Long time, no see. Let's talk bodies.
TW: diet culture, depression, gendered violence
I gained weight while in twelve months of (government- and self-imposed) lockdown in my 200 square foot studio apartment in Belfast. A lot of it, too. I used food as - quite literally - my go-to coping mechanism to get through one of the darkest periods of my life.
And I’m perfectly okay with that.
If it wasn’t night terrors related to my dissertation that kept me awake each night, it was working on the dissertation itself, sorting through thousands of narratives about women’s experiences with gendered violence and their self-protection efforts, hundreds of which mirrored my own experiences.
And if it wasn’t either of those, it was the absolute isolation from physical contact and in-person social interactions.
And if it wasn’t that, then it was stewing in my fears related to the safety of the people I love, scattered all over the world, or else my repeated realizations that I could likely never be myself fearlessly again (thanks good ol’ asthma + heart condition combo), or else a complete disinterest in anything other than hours-long hot showers, the only tool I found that reliably calmed my body’s near-constant shivering.
It was a lot.
But, see, my self-appointed #1 To-Do Item since March 2008 has been to stay alive. As the only living child that my parents have left, I elected myself as The One That Will Live above all else. Every other aspect of life (passion-driven degrees, driving with the windows down, international moves, laughing until crying) is a proverbial cherry on top. So when the world shifted onto its COVID-19 axis, I shifted into the best version of self-preservation that I could cobble together.
So was I particularly concerned about my mental health during this time? Or my weight? Or what clothes fit? Not in the slightest. If food made me feel better, if hours of Netflix made me feel better, if staying in bed for 36-56 hours at a time made me feel better - even an infinitesimal amount - then I grabbed onto it with as much intensity as I could manage. And in retrospect now, still, I’m so proud of me. My decisions got me through twelve months that could have ended in numerous other ways, none of which would have helped me sustain this nearly fourteen year old promise.
In the months since, I’ve grabbed onto what makes me feel good now that I’m in my home state of Missouri and equipped with my own vehicle for the first time in ten years: going for walks while listening to podcasts, playing tennis, working with a nutrition coach, taking extensive naps, staying in bed because it’s warm, snuggling cats, cooking new recipes, and so much more.
Which (in a way?) brings us to yesterday.
I’m standing on the porch of my parents’ house, the three of us vaxxed and boosted and masked, chatting with their financial advisor (also vaxxed and boosted and masked) who dropped by to give us a holiday pie. The conversation, like most Midwestern ones, swings wildly from topic to topic until the pendulum, of course, falls on the topic of bodies.
It starts with a half-joke about “setting the scale back fifteen pounds” ahead of Thanksgiving, followed shortly by commentary on the calories included in family-recipe cookies that are consumed only twice a year. It’s continued with jokes about a thin woman who evidently weighs herself daily and then announces when the tenths change. There’s a comment, too, about not being one of “those” people who gained “so much” weight since COVID-19 hit their communities.
I didn’t say anything. I should have, but I didn’t. Setting boundaries is hard enough when you come from where I do, much less when you’re an adult who’s returned to that environment and struggles daily to not revert to 2011 behaviors. So I stood and I listened and my mask helped me hide any dissenting, disappointed facial expressions,.
This week, millions of people in the U.S. will also gather with family members who think the most important thing to address is the amount of food on someone’s plate or else the size of the new dress pants they purchased for the occasion or else how many trips they make into the kitchen. For many, this will be the first Big Family Gathering where COVID-19 vaccines are permanently in the background, easing their concerns, enabling them to enjoy the day(s).
To those whose bodies will, also, be commented upon - whether incessantly or occasionally - please know that your body is not the problem. What is on your plate is not the problem. You are not a problem. No matter what you weigh now or used to weigh or will weigh in the future - there is nothing wrong with you. Your body is, quite literally, the least interesting thing about you. It’s a house for the stunning human that you are, and you get to build it and decorate it as you see fit.
“She shared a point of view that, in any other context, I would be quick to stand up against. But when a family member expresses it, time freezes.”
Whether you freeze or respond, whether this decision results in tears or shouting, whether you’re eating delicious meals alone or together this week or any other - grab onto what makes you feel better, even if it might not be the decision that others want or expect you to make. It’s your life and your body, not a warped display of your morals.
Stay safe. Take care of each other.