Recommended Sanderwich: Belgian waffle sandwich with chocolate sauce and sliced banana.
What’s the worst thing you can do to a slightly chubby woman? Send her on an all inclusive beach holiday where she is faced with three all-you-can-eat buffets every day, but also has brought a bikini to wear poolside. Stand back and watch the conflicting parts of her psyche battle it out in a fight to the death. Add her mother into the mix and watch her self-esteem vanish faster than her dessert course. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my own personal hell.
I’m a bit of a compulsive eater, if that statement isn’t a contradiction in terms. Early on in the holiday, my mother, who is a trained therapist (but don’t let that fool you) says to me “the more you eat, Alice, the more unconscious you get”. By this logic, anorexics are presumably all brittle-boned buddhas. The effect of this statement on me was that it made me want to stuff my face all day long. Well, fatty’s gotta eat.
As this whole piece centres around the buffet, I feel like it’s only polite to introduce you to it. As we are all aware, a hotel buffet is never perfect, but you find your way around it and get to know which are going to be the good dishes. For example, for lunch and dinner there was always a plentiful salad bar. I learnt to stay clear of the dubious dishes, meats that weren’t stewed or casseroled were dry and rubbery unless you got them from the specials bar, pastas were too soggy. The rice dishes were invariably delicious, lots of good fried or baked vegetable dishes, and my favourite game – ‘find the artichokes’. The saving grace for me, was that the desserts were terrible, tiny pastries that tasted of stale freezer and sugar, or creamy desserts that looked like they had been made up with powder, UHT cream, and a bicycle pump. To compensate for the lack of desserts I ate two Belgian waffles every morning for breakfast. One with a baked apple and one with sliced banana and the thick hot chocolate meant for churros. And, fuck, it was good. My mother ended up telling me just to eat the waffles, with a weary pain behind her eyes. I think she thought if she told me not to I’d do it anyway, and the proceeding self-flagellation would be even worse than it already was. It wasn’t that bad at all, it was just swimming in a freezing cold pool.
The thing is, I’m not a teenager anymore and I don’t feel bad about the way I look. When I was a teenager I felt really awful about the way I looked and myself in general. Not helped by the fact that my mother did things like point at the stretch marks on my thighs in a changing room and shout “Oh my god, what are they? What’s wrong with you?”. I don’t just feel good about the way I look, I feel good about who I am, and I don’t judge myself purely based on my physical appearance. There are plenty of other things that give me value. In fact, to get all hippy on yo asses, existing is number one. We all have value; we all have a right to be here.
As a woman it is nearly impossible to not to have been self-conscious about your body at some point. Truth be told, I still sometimes look sadly in the mirror and pat down my saddle-bags, seeing what I would look like if the contours were smoother. We live in a society that judges people by their appearance, women most of all. From when we are little girls we learn that being ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’ is the highest compliment of all. And we learn that being called ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ is not just making a judgement on our appearance, but is often meant to undermine us completely.
I refuse to go on a diet. Not because I don’t want to be healthy but because I think the whole concept of dieting is destructive. It’s socially isolating “oh, no I can’t eat that, I can’t go there”, calorie counting at best is dull and at worst can lead to obsessive compulsive behaviour and anxiety, it locks you in a weird cycle of punishment and reward, and some diets propose that you should eat so few calories that you would be technically classed by the UN at famine level (yes, I’ve read The Beauty Myth), which is weakening, not just to your body but to your mind and your spirit. It totally feeds (haha) into a negative way of looking at yourself.
I’m also tired of having conversations about weight and dieting. We could be discussing Plato, or Jeanette Winterson, the latest Sex Art Prints I’ve been to see (David Hockney), Mad Men, or even your favourite sandwich filling. I don’t care how much weight you’ve lost, and I don’t care about your stupid diet. I have rarely, if ever, seen two men friends out for dinner ordering only salad and discussing how many calories they’ve consumed that day and their trouser size. And if men don’t do it, I’m not doing it either. (I staunchly refuse to menstruate). Can we just agree that we won’t talk about it anymore? I’m including myself in this plea, I do it too. And any time it happens we’ll know the patriarchy has possessed you and we need to perform a feminist exorcism, which involves a group of your best lady-friends reading out passages from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman and splashing you with hot cheese until you vomit up all the diet coke you’ve consumed and the patriarchy leaves your brain.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is that it’s really hard, particularly as a woman to have a simple and good relationship to food and your body. We are given a homogenised version of beauty as a yardstick with which we can beat ourselves, or perhaps shove down our throats. But of course there are many ways to be beautiful and attractive. Personally, I judge a sexual partner like I judge a horse, and wonder how fast that person could really go if I were riding them. More and more woman are voluntarily getting their tits sliced open and little sacks of inorganic material placed in their body. That is fucked up. It’s hard to escape the weight of the whole of society, and that’s what a woman is doing when she chooses to stop valuing herself on her physical appearance, and when she stops seeking the approval of others about the way that she looks. What incenses me the most when somebody else judges my physical appearance, is not that they are insulting me (if indeed they are), but the arrogance with which they assume that their opinion about the way I look will matter to me. I’m not here to please you.
All of this battled long and hard against my deep and pure love of food, and I like to think that the righteous feminist part of my brain won in the end. And this despite my mother saying to me whilst looking at me in a bikini “it’s not really that you’re fat, Alice, you’re just big”. But you know what, it was the waffles. Next time I go on holiday, I’m going to have three every morning.