by Sherona Espinosa
I don’t know what it was that bothered me more, the nerve or the confidence to criticize the amount of food on my plate. I found it odd, coming from a man I just met with a waistline thicker than my own. Like, “Sorry, guy! My partner and I just drove fourteen hours to the rehearsal for your daughter’s lavish wedding that, upon arrival, you decided you no longer needed my partner in after all. Yet, you have a problem with paying for his wedding attire you demanded he buy and now you also have a problem with me and the food on my plate.” Perhaps I was stuffing my mouth to silence myself. “Keep quiet my gal, this is not the time to offend family members” I must have been thinking as the anger inside me rattled like the end of a rattlesnake just before it strikes.
I’ve been using food to cope since childhood, probably since the second grade to be exact. At 28, I no longer compulsively eat although I still have a tendency to overeat – a true American, perhaps. In truth, this was how I learned to soothe myself at a very young age, not having the resources to deal with or understand the experiences and feelings stored inside me. I had severe anxiety back then but no words to express it. I puked on my desk the day of our first spelling test in first grade, stressed to the max and now full of shame. Our teacher had made sure to hammer down on us; it was the importance of doing well. Other kids must have handled it better, not myself, obviously. I internalized the pressure to a degree that might as well have had me thinking “My whole college career depends on this.” I was only 6.
On the verge of 21 in the spring of 2012 I’d played drums filling in for a couple bands on some tours back to back. The first was a band from Texas doing an East coast run and the second was a band from Iowa headed for the West coast. During the latter, I’d come across a bakery that had the most delicious cupcakes I’d ever consumed and so I didn’t buy just one (read: I didn’t eat just one.) The vocalist’s wife had made a comment about it. She was married, thin and beautiful; on tour with her husband’s band. For her it was a vacation. I was short and stubby, single, getting to live out my dreams of being a touring drummer having adventures of my own. I remember the shame; I called my mother on the phone that day and cried. Eating fast food from truck stops and elsewhere a couple months straight led me to stepping on the scale upon returning home; I weighed more than I ever had. I spent a year trying to lose, subconsciously assuming that if I was smaller that would mean my relationship with food would be changed thus I’d essentially be fixed forever. It was the only problem I had, that is literally what I thought! I lost twenty pounds, got compliments, and was simultaneously realizing the depths of the psychological distress arising within. I’d been going to Yoga school and learned about other lifestyles and Eastern philosophies. Suddenly, I began to question my own as I peeled back layer upon layer of indoctrination and wondered who I was.
I had several boyfriends over the years following and the agony of leaving one would send me crawling into bed with another. I started dating a pilot; I daydreamed about the romance and adventure we could have. That was short lived, though the pain was not – the wick of a flickering candle had been blown out. I found myself in deep grief, after all, I had left a man I’d been dating for over two years for this new guy – this guy that smelled good and had a cool career, this guy who told me he could meet my need for quality time and affection. But it was quite the opposite – and for the first time I remained thin with grief without trying. I didn’t want to eat. I was disgusted with my choices and shocked at how things had turned out. As the relationship degenerated I felt a pressure to maintain thinness. Phrases like “I should get a free pass with Jennifer Lawrence” and “If you saw the flight attendants you wouldn’t be worried” rang in my head over and over every time I waited on him to return home from his work base in New York. How could I not think about these things? Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful, and between that and all the porn he watches how could I possibly compete? And, if he had different flight attendants, would I have to worry then? He mentioned he’d cleaned out and organized the backpack that goes on all the traveling, yet he hadn’t removed a condom from the front pocket. We used it because it was the only one available. And so it was, I willingly slept with a man I didn’t trust. I wanted a husband desperately; what I actually wanted was to be loved in a relationship that was stable, one where I wasn’t crying every other day and he wasn’t giving me the silent treatment every week. But I thought marriage would mean stability and security. So I stayed a few more months thinking we could get back to the way things were in the beginning. We women do these things sometimes. We mean well, I know it.
During that time my sister got married; we told the makeup artist we wanted a natural look, we barely wear makeup as it is and when we do it’s only to the extent of mascara and eyeliner. I came out looking like someone else. And that someone else was gorgeous, indeed. I knew I could never pull that off on my own and so I resented it. I resented it because once the ceremony was over compliments began pouring in from family members and friends, “You look so beautiful! I didn’t even recognize you!” Included with that was also the pilot’s response, “I kept waiting for you to walk down the aisle like the rest of the bridesmaids but then I realized that hot chick was you.” People thought I was healthy because I was thin but, in reality, mentally and emotionally I was in a very painful place.
With the pressure perpetuating something unsustainable there came a deep need to rebel and I started gaining back my regular weight. Some years have passed since then and along with them that relationship as well as others with men, women, religion, clients, and parts of myself. It is evident nonetheless that I still have lessons to learn regarding myself such as unconditional love and interactions with others like ending the tendency to put another’s feelings above my own when it’s at my expense.
I had been working at a male client’s home and I was rinsing the mop water when he arrived. We greeted each other and then he reached out with both hands, grabbing my belly flesh. It was covered by a pink shirt and it poured over a black belt. “Cut back on the hotdogs” he said as he laughed. I’d felt cute that day. The irony was that after nearly eight years without it, I had just started eating meat again. I’ve survived so much this year. A pandemic. Taking an acquaintance-turned-cyber stalker to court in hopes of getting a protective order because of him threatening to come to my business, writing about how he must see me so we can talk, thinking the album my band came out with in the spring was about him and that I exist to love him unconditionally. As well as getting into the first and hopefully only physical fight of my life, punching a family member in the face out of self-defense as another family member lay on their deathbed, just minutes before taking their last breath. But none of that mattered – none of that was known. It was just me and my belly pudge cleaning this man’s home. I shrunk, frozen. Instead of walking away, I said “I kinda like it! Don’t you!?” Perhaps you can guess what came next, “Well, how does your partner feel about it?”
It is 2020 and I weigh the most I ever have. I like myself. My partner is attracted to me. I’m a lucky woman. I read somewhere recently about how women are taught, directly and indirectly, to busy themselves with their looks from a very early age. Just think of all the money that goes into marketing and advertising to us all the way up into our elder years! We spend hours of our life and whatever financial resources we have to reduce or enhance our breasts, to cut, color and straighten or curl our hair, to make sure our armpits and crotches smell or don’t smell a certain way, to cover up differences on our skin like freckles or pimples. Sometimes we even bleach our assholes, shave off our pubic hair, and remove portions of labia, as well as removing the intangible like our dreams and values.
We go to such great lengths, yet none of these things are inherently right or wrong. It’s just that, at the end of the day, after time and money spent, it is still a man with a thicker waistline than my own telling me what to do about mine. It’s someone letting me know that something about me is unacceptable, something that has nothing to do with them. It sends a message loud and clear: I’m not good enough as I am. Will I ever be? For some people, no. And here’s where the cycle of self-loathing typically continues. But for myself, as I type these words with a belly spilling over the top of the belt my fabulous mother gifted me, yes. Yes, I am enough, thank you.
About the writer:
Sherona Espinosa is a writer and musician from the Great Plains.