"You take the lotion, squirt it in your hand and then you pinch your fat like this," she said, grabbing a handful of her own arm flesh. She was standing in the bathroom in her bra and pointing out her 'problem areas' to her granddaughter. "And then you squeeze and break up the fat cells. Oprah said your body just absorbs them and then you look thinner."
"Can I do my stomach and thighs too, Grandma?"
I was fifteen and at my eternally dieting Grandmother's house for the summer. She was a wonderful woman, sweet as could be to anyone she ever met; would give you the skin off her back if it would detach. I loved her fiercely. And so we tried to be thin together.
Going on a diet together is like sort of cruel female bonding experience that, as an adult, I now liken to female circumcision. I marked the summers by which new fad diet we were trying. The Cabbage Soup Diet. Something called The Stewardess Diet. --Because in the event that you were going to work on an airplane, your greatest fear should obviously be that you will be "too fat ". The plain old, low fat, count every single calorie and write down every food product you come within five feet of diet. And we went to senior exercise classes, which were, admittedly, really fun.
We would diet until we hated dieting so much that we couldn't stand another second of cabbage soup. So we binge ate cookies and ice cream. Sat in the kitchen and laughed, Oreo crumbs and milk dribbling down our faces. We said it was ok. We would try again later. And we always did.
I loved my Grandmother, and it wasn't her fault. I've dieted in this same way with all of my female relatives. My sister. My mother. My aunt. Who, if I recall correctly, had us all try the Atkins Diet. I believe we lasted somewhere around 5 days before we broke down and had tater tots for dinner and cookies for dessert.
So I learned to handle food in black and whites, all in or all out. We all did. We all do, as a culture. And I'm trying to do better with my kids. Trying to teach them about eating healthy all the time. And they know so much more than I did. They are infinitely more prepared for handling their own bodies than I ever was, and, as a parent, that feels amazing.
But as a flawed person... Every once in a while, they catch me eating a giant bowl of pasta, or more cookies than I gave them. They see that I eat more. That my husband eats more. We were both raised in this idea of black and white and right now, there are more reasons to justify why we are "off" the diet than there are reasons to be back "on". We are beaten down, life is hard, cookies taste good, shit is depressing and we've been taught by those that came before us that food is the answer.
However, this morning, there's almond milk in my coffee. I'm about to make myself ONE egg, instead of three. I'm trying, I'm trying so damned hard to not think of it as "off" or "on", but more in terms of balance and harmony. I want to be able to eat like a "normal" God-damned person.
And I want my kids to grow up and never know what it feels like to stand nude in the bathroom, grab all your fat and imagine how amazing life would be if it would all just disappear. How much life would change if Oprah really was right this time.