I eat my secret cookies in the middle of the night. There is something clandestine, furtive about my stealthy trip to the kitchen, long after the world has gone to sleep. I am mostly asleep myself, I reason. This is hardly even happening. I can’t help it, it’s not my fault, I don’t even know what I am doing. These cookies don’t even count!
There is evidence in the morning — a cookie or two missing. We won’t speak of it. Who can remember what happened during the dead stretch between the dregs of the night and the pale creep of dawn? I can’t!
But wait a second.
What is really wrong with eating a cookie or two? What makes it an act of quiet self-deception? What about it requires sneaking?
I’ll be blunt. I mean, that’s why I’m writing this — to be blunt and confessional for a moment because I think that’s really the only way to address this sort of thing.
In my head, there is this eternal, infernal, absolutely obnoxious connection between food and failure. And you may find this next statement ridiculous, but: I think I’m actually pretty healthy about food.
What I mean is: I don’t restrict with any severity. I’ve never dieted. Mostly, I eat in balanced moderation without forbidding things or obsessing over things. In general, I forgive myself for gaining weight when I do, and I am able to enjoy my plusher thighs, my juicier butt. Pretty good, I think smugly to myself, in this world of incessant weight loss ads and barrages of images of the women who get to be called the most beautiful — almost without exception always so very, very thin. Later on, when we travel by transporting an imprint of our brains through another dimension and sexism has become a meaningless word, historians will come to believe that 21st century women were only really allowed to think and talk about our diets, our waistlines, our desire to “firm it up in time for summer!” Such unimaginable oppression. Such mind-numbingly restrictive rules. Just look at our commercials, our magazines! Firm up your summer bod in time to please him in bed!!
“Also, what is summer?” the future historian’s will ask one another, momentarily flummoxed. “Was that one of those ancient climate variations by any chance?”
It’s true: we live in a strange world of body fixation. And I’ve been proud of myself for thinking about so many other things. For just going on and living my life anyway, and buying another $4 scoop from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, because it is so very worth it. But I’ll be embarrassingly honest: sometimes as I eat the ice cream, in some broken, Pavlovian corner of my brain, I am thinking that I have failed. I am weak. I am giving up ground. I am back-sliding. I am faltering. Forgive me, Lord! The devil tempted me! I gave in to the sins of the flesh!
That’s it, isn’t it? Food is a sin of the flesh. Particularly delicious food. It is too good. Dangerously good. There is some connection here, between deliciousness and badness. The better it tastes, the worse it is, the more serious the transgression. I haven’t taken the time to actually articulate it, even internally, but it’s perfectly obvious that I keep a mile-long list of “good” and “bad” food in my head. It wraps around my brain several times, like a boa constrictor.
I have come a long way on the road to self-acceptance. Maybe even those words sound annoyingly self-involved. It certainly must involve a lot of thinking about myself, after all. But, actually, I find that so much of feeling good about who you are is about forgiveness and letting go of your intense interest in how you look, what you said, how you’ve fallen short. You clear a space in your brain to think about everything else instead. You learn to stop obsessing.
I’m going to be a mother soon. Terrifyingly soon, in fact. So it’s time, really, to let myself let go of my incessant critiques of my face in those photos, of my stubborn arm fat, of how awkward I sounded at that party when I was talking to that really cool woman in the really nice dress. It’s time to move on.
I congratulate myself for all the moving on I’ve done. And yet. In the middle of the night, there I am, a thief, stealing a cookie from my own cookie jar.
I’m not totally sure why I’m admitting this. I think maybe just to acknowledge how deep-seated this stuff really is. I want to point out that giving yourself permission to eat, to eat well, to eat sinfully delicious things can be an ongoing process. It isn’t a matter of flipping a switch and becoming a woman who doesn’t have to care about these things. For me, my relationship with my body, and my relationship with food is a process, and I think it’s important not to pretend that I’m finished, that I’m totally cool. I’m not. I am very pregnant and still feeling that twinge of guilt. There is still that obnoxious little voice in my head that goes, What? You want your arms to be fatter? Is that what you want? even though it is perfectly clear that I am just reasonably enjoying a scoop of some of the best ice cream that $4 can buy.
But I want to keep talking back. And I can’t talk back if I pretend it doesn’t happen anymore.
Original by Kate Fridkis