"Today I have been thinking about my thin friends and why they are thin. Three of them are thin because their husbands left them and they dropped weight likes stones into water.
I ask my husband if he will leave me for a while. He shakes his head. (…) Where does this leave me then?"
– Lucy Cavendish
"My problem is simple – I love food," writes Lucy Cavendish in The Observor. She tells her life story through her weight: An eight-year-old twice the size of her best friend becomes a thin 16-year-old, goes on the pill and gets hips, spends her university years getting fat on a diet of pizza, shrinks without noticing and then finds herself in Manhattan where no one eats and no one cooks, with a boyfriend who sees extra weight as a lack of self-control. They split up, and weight drops off her "like melting lard". And then she marries a man who loves to cook, and she writes paragraphs about the wonderful food they eat together. She is happy, but strangers assume she’s pregnant, and her five-year-old asks her: "Why do you have boobs on your back?" So she goes to Weight Watchers:
"I watch my husband put soft butter and crème fraîche into our mashed potatoes and it makes me want to cry. I see him ladle wine onto Dover sole and then add lashings of butter and I cry some more. I see him rub goose fat all over our roast potatoes and I want to shout "stop, stop, stop" in anguish.
This denial means I’m becoming very boring to live with. I don’t want people to come round for dinner. I don’t want evenings out in restaurants or lunches in pubs. My husband spends his life dolefully looking at the fridge."
Stories like this bore me, because I’ve heard so many of them before. And they scare me, because I’ve heard so many of them before. Friends who stop eating because they’re too happy, friends who show up at my apartment with chocolate and potato chips because they’re fighting with someone, friends who offer me a kilo of candy because I’m fighting with someone, the traditional box of post-break-up Ben&Jerry’s, the chart one of my friends checks off when she remembers to eat, the no-carb no-fat (face it: no-food) diets followed by chips and dip and beer. From my fourteen-year-old sister’s classmate who only eats apples to the guy who said to me on a first date at a Chinese restaurant: "Oh, so you’re an eater? Cool!" – is the denial Lucy Cavendish describes really the normal way for women to live? When the Weight Watchers people are shocked that she’s never been on a diet, is that because everyone actually is?
In October 2007, Jane Shilling wrote in The Times: "I thought it might help to set up a support group for British women who have a normal relationship with food. There must be a couple of you out there." I posted a long comment and thought: "Yes! Sign me up! I may not be British, but I’m feeling lonely over here. I’m sick of discussing my friends’ thighs."
Now, as I read Lucy Cavendish’s story, it’s scary how much of it I can relate to. It’s not like I can’t tell my life story through food and body image too. The reason I don’t is because it’s personal. It’s not in the part of my mind I let the whole world read.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t on my mind more than I would like.
My first friend in Paris, Brittany Zale, earned heroine status in my mind when she told me: "I’m going to spend a semester in Paris, and when I go back to the US, I will have gained weight. Anything else would be sad."
So we enjoyed three-course dinners with red wine and had macarons and champagne for lunch. I knew that this was my chance for fois gras, crème brûlée and croissants amandes for second breakfast. When I returned to Norway in the summer, my mother said: "You gained weight in Paris didn’t you? Or maybe I just lost weight." Annoyed, I retaliated by putting on a dress I had bought in high school, going to a party and indulging in chocolate cake and more champagne and red wine. (Picture)
Because I love food, and I don’t want that to be a problem.