At the age of six, I learned how to conserve ketchup for the first time. Squeeze the bottle, squeeze again, twist off the lid, pour water in, close the lid, shake, and squeeze once more. “Eat what you have, because many people aren’t fortunate enough to eat at all,” my grandmother trained me, she herself having learned this skill from her poor Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. With little money to spare, preserving food and money became treasured habits she attempted to extend to her own family. Despite their upbringing, my parents have been ingrained in the American around-the-clock work culture, constantly consumed by more important activities than eating. Part of this is due to the food insecurity inherited from my grandmother, as they have been taught to work hard and put a meal on the table. Despite the lengths my family has gone to obtain them, these meals have been seasoned with regret for as long as I have known.
The pure satisfaction brought along with cooking and preparing a meal is unmatched, but an activity my household hardly has time for. Diet culture praises, encourages, and idealizes flexibility and free time, convincing individuals to eat out less. The epitome of diet culture often revolves around making meals at home, taking time from individuals whose schedules do not allow it. Not only present on social media, diet culture and fatphobia have been present in established school systems, often disguised as nutrition lessons. I was given an assignment in middle school dance class to count my calories and present it on a poster board. Being swarmed by self-consciousness, putting all of this personal information on a presentation-ready poster made me grow weary. The mass of tears concealed in the glue of nutrition labels succeeded in making me weep once more as I walked around the room, staring at everyone’s posters. I had to constantly affirm myself with, “I love my body” and “Weight is mostly genetic.” Even still, I pondered what it would be like to not carry any personal rage over a mandatory assignment. While other kids were discussing their favorite dishes, I only felt disdain for my family and appearance, despite the fact that I loved them both. Despite knowing I should cherish my body, I felt even worse about how much I ate out.
Similar to food insecurity, American media has never been truly representative of curvy girls. Whenever curvy women are placed in media, they are over-sexualized or known as nothing but “the fat girl.” Without seeing any positive picture of women who looked like me, I discovered body positivity as a safe haven, but it ended up negatively affecting me. Through a casual TikTok scroll, a video of a chubbier, not too much older than me, girl dancing to a trending song popped up. Not thinking anything of it, I tapped into the most menacing corner of the internet: the comment section. With the video music replaying repeatedly, I got lost in the swarming, ever-consuming black hole of replies and likes. Backhanded compliments and hate were splattered all over; a bombardment of “Too much skin,” “You’re so brave,” “Go eat a salad,” and “Go curvy girl, go!” Although some comments were constructed with good intentions, it felt like an arrow to the heart seeing people push this girl into one box, and made me begin to contemplate how people viewed me as a human, since their view of my personal life is limited.
Growing up in the American around-the-clock work culture where cooking at home is a luxury of time many people lack, combined with society’s robust fatphobia despite one’s personal circumstances and genetics has made me realize one thing: people must relearn how to perceive others. Seemingly harmless comments and jokes have the power to gut confidence and self-worth, especially when one’s body image is wrapped up in ancestral culture and history. How both my grandmother and I were raised has affected my empathy toward individuals who lack access to healthy food, as well as the time needed to make it, knowing that body shape is not a choice.
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