One of my resolutions this year was to cease, once and for all, talking negatively about myself, both aloud to other people and silently, in my head. This resolution goes hand in hand with another one I scribbled down but eventually crossed out, which was to take greater care with my use of the English language. Generally my out-loud, among other people talk runs the usual girl gamut – God, I’m fat. That’s really the only truly negative thing I think I say about myself among company. I don’t engage too much in negative self-talk other than that, I don’t think – in conversations with S. sometimes I discuss struggles I have at work, and sometimes I beat myself up about not keeping up with the house or looking perfectly perfect, but I really don’t do a lot of I’m stupid or I’m ugly or anything like that. I have tried to start cutting myself some slack mentally, and I’ve also begun trying to forgive myself more, when my internal discussion goes negative – so, for instance, if I begin to feel some anxiety creeping around my periphery, instead of thinking I cannot believe I am so lame as to get panic attacks, why do I let this happen, etc. I sort of try and recognize that for better or worse this happens, and to a point it really isn’t my fault, and then forgive myself for the situation. I’ll write a little more about that during the hypochondria check in but it’s not that interesting, really.
What is interesting, at least to me, is how, when I decided in January to stop saying “I’m fat” in public, and at the same time, stop discussing food with other women in terms of whether it is “good” or “bad”, and whether we, ourselves, were “good” or “bad” for eating the food, and whether I felt “fat” or I felt “thin”- well, how truly impossible this resolution actually was to maintain and keep if I wanted to have any sort of conversation with other women in the workplace.
At some point in the last couple of years, I physically changed from being heavy to being…not heavy. I am by no means skinny – and that isn’t the ultimate goal, anyway, but I lost enough weight to be mostly normal (and here I am trying so hard not to complain about specific body parts, to NOT engage in this kind of body-hate discussion even though it is still my first instinct) and with the change in my body I truly felt a change in my outlook was appropriate. I could continue to berate myself our I could do what my mother always told me to do and embrace my curves and my smile and my hair and be happy.
I tried REALLY hard to stop saying the words “I’m fat.” I tried to stop participating in endless discussions about whether or not to eat one of the cupcakes someone brought into the office. I tried to stop endless conversations at restaurants about the merits of the ahi tuna tacos versus the bacon-wrapped halibut.
And do you know, it was virtually impossible for me to stop having these conversations? Food and weight seem to be the great conversational equalizer among women in the workplace – something everyone can talk about no matter our religion, our marital status, our political views. I even went so far, in the beginning of the year, to mention that I was no longer trying to lose weight, but that often would bring conversation to a screeching halt, because everyone, even the smallest, most in-shape women around me, were trying in some way, shape or form, to improve their bodies. It wasn’t long – a day, maybe – before I began feeling judged for my decision to accept myself – for the women around me to make me feel as though I shouldn’t just be happy with my body but should consider it, rather, a continuous work in progress.
Food talk begins in the morning, when most of my co-workers eat their breakfast. I always eat my breakfast at home because I believe any meal at a desk is uncivilized and I already too often eat my lunch at my computer, but most women, especially those with young children, don’t have the same luxury of time that I do, and so first thing in the morning conversations go something like this:
I am so bad, I am going to eat one of these bagels with this cream cheese. Nothing but fat and carbs, is what I’m eating today!
Oh, you aren’t as bad as me. I’m going to have a candy bar and a cupcake. I’m just a big, fat slob.
I’ve started eating this oatmeal that has flaxseeds in it because it’s supposed to help with weight control and cholesterol but it’s disgusting, I hate it.
Similar conversations occur throughout the lunch hour, where more often than not I will watch my co-workers graze on leftover sandwiches and chips from hospital events or microwave anemic Lean Cuisine pizzas or order huge pizzas quivering beneath a mountain of cheese and then talk, talk, talk about the merits of their lunches…those eating Lean Cuisines are “being good” that day while the women who caved to the call of Vocelli’s pan pizza are “being bad” but it’s okay because they will just eat grapefruit for dinner. And oh – dinner – how we talk about dinner! What we should eat versus what we will be eating, how if we just had time – that elusive way we measure our days – we would grill some fish and lightly steam some veggies but instead we end up picking up Mexican or Italian or Thai and then spend a few more hours feeling badly about the way we feed ourselves, the way we feed our families.
Privately, (and not so privately to those who know me well), I am wracked with food issues, which I will write about later in the month. But I grew up in a family with a father terribly concerned with his looks and his weight and he was always making us try this diet or that diet – foods constantly fell into different categories of “good” or “bad.” I recall my mom telling him time and time again he was going to ruin my relationship to food, and perhaps even my brother’s, if he didn’t stop forcing us on different “ways of life” but he steadfastly ignored her as as much as I adore my father for the hundred gifts he has given me throughout my life, from my passion for Yeats to my exhaustive knowledge of Stevie Ray Vaughn lyrics, I do at times resent all our conversations about food, and weight, and weight and food. I was pinpointed, almost from birth, as having my “fathter’s” genes…which meant I was prone to heaviness – the possibility of morbid obesity lurking just around the corner. My brother, on the otherhand, inherited my mother’s genes, which seemed to mean he could eat an entire turkey dinner and lose weight. I remember this in the same way I remember the smell of my mother’s Chanel No. 5 perfume and the taste of the cherries my grandmother would fish out of her Manhattans for me during cocktail hour. I remember.
Part of my decision to stop talking about the inherent goodness and badness of food, and to stop talking about my weight, came because S. and I hope to have a family, and I do NOT want to do this to my daughter if I have one. Surely she will be exposed to these kind of conversations someday, but I do not want her to ever see her mother engage in negative self-talk. I want her to remember, someday, the way I smelled and the treats I gave her and all the love in the world I had for her but I do not want her to ever recall me, standing in front of a mirror, sucking in my stomach, complaining about my weight, my hair, my face. I just – I do not want that.
I work concertedly everyday to not engage in these discussions, with my co-workers, with my husband, with myself, with my tremendously beautiful friends who are plagued with similar concerns, but more often than not, I fail. Why, I do not know. Maybe because food and weight are easier to talk about than anything else – maybe because eating should be a lovely way to fuel ourselves but instead, the choices each meal presents us with comes fraught with a thousand implications. I don’t know, but I do know I am going to try again, today.
For breakfast today I had a piece of spelt toast with peanut butter and the last of the raw honey from last summer, and a plateful of strawberries I bought at the farmers market last night. Today I will wear my black pencil skirt with a white blouse and my tortoise heels, and I will feel pretty. And I will try to not overthink lunch or dinner, and I will try to remember that right now, at 7:30 on Friday morning, I feel good, and I feel lovely.