Women and hunger
August 19, 2016 10:03 AM   Subscribe

"To desire effort from a man, we are taught, is to transgress in several ways. (This is true even if you’ve never had or wanted a romantic relationship with a man.)... For a woman who has learned to make herself physically and emotionally small, to live literally and figuratively on scraps, admitting that you have an appetite is a source of cavernous fear."
posted by Lycaste (43 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow. What she said.
posted by double bubble at 10:11 AM on August 19, 2016


"But underlying the attention-seeker’s supposed sin is the eminently reasonable craving to be seen, considered, and taken seriously. “The desire to be known—to be paid mind—is profoundly human,” Onion writes. It becomes “whorish” (itself a word designed to shame the concupiscent woman) only in a context where any hunger, no matter how mundane, is considered outrageous."

Yup!!!
I have nothing better I can add to this. This is just very accurate. And not just at home, at work too.
posted by bleep at 10:55 AM on August 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


There's a proto-second wave feminist work of fiction by Atwood called The Edible Woman that rather pointedly characterizes men as devourers. This article reminded me of that. (And the gigantic research paper I wrote on it.)
posted by xyzzy at 10:58 AM on August 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


As a child, on an endless restrictive regimen that started when I was four, I was told “if you get used to eating less, you’ll stop being so hungry.” The secret to satiation, to satisfaction, was not to meet or even acknowledge your needs, but to curtail them.
Um. Did we grow up together?

Nothing like learning how to deny one's own essence before you even start school.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:03 AM on August 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'm glad this metaphor is working for her, therapeutically. But I'm not sure the equation of hunger in the context of disordered eating patterns and hunger for self-assertion (in general, or in the context of interpersonal relationships), can (or should) be universalized to all women in the way suggested here.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:07 AM on August 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


Nothing should or can be generalized to all women, but it certainly applies for many.

I was also on a restricted diet for my entire life. My mother was a narcissist and god forbid her children were fat. I started bulimia the minute I could find food that was not restricted by my mother. We also had to not have any emotional or physical needs and so my siblings and I have done a relatively exceptional job at making ourselves completely self-sufficient (and small). If we couldn't get it for ourselves (food, medicine, love, affection, attention, instruction, etc.) we just didn't need it. I never learned all kinds of things, because I certainly couldn't ask. I had to rely on myself to self-soothe, self-teach and self-everything else at a very young age.

She isn't generalizing for everyone, but she has a very good point.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:18 AM on August 19, 2016 [39 favorites]


To desire effort from a man, we are taught, is to transgress in several ways. ... This is called “expecting him to read your mind,”

Maybe I'm transgressing by expecting more effort, but this particular is important enough that whatever else the piece has to offer, it deserves a better examination than the drive-by equivalence the author gave it.

It's true that good relationships often involve a certain degree of sympatico where both partners have a pretty good idea of what's going on with the other and where there's initiative to provide needs and delights without being asked. And if that's utterly or even largely absent from a relationship, yep, it's a sign something isn't right. I'm currently in a relationship where I'm wondering whether or not this is going to grow as it should, whether I'm really seeing and really being seen, and this is in no way a trivial problem.

But it's also true that even in the best connected relationships with perceptive partners this is gonna fall well short of full coverage. "Expecting[them] to read your mind" isn't expecting effort. It's expecting your partner to do the emotional labor of building a model of needs and desires that you won't articulate.

It's also true that people can use "you expect me to read your mind" as a cover for failure to make an effort. People can also abuse the term "emotional labor" as a rug under which to sweep pretty much anything their partner isn't doing that you'd like them to. Life is complicated.

But heaven help us all if the simple equivalence the author draws here starts to become something people simply accept and use to reflexively challenge (or #HashTagSarcasticDismiss) "you expect me to read your mind." Don't do that.
posted by wildblueyonder at 11:19 AM on August 19, 2016 [32 favorites]


This was like a mirror flashed into my blind spot. I am terrified of men who adore me, particularly men who adore me when they know nothing about me. I find myself with men who I adore, who I make room for, whose needs I anticipate, cater to, try to fulfill ... and I always am blind until the end to obvious fact that my efforts aren't noticed or appreciated or reciprocated.
posted by bunderful at 11:22 AM on August 19, 2016 [18 favorites]


Ditto, blanchard. In fact, I just asked for advice on another site because I'm in a new relationship with a man who is very generous with his time, attention and presence--in a way that is utterly foreign to me. It literally gave me a panic attack the other day, the first one of my life, because the combination of being the focus of such concerted attention and the utter inability to respond to it appropriately made my head explode. It scared the shit out of me. This article resonated in a pretty big way.

I don't think she is equating a disordered sense of food hunger to a hunger for self-assertion. I think she is, accurately, pointing out the link between women being discouraged from, and shamed for, exhibiting hunger is similar to the discouragement and shame women receive for exhibiting self-assertion. The point isn't that she HAD disordered eating habits, but that she was REQUIRED to have disordered eating habits because "that was feminine". After all, she didn't come up with the idea of restricting her food consumption on her own--her parents did it to her from a very young age, along with the idea that "feeling hungry is inappropriate so stop feeling hungry". Not just "don't eat" but "don't feel like you need to eat".

And lord knows women are, terrible choice of words forthcoming, fed the same message about asserting themselves. Don't be loud, don't stand out, don't achieve anything notable because you'll make someone feel bad that they didn't achieve, don't take pride in your accomplishments or talents because it's unseemly. Don't ask for something you need because that makes you needy and being needy is bad. Not just "don't display that need" but "don't have the need at all".
posted by Autumnheart at 11:26 AM on August 19, 2016 [26 favorites]


Having just had my third breakup of the past year and a half in large part because I am, in fact, a person who is trying incredibly hard not to apologize for her appetite, for her hunger for love and affection and real emotional closeness and a Team Us even if it's not forever, I..... feel this. I feel this hard.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:55 AM on August 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


Validation, then. It does seem that food and emotional need are very tightly bound together for her (and probably for many women - but certainly not all). She found that validation of her emotional needs (and her right to assert them) has had some relationship to eating and food. I think this insight may be helpful to a subset of people. Other points - about being instructed to take less space, minimize needs, stay quiet - I feel do apply more widely. They have all been tied together in this piece. Lots of good observations, for sure.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:57 AM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


particularly men who adore me when they know nothing about me.

idk, i think that at least part of this is just a normal learned reaction? because men who adore you when knowing nothing about you are basically projecting a personal construct of some mysterious ideal woman upon you like you're nothing but a blank canvas for their ideas and dreams and desires, which is incredibly dehumanizing and creepy. not to mention the nonzero number of men who, upon learning about the "real" you and how she differs from their imaginary idealized girlfriend, react with violence, whether physical or emotional.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:15 PM on August 19, 2016 [56 favorites]


>not to mention the nonzero number of men who, upon learning about the "real" you and how she differs from their imaginary idealized girlfriend, react with violence, whether physical or emotional.

Or even just disinterest or disdain. "You're not who I thought you were." It always seems to come from the people who are head-over-heels after a week, and then a couple months in, express their disillusionment after seeing a hint of clay in the foot region.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:24 PM on August 19, 2016 [35 favorites]


This was kind of a revelation to read. For some reason, I am the kind of woman who has had a number of reasons to go on heavily restricted diets, recommended by doctors. Not to lose weight, but to clear up one symptom or another. Right now, it's dairy and soy; I've also had to seriously curtail carbs a couple of times. And it fucking blows my mind that doctors seem to airily request that I just stop eating like 50% of foods like it's no big deal. Like they're saying "Take this pill once a day" but actually they're saying "Just throw out half your fridge and all the restaurants you like to go to and most of the recipes you know how to make" but they're using the same enunciation and not acknowledging that one of those things is actually really difficult? This has been pissing me off for almost a decade now.

But...maybe this is something a lot of other women just do to themselves routinely from a young age so they think it's no big deal to ask a woman to completely eliminate a broad swath of ingredients from her diet? Is that it? For me cutting carbs was like losing a sense. I was so miserable. Dairy and soy is bad but at least it's binary. There's no judgment call of like "Well I haven't had THAT many carbs today maybe I can sneak this one enormous slice of cake in and my body won't notice??? DON'T TELL THE DOCTOR BODY WE DOIN' IT."

I am a pretty voracious person, generally. Not clear why society never beat this out of me but here I am.
posted by the marble index at 2:20 PM on August 19, 2016 [13 favorites]


Interesting article, which for some reason made me immediately think of this quote from Othello:
" 'Tis not a year or two shows us a man:
They are all but stomachs, and we all but food;
They eat us hungerly, and when they are full,
They belch us."
posted by Vortisaur at 2:51 PM on August 19, 2016 [12 favorites]


"For a woman who has learned to make herself ... emotionally small, to live literally and figuratively on scraps, admitting that you have an appetite is a source of cavernous fear." So, this is truth.
posted by twilightlost at 2:52 PM on August 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


"You've got to learn to leave the table
When love's no longer being served.."

--"You've Got To Learn," Nina Simone
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:00 PM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


This hit me like a ton of bricks.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:18 PM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Friends and I were just discussing the restraint of appetite as it relates to our youthful sexuality yesterday. We were bemoaning the whole noxious idea that we had as young women that we must curb the number of people we slept with for fear of never finding true love and happy ever after. While I can't speak to this particular group of friends, the ones I grew up with, myself included, had disordered eating on top of it. Depressing.
posted by echolalia67 at 4:28 PM on August 19, 2016


I can't help but imagine there must be an evolutionary upside for feminine restraint...?

Not sure if you're joking but the whole point of the article and the comments on it is that literally the opposite is true. The cause of and “upside" to “feminine restraint” is 100% social, the evidence is overwhelming, whereas there is zero evidence that evolution has anything to do with it.

In fact, let’s take the case of your ex-girlfriend, whose incredible low maintenance may in fact cost her the opportunity to reproduce.

Women have the exact same needs the rest of humanity has, being as they’re ... you know, human. But they get social rewards from family, friends, colleagues and relationship partners for denying them, and punishment when they’re assertive about them. If evolution had anything to do with it, and there were some kind of heritible trait for "feminine restraint" that somehow made the offspring of women who had it more likely to survive, then "feminine restraint" would be a natural thing women felt, rather than something that has to be trained into us from the youngest age and causes deep unhappiness in women who try to comply.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 4:34 PM on August 19, 2016 [24 favorites]


Man, this really hits home with me (especially Bunderfuls comment).

I'm sort of seeing a guy I had a crush on for like a year, and it feels like I'm the only one who wants to get to know each other. I have no preconceived illusions of the type of person he is, but I think maybe he did, so I feel like once he got to know me the magic spell was broken and I turned back into a human pumpkin.

I keep saying I don't really want a boyfriend (concentrating on school and myself), but I honestly I want more of an effort on his part but I'm too scared to bring anything up with him the few times I do see him. Because I DO like him and I cry if I think of not seeing him again, yet I cry when he isn't gung-ho about hanging out. But you know I need to concentrate on myself, so...
posted by littlesq at 5:35 PM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Not a uniquely sexed experience, although it seems like it is VERY heavily weighted towards being a non-male one. one way or the other, but universally shitty nonetheless. I appreciated the article and this thread even if I am not part of the group to whom it was intended to speak.
posted by some loser at 7:10 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Don't be loud, don't stand out, don't achieve anything notable because you'll make someone feel bad that they didn't achieve, don't take pride in your accomplishments or talents because it's unseemly."

Or alternately, you'll be punished and/or abandoned for being too needy. The world will squash you down if you get so much as 30 seconds worth of not hating yourself.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:09 PM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


"Imagine saddling up the seven-headed beast of your hunger and riding it to Babylon."

Hell yes. I need to make companion samplers of this and "Remember that you always have the option of taking to the sea."
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:59 PM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


This reminded me of some parts of In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Gabor Mate's book about the psychology of addiction. Hunger and deprivation can take many forms and when we are denied the love that every being deserves, that manifests in whatever ways are most accessible to us at the time.
posted by SakuraK at 9:23 PM on August 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


I want to disagree with this part of a comment made above:

"Expecting[them] to read your mind" isn't expecting effort. It's expecting your partner to do the emotional labor of building a model of needs and desires that you won't articulate. "

No, very often the needs and desires HAVE been articulated countless time -- just never heard.
posted by DMelanogaster at 10:23 PM on August 19, 2016 [10 favorites]


That article is tremendous. She eloquently and in great detail expands on an issue that's bothered me for ages. Has anyone else noticed that this type of thinking seems to be exceptionally prolific in women around the 50-60 years range? And not in the self-aware sense of, "Wow, I'm thinking these super self-defeating, negative things, this is a problem," but in a somewhat oblivious, "This is just how the world works," way. In other words, the generation of women who told their daughters, "If you get used to eating less, you’ll stop being so hungry."

I'd like to clarify that I'm not, in ANY way, putting down those women or implying that these issues are central to a particular generation or caused by a particular generation, as I think most women struggle with these issues and these issues have sort of transcended time for, basically, forever. But at this moment, in America, in 2016, it seems that there's a generation of women who are writing articles like this one, and another generation of older women who are unaware of the tiny, hollow molds they've configured their souls into - and by extension, the molds into which they unconsciously tried to configure their daughters.

Maybe you know my mother - she's the sweet one, who always has a shoulder to cry on, who everyone loves. You might even think that she's basically happy. And yet, in my entire life, I've never seen her buy herself one single piece of jewelry. Not one. Not even for $5. I've never seen her curl up with a book and a cup of tea. She's never had her nails done, or worn high heels, and she hasn't been clothes shopping in nearly 10 years. She doesn't wear makeup or lotion or dye her hair. She doesn't go out with friends. She doesn't drive. She doesn't eat very much. She says she doesn't like any of these things. And if she truly didn't, that would be totally fine. Maybe she truly doesn't, although that would be easier to believe if she demonstrated any other type of self care at all. Or maybe, just maybe, she's contorted her body and her being and her soul into believing that she doesn't like any of those things, because believing otherwise would hurt too much.

Maybe you know my mother. Maybe she's your mother. Maybe she's you.

There's a lot of dialogue right now about helping younger women embrace themselves, love their bodies, and find a way to be whole. Maybe we can start a dialogue about helping older women, too.
posted by quiet_musings at 10:32 PM on August 19, 2016 [20 favorites]


Imagine saddling up the seven-headed beast of your hunger and riding it to Babylon.


GIDDYAP, MOTHERFUCKER



I don't have to imagine figuratively so much, because I have been making an effort not to apologize for wanting things, and have demonstrated a keen willingness to rip someone a new one if they try to make me feel shitty about that.

I do like imagining my literal seven-headed vehicle/familiar/buddy. She's beautiful and weird and she scares the shit out of you.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:38 AM on August 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


I kept almost flinching while reading this, like I needed to cover my face.

One thing I have noticed about myself is that I sometimes reflexively make myself smaller emotionally. The worst part is seeing the way that other people (men) are relieved by it, relieved that your needs stop being an issue. Relieved that their wants get to expand to take up more room.

And I'm not even talking about romantic relationships, here. Just-- most men I know. Who are as conditioned to be alarmed by my alterity as I am conditioned to make it as unnoticeable as possible.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 4:59 AM on August 20, 2016 [14 favorites]


Maybe you know my mother. Maybe she's your mother. Maybe she's you.

Well, for what it's worth, I'm a 50-60 yo lady who is voracious, and who fought against this way of thinking her whole life. I can agree that some, maybe even many of my peers submit to this regime, but a bunch of us don't.

That said: among those of us who don't, a lot are single or divorced. And I know one of the reasons I divorced was that I didn't want my daughter to grow up in a family where a girl was restricted by gender norms. It has worked out very well indeed. What I'm saying is that while I agree with the author and some posters above that a lot of this is self-inflicted, in my own experience some men of our generation could not and would not accept appetite (for life), even from a 3-yo.
posted by mumimor at 6:15 AM on August 20, 2016 [13 favorites]


I sometimes reflexively make myself smaller emotionally

Welcome to the Autobonsai Society.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:16 AM on August 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'm coming back to this thread, because I realised that I'm going to a family meal this evening - and I'm making sure I'm not hungry before I go. Because if I eat like I'm hungry in front of other members of my family, it upsets my mother (less policed if it's immediate family, but if it's extended family, or non-family it is upsetting to her). Depending on how serious she is, it's either joking that I'm "the gannet", or serious talks about portion control.

And if anyone wants to jump on the 'OMG but health' bandwagon, the feeling that you have to eat before eating out so you can eat a socially acceptable amount in public, is one of the most counter-productive things ever.
posted by Vortisaur at 7:48 AM on August 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


SakuraK, I've looked up the Mate book, and it looks like the sort of thing I should read. Thank you.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 8:34 AM on August 20, 2016


Going back to an earlier comment:

Validation, then. It does seem that food and emotional need are very tightly bound together for her (and probably for many women - but certainly not all). She found that validation of her emotional needs (and her right to assert them) has had some relationship to eating and food.

I would propose that validation is the basic human need the author is talking about--being seen, being paid mind, listened to, accepted as valid. That's really the foundation from which the article drills down into specific emotions, but it comes back to validation. We can accept not being loved by an individual, but we cannot accept not being validated. Even love without validation is empty--someone who says they love you, but they still fail to acknowledge the things that are important to you, or consider those things to be lower priority, or otherwise just kind of tune you out. And when you say something, they respond with, "But why do I have to validate those things when I love you? Why do you need validation too?" Why do they need to buy you a present on your birthday, why do they need to go to your friend's wedding or your industry award ceremony, why do they need to ask you first before making plans that include both of you, why do they need to pick up their socks off the floor or put their dish in the sink, those things aren't important to THEM and therefore those things are not important. Then the divorce papers show up in the mail and it's a huge surprise.

Food is also a basic human need. And women are socialized to suppress their need for validation, and socialized to suppress their need for food. We can't have healthy lives without validation or food, but we are told constantly that we have to reject them both in order to be seen as models of good behavior.

Even men, who are socialized to suppress emotional expression in many ways, are allowed to both seek and receive external validation for their accomplishments and status symbols (such as promotions, flashy cars, acquisition of wealth, and....women) and allowed food in unlimited quantities. You must feed a man, the way to his heart is through his stomach, a good wife has to know how to cook--food is a man's territory.

*Preparing food* might be a woman's territory, but she must do it for others. The best compliment for a woman is to have her cooking praised (just like Mother used to make) but the worst insult is to call her fat. There's nothing like the word "fat" to eradicate any and all other positive characteristics and achievements that a woman has. Even obviously thin women will be told they're fat, because it's code for "you don't have value". And obviously overweight women will be told "You're not fat" as shorthand for "You *do* have value". And the whole trope around women indulging in food as an emotional crutch--food is treated as validation. If you do something really well, or if you're going through something really tough, you can eat as much as you want....just this once. That is your reward for extraordinary effort: food. Not wealth, not promotions, not awards, not recognition for being awesome...a nice big slice of cake. (Think of what you traditional serve, and give women, at weddings and baby showers.)

I think overweight people get a lot of shit as a rule because our entire society has a fucked-up attitude that includes food, turning privation into a virtue, and excess into a reward that can never be inherently deserved, only earned or granted. So people who are overweight are seen as rewarding themselves undeservedly. I would say that women in particular get the brunt of the food/value burden *because* of the additional socialization that they must also forego validation. The only validation women are really allowed is in validating others.

So it's like, it's not even a case of a subset of women restricting their food for social validation, or their parents instilling food restriction in them as a value, and developing disordered eating habits as a result of this. But that according to our society, the ideal woman has disordered eating habits. She doesn't eat. She doesn't look like she eats. She is not seen to eat. She is admonished for eating, cautioned against letting other people down by eating. And not just in American society, but Western society, and especially in Westernized Asian societies like Japan and Korea, whose physical weight standards and social pressure for maintaining them are far harsher than American ones.

A complicated relationship with food. Heh. Hope nobody decides that it's hot when a woman doesn't need sleep, or water.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:33 AM on August 20, 2016 [20 favorites]


I love the comment above by mumimor. I love hearing that she's fought against that type of thinking her whole life, and I totally agree with "in my own experience some men of our generation could not and would not accept appetite (for life), even from a 3-yo."

I'd like to add that, in the case of most (all?) of the women I know who struggle with this, my mother and myself included, it was DEFINITELY not initiated by the woman herself, and there was usually a toxic male authority figure or a toxic family situation involved. I didn't mean to imply that we women are doing this to ourselves and need to cut it out; rather, that it would be so wonderful if there were more resources and public discussion about this, so that women who don't realize that they can break free from this negative self image would have an opportunity to.
posted by quiet_musings at 10:45 AM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's awesome 'cause it's true.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:45 PM on August 20, 2016


But at this moment, in America, in 2016, it seems that there's a generation of women who are writing articles like this one, and another generation of older women who are unaware of the tiny, hollow molds they've configured their souls into - and by extension, the molds into which they unconsciously tried to configure their daughters.

I'm that older generation and this confused me. I agree with the overall premise of the article, that women are not allowed to have needs, but I also remember that in my last days of college (1980), my friends and I all talking about how we were the first generation of women with no limits, and we could do whatever we wanted. Our mothers all got married within a month of graduation (if they went to college at all), and started having kids within the year. We could do whatever we wanted, and the prospect was really daunting, and our mothers were mostly behind us (if maybe a little jealous). At that moment I thought the future was glorious for feminism. HA. It just feels like no progress was made at all, we are back to square one and I don't quite know how this happened.

On the other hand, from what I see of this next generation of women, nieces and daughters of friends, are funny, fierce and far more demanding than we ever were.
posted by maggiemaggie at 3:23 PM on August 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


maggiemaggie, what I tell myself when I feel down is that feminism as a movement is very young, and we are fighting 1000s of years of patriarchy. Of course there will be setbacks and hard struggles. But we can still win. We've won a lot already. We just have to not give up.
posted by emjaybee at 5:12 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


quiet_musings: Has anyone else noticed that this type of thinking seems to be exceptionally prolific in women around the 50-60 years range? And not in the self-aware sense of, "Wow, I'm thinking these super self-defeating, negative things, this is a problem," but in a somewhat oblivious, "This is just how the world works," way. … But at this moment, in America, in 2016, it seems that there's a generation of women who are writing articles like this one, and another generation of older women who are unaware of the tiny, hollow molds they've configured their souls into - and by extension, the molds into which they unconsciously tried to configure their daughters.

Without meaning to sound dismissive, how old are you? Because I was born in 1970, my mother was born in 1941, my grandmother was born in 1916, and what you're expressing are things I heard from both of them growing up, as well as from many of my mother's peers. These ideas are not new, and it's way more useful to look at an essay like this as part of an ongoing discussion than to think it's expressing something that none of the downtrodden sheeple of the past realized.
posted by Lexica at 6:30 PM on August 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


This is perfectly timed: I'm currently reading Appetites: Why Women Want by Caroline Knapp, which deals with similar issues and has been an interesting (though somewhat painful) read.
posted by as_night_falls at 11:52 AM on August 21, 2016


Still thinking about this essay. At some point early on I learned not to want things. Partly a function of sexism, partly of not-quite-poverty, partly of undiagnosed ADHD.

I knew being a "good girl" meant restricting my behavior, but I wasn't always clear on exactly where the lines fell.

I knew my family would be distressed if I wanted things they could not provide. And money was always tight. So I learned not to ask for things that would be answered with a sigh and a "we can't afford that."

I knew I fell short in getting things done and accomplishing things. If I failed at keeping my room clean, how could I possibly succeed at having an awesome grown-up career?

It was better to just be happy with whatever luck came my way. I do not know how to unlearn this.
posted by bunderful at 5:17 PM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


I long ago learned the relationship between food and my mother's love, which for me took longer to manifest - she didn't start making comments about my weight and the need to remain thin until I hit adolescence. This was also when I was supposed to grow up and eat food like everyone else instead of sticking to my "pickiness". Unsurprisingly, I started to spend my babysitting money on secret stashes of junk food that I could eat without my mother's knowledge or censure. I've previously joked that I got fat to spite her, since my natural instinct is to buck authority. Now I wonder whether that stash of junk food was an attempt to sate my appetite for the love I was no longer getting from her.

"The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it," wrote Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ha, such a witty aphorism, so Wildean. But the quote continues: "Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful." I can tell you that yielding to the temptation for one thing - food - does not make the other thing - love - manifest. It sets up another cycle in which eating in place of being loved makes you gain weight, which is the thing that your loved one told you not to do because it would render you unlovable. So you become unlovable, by your mother or anyone else, in your own inner conviction if not in reality. And how else do you satisfy your repressed desire for the love you cannot ask for? You find more temptations to which you can yield.

I noticed with one of my exes that when we were eating together, I ate less and was satisfied. I wondered whether this was because the food was more nourishing when I was consuming love at the same time, when I was being fed not just in the body but in the soul. Maybe this is why the Hare Krishna food organisation has the tenet of preparing and serving the food with loving intention. I am not sure that it works when it is so impersonal, but they may be on to something all the same.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:13 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Don't forget, men are raised by their mothers too.
posted by semmi at 10:13 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


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