In her kitchen, my Grandmother prepares enough food for a small army, which is more than enough food for our 13-person family. She’s not afraid of food, but so many people are.
Sitting in the dining hall, I watch young women count the calories. They say they don’t deprive themselves, but my instinct tells me better. I’ve learned to find hidden meanings in every movement of the fork pushing the food around their plate, in every held back tear as they take one more bite. I wonder if they eat when no one’s around.
I wonder if this is why the world feels so big: it’s proportional. As girls shrink to fit themselves in the box labeled “perfection” by society, the unoccupied space around them increases exponentially. This world seems increasingly vast.
And it’s not that we are scared of food, because our lineages are intermingled with stories of big, strong women who knew how to eat. As humans, we are genetically-bred to love food, but we’re not bred to love ourselves. This world is focused on obesity and malnutrition, plenty and need, excess and want.
And somewhere in our history women were taught they were lesser without a man, and men only wanted women without excess fat. Somewhere in our lineage, excess women turned into less women: shrinking women made space for men to enter their lives.
I have been taught that everything’s better in moderation, but I’ve learned not to accommodate others if it means devaluing myself. We’ve been taught to have a relationship with food. A love-hate relationship: love the taste, hate the calories.
The world needs more confident women. Women who know that they are beautiful despite being excess, women who know how to exude confidence when they open their mouth, women who know how to mix the words they speak into the food they eat to fill everyone up. Women who don’t begin every sentence with “sorry.”
The previous generation teaches the next generation, and even though genes are inherited, behaviors are replicated, which is why I don’t know how to knit. But I can still feel the silence weaved by the previous generation onto this collective blanket of “Topics Society does not talk about.” This blanket feels heavy as it covers this ever-growing world.
And we unknowingly pick up the habits of society when we deem somebody less because they are excess. And we pick up the crumbs of food dropped by a fugitive stealing food she does not deserve. We are prisoners to society.
I watch these girls as they figure out how many bites they are entitled to, and I’ve learned to mimic them. Because sometimes inheritance is genetic, but sometimes it’s accidental, and while I try so hard to unlearn this learned behavior, a girl more perfect than I walks by. I don’t know whether to hate her or be like her, but I don’t want to do either anymore.
We don’t want to do either anymore, but the burden of society has wrapped us up tight, which is why we don’t know the requirements we need to graduate, but we know how many more calories we can eat.
Because we spend an entire lunch time deciding whether or not we deserve another piece of pizza, a circular obsession we never wanted, but have accidentally inherited.
And all we want to do is not start every sentence with the word “sorry.”