy modes of behaviour cannot, in all honesty, be condoned by anyone supporting the development of a child.
This notion that normality is eating awful food and taking self-punishing exercise classes is corrosive. As much as it may be dressed up as return to balance, it is clear that it is punishment for having fun. As if all fun is evil, a fall from grace, a slip of the mask of control: as if it must be punished; as if we must not accept the weakness of free will and the joy of food. “Back to the diet tomorrow.”
This belief that some food is inherently good, while some is inherently bad is dangerous. It leads to self-loathing when the balance sheet moves to the red; a pit of misery when ‘success’ lacks ecstasy. If the only way to feel happy is to deprive ourselves of that which brings us joy, what has become of the notion of happiness? If every moment is counted as a transaction, where is fun for fun’s sake?
I am a self-righteous fool on a lengthy rant about hearing the same stupid conversations time and time and time again; I worry about the effect they have on my daughter. It is not meant as an attack.
Anything which is worthy of having takes effort. It’s something we are told repeatedly as we grow up. It’s largely true, but largely isn’t wholly. There are times when effort is counter-productive, and simple thought is the silver bullet. If we focus on denial, then denial will be our only thought. If we focus on the multitude of joys, various and unending, we may take pleasure in them all. Balance.
An ocean is a body of salt water which is wholly, or partly, surrounded by land. It evaporates as the sun heats it, its water vapour joining the atmosphere and contributing to the cloud structures above. The ocean brings the rain. The rain, once it falls, runs back to the body which produced it. And the cycle continues. And continues. And continues. The ocean is in constant flux; never growing, never shrinking. An ecosystem needs balance. In the same way that a flood will not upset the ocean, the hard rain of the sun will never shrink it. It will endure, regardless of the swaying of the tides.