I began stashing food in dresser drawers when I was seven years old, after I had experienced trauma.
By high school, I held steady at 5’2” and 142 pounds. While I was not ‘fat’—a fact I would neither see nor believe until much later in life—most of my female classmates held steady at a relatively equal height and in the low 100s.
As an undergraduate, while I found myself amidst a more diverse population, the powers of food continued to reveal themselves to me. Far more than a means of nutrition and satiety, food was a means of comfort, a way to celebrate, a facilitator among friends, a resource for staying up all night, an affordable prize, and an affordable therapy.
Post college, as a young adult working a stressful job unrelated to my degree (and during an economic recession), beginning graduate school, and facing increased loneliness as everyone around me seemed to ‘couple up,’ I was stressed, dejected, and avoidant. I felt that I was left with little to look forward to other than curling up in front of the television with my treats. I was embarrassed by my eating habits but unwilling to modify them; eating was compulsive.
Throughout my time as a young adult, however, I worked hard to accept—and even appreciate—my changing, expanding body. I was finally proud to accentuate my curves with fashionable attire, and sport red lipstick and bold jewelry that might actually make me stand out in a crowd. I wanted to be a role model—to be a strong, successful, resourceful, and independent woman despite, or maybe because of, the labels placed on me by society.
But today, as I write this, I am about 60 pounds into a 74-pound weight-loss goal. After years of advocating for a bigger body, I now feel as though I have to justify a smaller one. When I buy organic produce, shop at places like Whole Foods, and follow a strict way of eating, I am self-conscious about appearing ‘snooty.’ When I buy clothes, I enjoy the increased options available to me, yet feel as though I’ve betrayed my former “misses” or “plus size” peers (as they are often labeled by designers and retailers). The people in the ‘regular size’ section of the store don’t look like ‘my people,’ as I had come to recognize them. And I wonder if the women across the way, in the “plus size” section of the store, look at me as though I’m implicitly saying, ‘it’s okay for you, but not for me.’
Still, I am healthier now. My arthritis, fibromyalgia, tachycardia, and polycystic ovary syndrome have all benefited from reduced inflammation and lower cholesterol and A1C markers. Just as I came to feel empowered as an ‘insulated’ woman (as I used to like to call myself), I now feel a different sense of empowerment. One might say I have a more feminist relationship with food than the relationship I had in the past, in which I neither felt nor exercised agency to the extent that I desired. And the ‘me vs. them,’ thin vs. fat, dichotomy I once felt committed to, I more clearly recognize as a ‘me vs. me’ dichotomy. I must confront the fact that, in the past, I wrongly made women in my life feel as though they had to justify the choices they made to lose weight. I wrongly internalized their right to make decisions about their bodies as some sort of abandonment. I let the barriers I faced convince me that women who were physically smaller than me were complicit in my struggles. So, while I’ve taken on the task of becoming smaller, I’d like to think that I’ve grown, and that that growth will warrant forgiveness from those I judged. After all, as I tell my students, “the only way to be objective is to acknowledge our subjectivities.” In other words, acknowledging, critically examining, and understanding the ways in which the facets of our identities shape our worldviews allows us to approach the world with increased kindness and aims of equity and justice.