September 2018

Health as Shame

A picture of a black woman looking directly at the camera

The first time I had a negative thought about my body was around the age of 10. By the time I was thirteen, I was already skipping meals to be skinny. By the time I was fifteen, I took pride in not eating for days. At 31, I find myself still battling my body image. I have spent two decades of my life battling my body. I am always too fat. 

Finally, I have reached a point where I realize that the problem is not my body. The problem is the way I have been socialized to look at my body. It has been ingrained in me for so long that in order to be beautiful, I had to skinny. Not just any kind of skinny though. I had to be the kind of skinny that was still voluptuous. You know the kind of women’s body I am talking about. The big boobs, big ass, small waist, flat tummy and just the right amount of neck skinny. Oh! I almost forgot to add that you must also have that space between your thighs. Thinking about it know, I feel like the ideal woman’s body is like the specs for a car or a machine. It is not human. It is not real.

After another attempt at dieting to shrink my body and the inevitable mental health deterioration that accompanied it, I am putting in my resignation letter. I am not interested in dieting anymore. I am not interested in restriction anymore. For those who feel the need to talk to me about health, please don’t. 

I have found that the conversation about health is often a euphemistic discussion on shame. How can a woman who does not have the criteria listed in the ideal female body specs not have shame? I have  to admit that this shame is not reserved for the fat. In many ways, it extends to skinny women as well. How many times have we publicly discussed a woman’s body because she looks like she doesn’t eat.

We have begun to talk about shame much in the same way we talk about sex. We don’t talk directly about it but we do talk about it in other ways.  Just like we judge women for the number of men they have sex with, we judge women for the amount of food they are eating. And the problem is that we never allow women to be right. Whoa! You have only dated one guy. A woman should never have sex with more guys than she can count on one finger. Just like a woman should never eat more than salad on a date. A woman must never talk about having a libido just like a woman must never talk about her love of food. 

Of course, there are exception to every rule. In the health world, a woman can talk about her love of food as long as she meets the specs. A woman like Giada De Laurentis or Nigella Lawson can talk about food because they meet the specs. Every other woman must respect her “health” and avoid food like the plague.

Clean eating has become akin to pursuing new virginity. Sugar is universally reviled. Fat is still the demon. Unless you are on the ketogenic diet, in which case you worship at the altar of fat. The point is that diets have become a way of capitalizing on our shame. Just follow these few rules, and you will feel superior to all others. If you fall off the wagon, shame on you. You just need to try harder. Just think of how much better you would feel at 110 pounds in that bikini. Nobody ever says anything about how sad it feels not to be able to eat full-fat ice-cream.

Please, give me a moment here while I talk about how much I hate diet foods. I particularly detest the new generation of diet food like 50 calories a pint ice-cream that taste absolutely nothing like ice cream. Between diet books, diet foods, cult workout plans, the waist trainers and the detox teas, our culture of shame has spurned a whole industry that churns out millionaires by burning through our wallets.

After thinking critically about it, I have decided that I no longer want to be part of this cult. I have no more money to give to anything new diet ideas. There is no more time to contemplate if I should try the Whole 30 or keto my life. I am in transition out of this cycle of shame, disappointment, and self-destruction.

 I recognize that I have let food become a way of constantly shaming myself.

Don’t get me wrong; I still have lots of shame that I have to work through. The big difference between me of today and me of yesterday is that I recognize that I have let food become a way of continually shaming myself. I acknowledge that I have become a hateful critic of my own body. If I am sincere, sometimes I project my own shame to other people.

The work that lies ahead for me is to learn to silence the shame. I have started doing for myself in small ways. I am eating the foods that I find interesting instead focusing on restriction as the path the health. Part of recognizing the shameful way I have been relating with food is being able to call out myself when I am using food as a mechanism to get out of boredom or soothe anxiety. This work is tasking. However, I accept the tasking nature because it is never going to be easy to dismantle decades worth of shame and process.

As I get through my transition though, I don’t know what the other side of the shame-filled diet culture looks like or feels. I know that there has to be a better way than loathing my own body. 

Power of Representation

In the current climate we live in, I find myself having political conversations all the time. The recent conversations revolve around representation. I am lucky that I live in Massachusetts where the politics is reliably liberal. However, just because the politics are progressive does not mean we still don’t disagree. 

I found myself having a conversation about knowing your elected representative the other day with a lovely white couple. Yes, this conversation involved race. You see, at some point, we started talking about the Capuano/Pressley race for US House of Representatives. For those who don’t know, Mike Capuano is the incumbent Democrat Rep for Massachusetts Congressional District 7. He has held that seat for five years. He is a reliably progressive voice. By all metrics that we use to judge our representative, Capuano has not failed a single test. Oh! And Capuano is a white man.Capuano is being challenged by Ayanna Pressley. Ms. Pressley is an African American woman who serves on the Boston City Council.

When I was having this conversation with the couple, they were like but the positions are identical, and Capuano has seniority. That is a valid argument. But, my view on the Capuano/Pressley comes down to the power of representation. There is power in being represented by someone who can authentically speak to your life experience. Capuano might have a progressive voting record but he certainly does not understand what it means to be a minority living in Boston.

Representation: There is power in being represented by someone who can authentically speak to your life experience

I am not going to go into the trial and tribulations of being black in Boston, but it is a lot. It is an experience that only can be understood once you have lived it. Pressley, as an African American woman living in Boston, represents something that Capuano never will. Given how infrequently Black female candidates get the momentum needed to take them into office, I like to champion viable options like Pressley.

Alas, as I researched my primary ballot, I realized that I am not eligible to vote for Pressley because I don’t live in her congressional district. It was also glaring clear looking at my ballot that diversity is still a huge issue for the Massachussetts delegation. My ballot is overwhelming male speckled with some color.

I really don’t feel like I can complain about being under represented on the ballot. I know that until people like me, an ordinary everyday citizen, begin to participate in politics, we can’t complain. If I want my experiences to be seen and heard, then I have to step up and speak. 

I’ll be voting on September 4th 2018 during the Massachusetts Primary Election. General Elections are scheduled for Tuesday, November 6th 2018.

The $100 Kitchen Essential List

setting up a kitchen is one of the fastest ways to feel like you are home.

This morning as I stood in my kitchen using my mixer to make a batch of cookies, I started thinking about how far I have come. I had none of the kitchen essentials, and I did not know where to start. My life has unquestionably gotten much better than when I first moved back to the US five years ago.

It is not easy moving your whole life in two suitcases and a hand luggage. Especially when you are moving from Ibadan in Nigeria to Boston, Massachusetts.  When I arrived I did not own any kitchen gadgets, I slowly had to buy everything that I needed to set myself up and get cooking.

I guess I am feeling a bit nostalgic because September 1st is Moving Day in Boston. People change apartments, and others get an apartment for the first time. If you are a young person, who is in college or just starting out in life or even just short on money, it is not exactly easy to go to a store and buy a whole new kitchen in one go. But, if you are financially conscious or you love cooking or both, setting up a kitchen is one of the fastest ways to feel like you are home.

Hundred Dollar Kitchen Essentials list featuring sharp knife, frying pan, cooking spoon, plates, cups/mugs, cutlery, kitchen towel, chopping board, pot, mixing bowl, blender

Knowing this, I wanted to help by creating a list of things to make the kitchen set-up process easy. I was looking at my kitchen things and asking myself what are the absolute essentials that I use a lot. Then I thought about the places that I buy kitchen stuff for on the cheap. After much thought and consideration, these are the essential things that every kitchen needs for cheap.

I think a hundred dollars is a generous budget for an initial kitchen equipment shopping. However, I also know that a hundred dollars can be a lot of money. If you have to prioritize the list, focus on the few items then work your way down the list. 

OXO Six Inch Santoku Knife

A good sharp knife is something I highly recommend you splurge on from the get-go. Knives are such a big part of the kitchen experience. Plus a good knife saves you from cuts in the kitchen. My preferred knife is an OXO Santoku Knife. It is relatively good quality for a decent price. When I checked on Amazon, it was less than fifteen dollars.

Plates are an absolute must. I would actually suggest buying bowls, to begin with. These are the ultimate multitaskers. You can have a soup in a bowl or your morning bowl of cereals. You can also have a salad or some grains. But you can’t do all that with a plate. A good and absolutely cheap place to get plates and bowls is the local dollar store. While you are there, browse the aisles and get yourself some cutlery. My local dollar store also does an amazing job of stocking cooking spoons, cups, and mugs. Just note that if you have to choose between a cup or a mug, pick a mug. Always choose items that can multitask.

Something else that is a must when you first get a kitchen is a good frying pan. When I am buying my first frying pan for a new space, I always buy an all metal one. This because an all-metal frying pan can work on the stove top and in the oven. So, before I owned baking trays and pan, I used to bake my chicken and my cakes in my frying pan.

The other hack I had for my kitchen was my Pyrex glass mixing bowl. It used to be the thing I baked my bread in for a long time. You can also do a yummy pasta bake in Pyrex glassware. Contrary to your imagination, Pyrex bowls can be affordable if you know where to look. An excellent place to buy pyrex bowls is Walmart. They sell them as individual pieces. 

A black classic 5-speed Oster Blender

If you are looking at my list and thinking that I have gone insane adding a blender to the shopping list, let me defend my process. Looking for a fancy blender? There is plenty on the market for you. If you are on a budget, there are plenty of options too. Oster makes these fantastic 5 Speed blenders in the under 20 dollar range. I actually found one for 16.99 dollars at Target when I was writing this post. I used one of this 5 Speed Oster blender heavily, for a couple of years.  You have to make sure you do your research before buying. To be honest, between Walmart, Target, Amazon and Best Buy, one of those stores absolutely will have it on a rock-bottom sale price. 

By the time you are done buying the essentials, you should be able to start making decent meals in your kitchen. As you explore more recipes and settle into your new home, you will find yourself acquiring the things you feel you need. I have one ask of you. Please don’t buy that equipment that only does one thing like juice a lemon. Prioritize buying things that multitask.