Wow! Kelsey Miller wrote a truly revolutionary book when she penned “Big Girl; How I gave up dieting & got a life”. This book is honest, engaging and completely eye opening. By the end of the book, I saw patterns in myself that I never expected to be confronted with upon starting to read it. I knew this book was going to talk about food, specifically, our relationship with food as women in a diet-obsessed culture. I had no idea Kelsey would have me addressing my relationship with my mother and her relationship with alcohol, by sharing her own similar story in the book. Finally, I was shocked to see that not only was I not alone in my need to constantly be distracted, but that maybe it was more problematic than I had previously believed. I highly recommend this book to everyone, but something tells me it will most speak to women because as Ms. Miller writes, “I’ve never read a male celebrity profile that opens with a line about how pleasantly surprising it is that he ordered whole milk in his latte.” It may be getting worse for men but our society has traditionally targetted women with its sexist, misogynistic and extremely narrow definition of beauty.
I knew I would be blogging about this book, but I had no idea that would involve me telling some private parts of my own life story. I found myself making notes in the margin about quotes that resonated so deeply with me, I wanted to be able to read them again. The first time I did it, was on page 38. “As a child, I didn’t know when she was sober or off the wagon, stable or symptomatic. She was just my mom… I want to shake them by their selfish shoulders and shout over the stereo, “I can see you’re just trying to enjoy your twenties but isn’t it a school night?” I was a kid who believed that everyone had a bar in their house, ours was in the basement, but so was my room. I remember saying something very similar to my mom one night when I couldn’t sleep because her partying right outside my bedroom was too loud. I came out to find her laying on the pool table and her friend telling me to go back to bed that, “they were just having fun.” I now consider myself incredibly lucky to have never had any of her friends molest me as a child because looking back, the risk factors were certainly there. My sympathies go out to all of the survivors of violence of any kind in their childhood, youth or adult years. I stand with you, but that is a story for another time.
At so many points Kelsey would be describing her interactions with her mother in a way that had me feeling like the child who would catch her drinking, remembering how “she was enraged at being caught, and at me for catching her.” I also remember constantly justifying it and thinking how at least it “wasn’t as bad as what happened to other girls” like the ones on tv or in all my young adult themed books. I now recognize my own mother as someone with narcissistic personality disorder as a result of her own childhood sexual abuse. Unfortunately, knowing that doesn’t erase the pain her comments and behaviors caused me. I want to be clear that my father is far from blame free but I am writing only about my mother here because of how it relates to the passages from “Big Girl”. There are many parts where I noted the similarities, for example, our mothers’ ability to shift the blame away from themselves and towards their children, a very special sort of victim blaming. By special, what I really mean, is extra painful. There is nothing quite like surviving a trauma and having your mom make it all about her.
I love the way Kelsey describes intuitive eating in such an accessible way. That is what made it so relatable and easy to understand. “It’s about learning to eat the way you did as a small child. You didn’t always worry about carbs when you were three. You just ate what you wanted when you were hungry.” It is diet culture that makes us place values on food as if some are good or bad, it is diet culture that makes us feel guilty for eating bread instead of a salad when really we should be listening to our intuition to achieve a nutritionally balanced way of eating. Intuitive eating is realizing that when you get in tune with your bodies signals of hunger and craving, you will know what foods your body needs at the moment. The satisfaction that comes from this freedom to eat as you see fit is almost indescribable. Some days it’s about yoga, grapefruit, and steamed rice, but other days it’s about reading, blogging, and poutine. Either is okay, and neither is a problem. It is about being mindful, enjoying every bite of food, feeling emotions and living life moment by moment, instead of always multi-tasking or rushing to get to the next thing. These are things I already fully embraced and believed in, but didn’t necessarily have the proper language to describe.
I understood when Kelsey described feelings of being picked last or not at all, and how I always assumed it was about me being plus size or curvy. I understood when she talked about asking her partner to not touch her stomach despite them clearly having a desire to do so in a non-fetish, but a purely loving way. I understood the desire to be cool without any effort, to wear the right clothes and to want to eat the currently on trend food, “raw noodles” or whatever that might be. But most of all, I understood when Kelsey wrote about how she would reply to questions about her lack of participation in high fashion. That “high-end designers didn’t consider bodies like mine to be of any value. Nor did many mainstream stores carry anything over a size 10 or 12” when I grew up as a size 14. This was back in the late 90s and earliest years of the new millennium when plus size stores were rare even in the bigger cities. I was lucky to go to a uniformed school in high school and to spend most of my non-school time at work in retail, which also involved a uniform, allowing me to avoid the major challenge of finding trendy clothes that fit, from the mall.
For some reason, until reading this book, I had not fully made the connection between mindfulness, intuitive eating, and my “distraction habit” as Kelsey describes it. Through her writing about her own lightbulb moment on the topic, I was finally able to see it clearly for myself. I’m not saying I’ve fixed it overnight since I just finished reading the book yesterday, but I’ve taken the first step by becoming aware. As I write this I have Netflix on in the background, playing some kind of crime scene investigation drama that I am not watching, but that is effectively preventing me from sitting in silence. Anyone who knows me knows it goes so far as me always sleeping with the tv on or at least a podcast show on in my headphones if I have a guest spending the night. “Not once did it occur to me that this might be a problem. How could it? I’d built a wall of sound around myself so loud that nothing could get in. And I damn sure didn’t want to get out…I didn’t listen to [podcasts] or watch tv for fun. I listened to them in order to not think, because look where thinking got me. I needed those thought-killing distractions to get through the day.” So thanks for the book therapy Kelsey, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling grateful for the beginning of a positive change.