The XX Factor

Baby Weight Self-Flagellation

Kim Brooks’ piece at Salon praising the new emphasis on keeping pregnant women from getting fat-and lamenting her own pregnancy weight gain-left me sad. It was hard to put my finger on it. Was it that she called a size 10 “fat”? Was it that she was upset that she had “only” lost 25 of 40 intended pounds before she got pregnant again? (It seems to me more rational to want to get the pregnancies over with before really sweating that.) Was it that she considered the often disgustingly emaciated bodies that are held up in Hollywood a legitimate ideal, or that she unflinching admires women who wear a size 0? No, upon reading it a second time, what really depressed me was how Brooks eagerly beat herself up for enjoying the pleasure of food.

Brooks shames herself for loving family meals, the smell of baked bread, and the flavor of cheese. I don’t consider that out of control; I consider that being human. But it’s not so simple in our culture of excess, especially for women. One of the great pleasures of moving to New York has been shopping in stores that have fewer magazines aimed at women crowding up my visual space. This means fewer reminders of how my duty as a woman is to attend to the pleasures of others, while only enjoying my own as an afterthought or not at all. Rarely am I confronted with Cosmo magazine explaining 300 more ways to keep “him” interested, which has caused me to wonder why something women are supposed to work so hard at doesn’t draw a paycheck (for most, anyway). And I’m even more relieved not to see magazines where half the headlines promise ever sweeter desserts and ever more enticing meals to serve your family, while the other half of the headlines offer diet tips so that you can better prepare yourself for the hard work of not eating any of the food you cook.

The kind of eating that Brooks describes that causes women to put on way more pregnancy weight than recommended doesn’t sound like the eating of people who just love to eat. It sounds like the eating of women who’ve been deprived of the right to enjoy eating for so long they have no discernment at all-sucking down milkshakes, devouring entire pints of ice cream, vacuuming up white grains and pasta like they’ve never really been allowed to eat before. And in a sense, they haven’t. Not without feeling guilty, and having their enjoyment of the food dramatically compromised by that. I’m inclined to think that binge eating isn’t a matter of being a bad girl who likes food too much, but being a woman who hasn’t been allowed to enjoy it and so goes a little nuts when given even the slightest permission.