I was talking to a friend this week and I mentioned that I lived in England when I was 14. She was surprised and I realized I hadn’t told her this story. I take it for granted that this is something people know about me, but I shouldn’t. So here it is: when I was in ninth grade, my then-step-mom was in a teacher exchange program. She, my younger sister, one of my step-sisters and I lived in London for a year. My step-mom taught there while a teacher from London lived in our town and taught my step-mom’s class. We lived on a street called Eastcombe Road and I went to the John Roan School. The school was right next to Greenwich Park, and I’d roam the park every day with my friends during lunch. My step-mom dragged us to practically every tourist attraction in the country, which is great except I was 14 and enjoyed it about as much as a teenager enjoys anything.
Content warning: next paragraphs talk about weight, dieting, and body image. Skip to the next heading if you don’t want to read this.
On the heels of this conversation, I went to dig out some photos to prove to myself I was there. My first thought? I can’t believe I ever thought I was fat. I thought I was so fat. I gained weight that year (as probably any 14-year-old girl should expect to) and, towards the end of our year abroad, my step-mom told me I needed to lose weight because, when we got home, people would see that I had “ballooned.” I remember looking at myself naked in the bathroom mirror and thinking that my butt was so big it resembled a horse. However, that didn’t make me not want to eat. It seemed like a problem with not solution because I was always hungry. I often spent my allowance on snacks. When my step-mom discovered the resultant trash in my garbage can, I got in trouble. She told me to go on a diet. I tried eating just fries and a slushie for lunch one day as part of my weight-loss effort. I thought it was working because I was hungry but she got mad at me for that too. I felt a lot of shame about being fat and about my eating habits. Once I ate most of a packet of cookies we had set aside for an after-dinner treat. I felt like I couldn’t stop myself from eating it even though I knew I’d be in trouble later. When the time came, my step-mom asked, “who ate these cookies?” I couldn’t bring myself to say anything but everyone knew it was me.
I wish the response had been one of compassion instead of shame.
I wish any adult in my life had told me it was normal to gain weight during puberty. I wish my parents had acknowledged that it’s normal for teenagers—yes, even girls—to be hungry and that teens are not finished growing. In fact, teens grow as much as toddlers do. Would anyone suggest a toddler shouldn’t eat?
I wish my dad and my step-mom hadn’t been ashamed of my body.
I read recently that restricted eating in children is associated with binge eating a year later. Dieting is literally what leads to being fat. The thing with believing you’re fat and people telling you you’re fat is that it’s easy to be or become fat. If I’m already fat and embarrassing, why not eat more cookies to deal with those emotions? It never felt possible to me to lose enough weight to be not-fat. Frankly, it still doesn’t.
It makes me sad to look back on my adolescence (and, let’s be honest, adulthood) and think about how much anguish was wasted on something that is ultimately trivial. I’m fat as an adult (I almost wrote I’m “still” fat. Yikes), but I have the emotional maturity and the knowledge to approach those feelings much differently than I did at 14. I do get anxious about my size in the world though. I often felt, in the B.C. (before Covid) times, that I was taking up too much physical space when browsing the aisles of the grocery store or sitting in the airplane seat I paid for.
I’ve been thinking about weight a lot since so many people have mad such a fuss about it during this pandemic. You would think that gaining some weight—really, any amount of weight—is preferable to catching a virus that could kill you or result in long-term disability. Is being fat really that bad? Are fat people not as cool, kind, or smart as thin people? I’m as fat as I’ve ever been but I’m alive and healthy.
I wish I could send some reassurance to 14-year-old me. You’re not fat, my love, but even if you are, it’s okay. Because I can’t send myself a message in a bottle, I have to content myself with doing my part to make sure my friends and young people now don’t have to feel as terrible as I did. Let’s keep radicalizing the youth.
Here are some things I’ve recently read, watched, or bought.
Books and Other Words
In non-fiction reads, I finished Ijeoma Oluo’s Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. Mediocre takes on multiple areas of modern American life and explains how the white men in charge have adjusted the system in the favor. Oluo covers the history of topics like cowboys, sports, and women in politics, tracing the problems we have today back to their roots. This book isn’t about hating men or hating white people. It shows how we all suffer under our current, man-made system. I liked it a lot. It’s a very accessible book and it was interesting to see how our current problems connect to each other and to our history.
In novels, I read The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. I got this book in one of my Powell’s Indiespensable installments as a bonus read with another Kushner novel, the Mars Room, which I liked quite a lot. The Flamethrowers was an earlier novel and it has her same writing style, which I like, but I didn’t like the story as much. The Flamethrowers is set in 1970s New York. The protagonist, a young woman who has recently moved to NYC from Reno, Nevada after finishing art school, falls in with a crowd of absolutely insufferable artists. I am confident that the purpose of the book was to make these people insufferable. Unfortunately, it was, at times, hard to want to keep reading. I got excited when, partway through the book, the protagonist stumbled into an Italian protest movement. I thought, well, we’re going somewhere now. Folks, we weren’t going anywhere. That was a short interlude between tales of insufferable people. Read this book if you like to read about men lecturing women, 1970s art movements, people doing everything “ironically,” motorcycles, and eating the rich.
Meanwhile, on the internet:
- CDC data suggests vaccinated don’t carry, can’t spread virus via New York Intelligencer. This is the BEST NEWS. A study based on about 4,000 health care workers “suggests those fully inoculated with the vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer don’t transmit the virus.” I’m so glad we have one less pandemic vector to worry about.
- The world is going back to “normal.” For many people, that isn’t a good thing via Buzzfeed. This piece addresses many areas of “normalcy” that people don’t want to go return to, from commuting to work to frequent mass shootings. This resonated with me because I feel like things will never be normal again. Seeing how badly some people have behaved in this pandemic is knowledge I can’t erase. I also think about how many people can really benefit from more flexible work arrangements and that companies may go 100 percent back to the office. This pandemic is terrible. The least we can do for ourselves is re-evaluate what we need from our society.
- We are all fragile creatures: The manufactured moral panic of a free Krispy Kreme doughnut via Roxane Gay’s newsletter, The Audacity. If you missed the recent discourse around Krispy Kreme offering doughnuts to people who have been vaccinated: you’re better off. If you’re following it like I am, you will likely appreciate Gay’s take.
I am writing this post in April, but I ordered these books in March! My monthly independent bookstore purchase for March came from Mysterious Galaxy. I’m really looking forward to both the books I bought: We Ride Upon Sticks and The Bright and Breaking Sea.
Making Things and Doing stuff
There are some things I’ve made and stuff I’ve done.
I had been wanting to get back into studying Icelandic. Pieces of the language have been rattling around in my brain. This week I finally did something about it. Instead of slogging through stuff I’ve done before, I started a new study regimen for myself. I have been watching these Krakkafréttir (kids’ news) segments, looking up and learning words I don’t know, then watching them again. It’s kind of the “hard way” to learn but right now it’s working for me. I’m planning to keep at it for the month then try to get a tutor again in May. My current (previous?) teacher is living through the pandemic with two small children and doesn’t seem ready to work with students right now, which I can empathize with.
I’ve been trucking along with my Spanish studies too, having regular class and actually doing homework and things. I say I don’t like daylight saving time but maybe this increased light is actually doing something for me?
This week I tried a new pizza crust! I bought some of the King Arthur ’00’ flour and wanted to give it a try in a pizza. The pizza Italiana crust came out really good. I made two pizzas out of it so we each got our own toppings (Kirk likes a lot of onions and I prefer to have none. Marriage is compromise).
As part of my baking self-education this year, I made chocolate croissants! You may recall I tried plain croissants for the first time in January—now I’m onto the next level! They turned out really flaky and delicious. My only complaint is that some of them unrolled a bit while baking, but I’m not really trying to impress anyone (except you!) so I think it’s okay. It was definitely worth the effort. Maybe next I will try my hand at almond croissants.
Finally, here are some cat photos for your nerves.