I wrote this essay for my Fashion Journalism class this Spring. I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to post it, but this topic is something that’s been on my mind a lot and something I feel like so many girls my age deal with. I recently turned 21, and in hopes of presenting a more wise and honest version of myself, I’ve decided to share this with you all. Here goes:
I was 11 years old when I began equating food with numbers and goals. My grandparents were in town, and my papa was raving to my parents about an app he had downloaded on his iPhone 3GS. He would type everything he ate into his phone, and it would show him how many calories he was allowed to consume for the rest of the day. He could even set a goal weight in the app that would adjust the calorie count.
With the brand-spanking-new iPod Touch I got for Christmas and an impressionable mind, I downloaded the app and followed in my grandfather’s footsteps, or rather foodsteps. His attempt to stay healthy for us, unknowingly, planted an idea in my brain which has blossomed into an issue that I struggle with every day. It is challenging to indulge in any of my favorite foods without feeling a slightly bitter taste of regret.
I have never been diagnosed with an actual eating disorder, which I’m very grateful for. But disordered eating? Absolutely. That sickening sense of accomplishment from skipping a meal or not eating a lot one day has become very familiar to me. And so has the sadness that comes with eating too much pizza or too many French fries.
Although looking in the mirror and liking my body has almost always been a foreign concept, I reached a low point just after my sophomore year of college. I had gained about 10 pounds since graduating high school. And it felt like everyone could see it.
On a whim, I signed up to run a 5k with my mom that summer. I had never been able to run a mile in my life. I’d also never been able to exercise so much that I lost weight. Yet here I was, about to attempt to do both. For an entire month, I trained, running every day, weighing myself multiple times a day, and beating myself up for eating one too many Nut Thins.
Even after finishing the race, I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything. The number on the scale would not budge. And what was worse: I knew how fucked up it was the entire time. I was chasing some impossible standard, and in the end, I was even more unhappy with myself than before.
A few days later, I left for Paris to spend the rest of the summer taking classes. I wanted to come back from France and have people notice a change in me — a certain sophistication. I also wanted to look good in my Instagram photos, and it would be a lie to say that running and calorie counting for a month wasn’t an attempt to achieve that.
France was a revelation. What astounded me most was seeing French women sitting alone at tiny tables on café patios eating croissants, cheese and bread so effortlessly. They didn’t care about how many calories they were eating. These women were only concerned with the books they were reading and the cigarettes they were smoking. They moved through life without caring what their spectators thought. I wanted so desperately to know that feeling of utter disregard for the opinions of others.
And, I’m not the only person who thinks French women have a superior approach to food. In “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” president and CEO of Cliquot, Inc. Miereille Guiliano preaches savoring food, eating small portions and making mealtime an occasion. She says that French women are able to keep their lean physique by simply walking, drinking water and actually enjoying their food — without any dietary restrictions. Plus, she encourages drinking wine and champagne.
I didn’t come back from France physically changed at all. Believe me, I checked. I also don’t know if I’ll ever be able to achieve that French-girl cool that I admire so much or if I’ll ever stop feeling guilty for eating ice cream. What I’ve realized is that worrying about what people think about me certainly won’t make me any more confident.
Honestly, I don’t see my struggles with food ending any time soon. But with some more self-confidence, hopefully I won’t care. What matters is that I’m getting stronger both physically and mentally. Then one day, I’ll be happy with what I am and savor what I eat. And there’s no app for that.