What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Living in Los Angeles, I’m often aware of my weight. Shape. Frame. I am also aware of everyone else’s weight. And what everyone else thinks of that weight. I am aware of the weight of all of this weight.
But, the on-going Nigella Lawson weight watch from calling the food writer and TV host fat, to then lauding her "slimmed down" figure, strikes at something more sinister. It goes beyond plain old let’s-tear-down-a-successful-woman jealousy, and goes deeper, to reflect a projection of some women’s deep-seated self-hatred when it comes to their bodies.
After all, men aren't out there buying up all those tabloids. Women are -– writing about women’s bodies, reading about women’s bodies. Surveying. Judging. Comparing.
Nigella’s essence, wisely captured in her brand, is one that connects food to sensuality. She flirts with food; there is sexiness to the way she relates to it, one that is empowering, rather than pandering. Her book, "Domestic Goddess," reflects her brand and personality: a sensual, comfort-giving, pleasure-seeking Eve, who knows just what to do with those sun-ripened tomatoes.
Sensuality and food are inextricably linked. Nigella’s style is part of a larger truth. If you don’t believe me, cut open a strawberry horizontally at the stem. Read/rent “Like Water for Chocolate.” Read the stupid ice cream scene in "Fifty Shades of Grey." (No, wait. Don’t.) Better yet, take a slice of crisp red apple into your mouth, feel the subtle, measured balance of forcefulness and restraint in your jaw and teeth against the flesh. Now, close your eyes, trail your tongue along the softening edges of the apple, feel it move into, against, the inside of your cheek.
Not only can food not be separated from touch and taste, when we take food into our mouths it becomes a part of our being, changes our very body chemistry. Eating not only requires touching, tasting, swallowing, but delights in it. Like something else I know. Food has power -- the kind it gives, and the kind we give it.
The question is: why do other women find this link between empowerment, body, beauty, and food through food threatening? You would think the majority of women, who are not teeny tiny, would be pleased: here is this successful woman whose curves suggest not only an out-of-fashion aesthetic, but also a physical claiming of her space in the world. She’s here. She’s buxom. She’s beautiful. Get used to it.
Several years ago, in Los Angeles, my sister was diagnosed with Lupus. She was fit -– an aerobics and spin instructor, and always on the slim side. During the first stages, the disease forced a significant weight loss -- her Lululemon workout clothes practically hung from her bony arms. She was so fatigued and atrophied she could no longer spin during class, but walked around from bike to bike, leading, correcting, masking her growing weakness that would eventually put her through a period where she could not lift her head off a pillow, or open a water bottle cap herself.
Even so, her spin students at Equinox, the swanky L.A. gym oft quoted in the fitness glossies, stopped her. “Wow! You look great!” They gave little pats on her bony arm, “What have you been doing, my dear?”
I hope she smiled sweetly and said, “It’s this great new plan called auto-immune disorder. But, it’s very hard to get. Hope you can try it out!”
"I think it is a fear of flesh," said Nigella, according to a 2007 Jezebel article, "maybe of vulnerability and softness. I do think that women who spend all their lives on a diet probably have a miserable sex life: if your body is the enemy, how can you relax and take pleasure? Everything is about control, rather than relaxing, about holding everything in."
Food is life, as is water or air. It is in us, around us, and the fear of not having it rocks us to the visceral core, awakens the neurobiology of our survival instinct. Is it any wonder that Nigella, and her weight, reflect the basics if instincts -- food, sex, and fear?