I‘m not sure when it started sneaking up on me, but it seems to have been around the time it snuck up on every other mother I know: we were getting fat. Or did we just think we were? Were all of our pants suddenly snug? We all made jokes about the dreaded ‘Quarantine 15’ as if it were the secondary tragedy of all this. We’d been enjoying the cakes, the cookies, the adult beverages, the small pleasures, the relief of letting ourselves go (who cared anymore? It’s all leggings all the time anyway!). But — oh, wait, this thing was going to last? And we’d just keep… eating ice cream out of the pint every night because we were actually feeling tremendous grief and anxiety, and we didn’t know what to do with it.
First it was fun, all the ice-cream eating. Then it seemed like we had turned all the ice-cream eating into yet another way to beat ourselves up, to point to yet another failing. I yelled at my kids 12 times today and I didn’t get any work done and I can’t get any space from my family AND I ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s!
Soon I found I could rarely talk to mom-friends without someone mentioning how she was gaining weight; how she should cut out sugar, dairy, gluten, wine and/or ice cream; how she no longer wore anything but sweats or MuuMuus; how she was terrified to step on the scale; how she couldn’t find time to exercise; how she hated herself for it. Why couldn’t she find time? Why couldn’t she just eat less?
So on top of everything else we were juggling — I don’t need to name the things because we are all too familiar with them — we were also busy beating ourselves up for indulging in a little (or a lot of) comfort at the end of yet another groundhog day. In addition to worrying about kids, school, virus, elderly parents, grocery shopping, work (too much or too little), rents and mortgages, we were focusing on…our FUPAs? Our bellies? Our double chins?
Women are, of course, no strangers to worrying about our appearances, but in a time when so many American women don’t even have food to eat and feed their children — and one of the most mysterious symptoms of Covid-19 is losing the sense of taste and smell, thus taking all pleasure out of eating — this worry crushes me in a new way. What are we depriving ourselves for? And why? Why, even in the midst of a global pandemic, will we spend more time thinking about our bellies than we will figuring out how to roast a really good chicken, or finally write that book, or help get out the vote?
Look, I am no exception. Just ask my husband the number of times a week I tell him I am fat (and the number of times he wisely ignores it). I know that eating and food can be a layered and complicated force; for many of us, controlling what we eat gives us a sense of more generalized control — and in the moment when we’ve lost all control, this is more needed than ever. But hearing this kind of self-flagellating has been so much sadder to me during the pandemic than it ever has been before, and here’s why:
I refuse to let all my joy be taken away. I refuse to be deprived of one more thing. When so much else has been taken away, I am determined to rediscover and take in pleasure wherever I can find it. Without guilt. And for me, as for many of us, it is in food, food we long ago told ourselves was “bad” or “off limits” or “for special occasions.” It is easy to say (and harder to believe) but worth repeating anyway: There is a world in which eating — and possible weight gain — needn’t be so laced with anxiety and dread and guilt.
Why do we feel we deserve so little in a time when we need so much? Why, in the middle of having so much on our plates, are we also telling ourselves we don’t deserve literal food on our plates?
In the midst of all this chaos and pressure, why don’t we deserve delicious sustenance? Something sweet or rich or salty or fresh… something we can experience with so many of our senses without even leaving our houses? Something to fuel our inner strength, something to keep us going and going for the days upon days ahead.