As I write this, my city is on lockdown in response to the spread of Covid-19 — which means it’s just me and my body, alone together, in my little row house in Pittsburgh. I can’t go to the gym, obviously. I’m cooking for myself, and eating alone. I’m not dressing for anyone or anything. The only person I need to please is me.
Our current situation is with what diet culture tells me should be my ultimate Fat Girl Fear. In a world without shame, without the rails of other people’s judgment to keep me in check, I’ve been told I’ll wallow in my “bad habits” like a pig in mud. Diet culture tells me I need to feel bad about myself in order to, someday, feel good.
Indeed, that shitty, harsh inner voice I’ve tried so hard to squash did grow louder as I realized how real this pandemic was, and how long it would be before I could be amongst people again. It shouted everything I needed to do not to emerge a monster when this was over. It encouraged me to dig out my scale or I’d gain eleventy-million pounds. It suggested that now was the time to cut out sugar, because a pandemic is a great opportunity to pile on more stress. And it told me I could finally start doing all those insane workouts that left me shattered for the rest of the day, despite the fact I am still working full-time.
“You can come out of this thinner,” it whispered. By “thinner,” it meant “better.”
Like almost every other woman of my generation, I was raised on a diet. My mother spent most of my childhood losing weight, then gaining it back. She was never fat, although she thought she was. And she let me know when she thought I was fat, too.
I can empathize with my mother’s plight. Her own mother, my grandmother, had but one award: a large silver trophy of a statuesque woman sporting outspread wings. She displayed it in her main bathroom for guests to admire, and I was obsessed with it as a young child because I thought the woman was so beautiful. I should not have been surprised that, when I finally asked my grandma what it was for, she proudly revealed it was a T.O.P.S. (Take Off…