By: Rose Arscott
Time travel is possible. Seriously. Any time I eat English Stilton I hurtle back in time, landing in the kitchen of my grandmother’s house in the costal region of England, Norfolk. It’s 1994 and my mother is standing above me at the kitchen counter; I’m sitting at her feet, relishing some quiet closeness. A hand appears over the Formica to pass down a morsel. I’m assuming this is the thing she has been carefully chop chop chopping above my head. The apple-stilton stack slips into my pudgy little hand and I trustingly shove it into my mouth. Crunchy, sweet, funky, salty, creamy, sour? My hand shoots up to tug on an elbow. I’ll have another mother!
It’s this magical connectivity of food that surprises me every day. It’s also what breaks my heart when I find myself finishing a glorious meal I have prepared with my significant other and, as I eat the last mouthful, the voice that has gradually been getting louder and louder during the dinner finally yells in my ear, “YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE EATEN THAT YOU FAT BITCH!” Extreme, I know, but I also know I am not the only one who goes through this on a daily basis
This past year I worked as a freelance Office PA at commercial Production Offices around Los Angeles. And if you don’t know what that entails, I’ll tell you. I got everyone lunch and sometimes walked the producer’s dog, you know, the glamorous jobs. One thing I did enjoy about this job was I was lucky enough work with a lot of women in positions of power. I reveled in it. That was, until it came time to order lunch. This is how a typical lunch conversation might go:
ROSE: “What would you like for lunch? I have a couple of menus for you to look at if you like.”
POWERFUL WOMAN: “Ugh, I don’t know. Something healthy?”
ROSE: “Sure. How’s this?” I hand over a menu with salad on it.
POWERFUL WOMAN: “Ugh, I’m such a fatty. I need to get something healthy! You know I ate a brownie last week.” — or -– “You know I haven’t run a marathon in a whole year. I’m so gross.” — or -– “Last night I went out for dinner with a friend and I said I wasn’t going to eat anything but I ate a whole order of fries to myself. I’m such a fucking piece of shit.”
All of these things were actually said to me. I saw a pattern and began making a record of it. These powerful women couldn’t have the subject of food raised without systematically insulting themselves for simply being human beings who enjoy food. I began to wonder who they were doing this for. Who was telling them what was ok and what wasn’t? After some research into various dietary lifestyles, I found that “healthy” can mean very different things to different people. So what was this arbitrary apologizing for? What were they afraid was going to happen if they just ate the food that they wanted to eat, be it a salad or French fries, without sending themselves through the ringer first?
This takes me to my ‘fuck this’ moment. I was on set one day, sitting down for a much-needed lunch break, ready to tuck into a plate piled with steak, veggies and rice. I couldn’t have been more excited to enjoy the meal lovingly prepared by the hard-working caterers. I sat with a few other PAs. One of the PAs commented on another’s plate saying it looked bland and why was he just eating rice. This is how he responded:
PA: “I’m terrified I’m going to get fat. It’s like my worst fear.”
ROSE: “It’s not so bad.” I grinned across the table.
There was a hushed moment while people checked in with my face for cues on how to respond. My smile gave them permission to laugh. Something clicked for me when that tension broke. I had had enough. I was tired of internalizing this food shame and I was ready to own my body and my very real love for food. These people were saying that my love, my dear, sweet time-travel companion, food was bad. I was feeling ashamed of this thing that had always been connective tissue between me and my loved ones. Nope, no thank you, not any more.
I still struggle. It’s not as if I was struck by a mental-health lightning bolt that day on set and suddenly was able to consume food without guilt. I wasn’t magically released from nights of binging or days of obsessively picking all the croutons and cranberries out of my salad. It’s really hard to choose how and when the struggle shows up. What happened that day was that I decided on a goal for myself—a goal that wasn’t a number of pounds or a pants size. My goal now is to seek my own personal balance in my relationship with food. I am choosing to make decisions that are not dictated by anyone else’s idea of what looks or feels good. I am having to pay very close attention to myself and take everything very slowly, without judgment. Thinking about why you are making all the decisions you make before you make them is exhausting at first, but it gets much easier. I am allowing my mental and physical health to stand as equals rather than privileging one over the other. And most importantly neither of those things defines my worth.
There is an alternative to the damaging self-rhetoric I witnessed at the office and it is becoming more visible. Check out Vrigie Tovar and her delectable version of the pledge of allegiance she shared when she visited the Call Your Girlfriend Podcast. Or check out The Body is Not An Apology or The Militant Baker. Also, once a month, right here at THE GARDEN PARTY, I will be sharing my journey as I re-claim my relationship with food and explore Body Love and Acceptance. I know it is REALLY hard to do that in this industry and I hope to make my monthly column, FEAST, a place for sharing our victories and struggles, so that we aren’t all loving and accepting ourselves in the dark. (Although that can be cool too!) I see choosing to engage with food from a shameless, loving space as a radical act of self-love. When engaged with lovingly food can be subversive as fuck!