Weight, Body and Food

Cheese. Love of My Life.

On Friday, I dragged three of my au-pair friends into Cork to be a slightly confused and bemused audience for my 5-minute theatre monologue for the National Theatre of Scotland. I’d organised for a friend of a friend to film it for me, as I don’t have any of the appropriate equipment or know-how and she had a fantastic outdoor location right on her doorstep (a green hill rolling down to Cork), so we headed in for a night out.
I don’t like being filmed. As an actor, I should probably enjoy it, but I hate it. I find the camera lens a very intimidating and unfriendly thing to look at. Ok, I’m talking out my arse. I don’t like it because all I can hear the whole time we’re filming is ‘fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, double-chin, fat, fat, love handles, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat…..’ It makes one more than a little self-conscious. But, I’d applied for the bloody thing, and it was the National Theatre of Scotland, for god’s sake, so I sucked it up and did the damn thing and tried to enjoy it. It went ok. There was small laughs, which is about as much as you can hope for from an audience of 3. And, apart from a car load of whooping, possibly drunk young men, it was surprisingly easy to film outside. The Irish weather was very helpful with lovely sun and no rain.
But, of course, there comes a time when you have to watch back the video and then its ‘fat, fat, fat, fat, fat, fat…’ all over again. That moment was this morning. There’s a joke in ‘Friends’ when they’re watching Monica and Rachel’s prom video and everyone’s laughing at how fat Monica is, and she goes, ‘Shut-up, the camera adds 10 pounds!’ and Chandler says, ‘how many cameras are on you?’ And that’s very much how I felt watching the video. It was a bit like, oh my. I am a very round human being at the moment. Those nutella and peanut-butter sandwiches really do come back to bite you on the arse. Or, whack cellulite on the arse.
I’ve never had a good relationship with my body. Ok, that is an understatement. I have spent half my life actively hating my body. I’ve suffered from disordered eating since I was 15, full-blown bulimia since 17, sprinkled with bouts of anorexia and binge eating, just to keep things interesting. You name the diet, I’ve done it. Food isn’t so much food to me, as it is calories and fat. I don’t see an egg, I see 300 kj. I don’t see a chocolate bar, I see all the things I could eat instead that would be half the amount of calories and fat. Within the last 12 years, there is only a year and a half period that I can say definitively I was not actively trying to lose weight or on a diet.
Now, I don’t know about you, but, for me, a diet is a very serious thing. Its all-consuming. I always kind of scoffed at the idea of a food diary, which is suggested in many a magazine, because with me, I never needed to write it down. Everything I ate in a day was on a constant loop in my head. A diet is something to think about obsessively, to worry about (‘how will I get all the strange food I need to keep to the diet?’), to plan in advance, its something to look forward to (‘don’t worry, as soon as I start my diet, I’ll lose weight and then everything will be ok’), its something that will affect your social life, about whether or not you decide to go to parties (‘what if they don’t serve any food I can eat on my diet?’), how happy and friendly you are at those parties (‘should I just sit outside all night, away from the food tables, sipping a diet coke, to make sure I don’t break the diet?’), its a friend, its an enemy, its a comfort, its a life plan, its something to beat myself up about when I’ve broken it, to compare to other people’s diets, to use to rate myself against other humans, to use to predict future successes, love and happiness. What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that, for the past 12 years, instead of, I don’t know, learning an instrument, or knitting enough clothes for all Maria von Trapp’s grandchildren, or memorising the complete works of Shakespeare, I have been thinking about food. About which food I am allowed to eat. About which food I am not allowed to eat. About which food I desperately wish I could eat. About which food is good, and which food is bad and ranking them according to how good and how bad. About how much I love, love, love food, but how unattractive and pathetic that is, and if I were a better human being, if I was a cool, cool and in-control ice queen, I would be able to convince myself that I hate food and all I needed to survive was oxygen and the occasional herbal tea. The thought of putting on weight almost brought me out in hives it was so anxiety-inducing.
Anyway, the point is (there is a point) that whilst I was unhappy with how I looked on the video this morning, it wasn’t the end-of-the-world feeling that I have often experienced (part of me – the mean part – is trying to convince myself I’m so drugged up on fat and sugar that I just can’t get up the effort to be upset about it anymore. I’m telling it to shut up). And that was/is a good thing. Because the end-of-the-world feeling I got was basically that I couldn’t possibly be a worthwhile human being at that weight. And I don’t think that any more, apparently. Which is nice.
But it is more complicated than just that. Whilst I no longer want to wear a burqa, jump off a cliff or become a hermit because I’m a little overweight, I am aware of the fact that I don’t feel at all attractive at my current weight. In particular (and please don’t see this as an opportunity to give me sympathy or comfort and tell me I’m beautiful and make me feel pathetic – that is not the point of this post), I don’t feel in anyway attractive to men. And, whilst my rational, feminist brain says that looks are not everything, and you don’t fall in love with looks alone, and who got to decide that stick thin women were the be-all and end-all of beauty anyway, and you wouldn’t want to be with a man that cared about your looks as much as you care about your looks, because that would just be anxiety-inducing, and he’d probably be a twat if he cared that much about women being thin, and you wouldn’t love him, you’d hate him, so what are you complaining about anyway, but, my gut reaction, the way I automatically feel, is that I’m not attractive and I shouldn’t even bother trying to talk to men, let alone date them.
The thing is, that both sides of the argument going on in my brain are destructive. Even the angry, feminist side. I sometimes think that the angry feminist side of my brain is actively sabotaging me by making a one-body statement to the rest of society by making me fat and going, ‘fuck you world, I’ll eat what I want and be fat if I want and I won’t buy into your hideous stereotypes about women’s bodies and all that anxiety anymore.’ So, whenever I watch ‘Sex and the City’ I end up getting slightly grumpy (even though I think I enjoy the show) and end up devouring a block of chocolate, or a peanut-butter and nutella sandwich in angry defiance of Carrie and Charlotte and Samantha and Miranda and their constant talk of men and being attractive to men and all the rest of it.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make, and which all became clear to me in a calm, objective way today is that I have no idea what I feel about my body. And I mean, what I personally feel. I’ve spent so many years worrying what other people think and feel about my body and what it should and shouldn’t look like, that I have no idea what sort of a body I have and want, and more importantly, what kind of body I feel comfortable in. As is, not what sort of body I want to have looking in the mirror, or looking at it from the outside, as if I have no connection to it, but what sort of body I want to have to live in, and be in, and play in, and feel all day long in. And the same with my eating. I’ve spent so many years caring what other people think of my eating, how they must be judging me as I go for a piece of chocolate cake, or a third piece of cheese, that I’ve forgotten what I actually think and feel about my eating. Its become so confusing that I think, in the past few months, I have just switched off that side of my brain entirely and so now I just eat mindlessly, not actually certain when I’m full or hungry, whether or not I’m enjoying my food or if I want to eat something else.
I don’t know why I’m bringing all of this up now. I think its seeing myself on the video, but also, I saw ‘Julie & Julia’ on Wednesday, and the two women in that movie had such a true love and enjoyment of food, that it made me think back on my own history with food. I really love food. I really love it. I love cheese. I love cheesecake. I love love love freshly baked bread. I love grilled vegetables and cous cous and curry and rices and flat, sticky Thai noodles. I really love it, and yet I have spent most of my life attempting to avoid it or control it, or convince myself I hate it. And that’s pretty sad. 

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