As a master’s aide, I am privy to weekly events involving catered food — delightful little crostini, lamb meatballs, shrimp skewers and cheese cubes galore. After working a fellow’s dinner a few nights ago, a female coworker and I returned to the kitchen to find three large plates of leftover hors d’oeuvres. Naturally, we devoured everything. Naturally, it was glorious.
Yet, between every hors d’oeuvre — even every bite — I couldn’t stop myself from engaging in behaviors akin to the self-flagellation of XIV century monks.
“Ohmuhgah I only worked out for 30 minutes today!”
“Ohmuhgah I’m too obese to function!”
“Ohmuhgah I can’t believe I’m eating my body weight in blue cheese!”
Even though I was living the college student’s dream — enjoying access to a plate of free, gourmet nibbles — I couldn’t stop thinking about my muffin top, my thunder thighs and the way my cheeks jiggle when I move my head abruptly. Then my coworker coily offered me a fried wonton, and I, after having engaged in thirty minutes of what could only be described as competitive eating, replied, “No, I’m actually trying to lose five pounds by Friday.”
I heard the words come out of my mouth and immediately knew they were nonsense. I felt like Regina George when she vows to go on the “South Beach Fat Flush” and drink strictly cranberry juice for the next 72 hours.
In the ultra-competitive community of Yale, body insecurities are just as salient as academic ones. Being skinny, like being a genius, is the norm. Let’s be real, Yale is not a microcosm of the real America. And I’m not trying to get all O’Donnell on everyone’s ass when I say that Yale is hardly representative of the country as a whole, especially when it comes to body weight. At Yale, the gyms are always crowded. The plates are always filled with celery, leafy greens, and a hard-boiled egg if we’re feeling indulgent. Where I’m from, fat is a way of life. While I’m not advocating obesity, I’m advocating we cut ourselves a little slack. Fat isn’t the only enemy — skinny can be just as deadly. I’m advocating taking the time to savor and appreciate what’s on our plates. Or, to return to my masochistic metaphor, I’m advocating putting down the whip.
Maybe Kate Moss was right when she famously declared that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. But most probably not. There are so many things I can think of that taste good, at least when enjoyed without guilt. As in, sure, I can’t really say what skinny feels like (I’ve identified myself as a plus-sized sister ever since leaving the womb at a whopping ten pounds), but it doesn’t seem like it feels very good. I do know, however, that drunken noodles feel good in my mouth. As do dumplings. And grilled cheese. I dream of the day when we will eat these things, enjoy them, and not run to the nearest elliptical.
Eating disorders are a real problem at Yale, though they remain largely unnoticed. The distinction between eating disorders and disordered eating habits is a blurry one, but both are undoubtedly a significant part of student experience. While we may laugh at Regina George’s ridiculous attempts to achieve an impossible standard of beauty, our own attempts, unfortunately, significantly less funny. The stress of school, hook-ups, jobs and even vicious squirrels intensify the pressure to be perfect. Many students turn to exercise, dietary restrictions or purging in an attempt to maintain some sense of control. I usually turn to cookie dough. Too often we turn to — or away from — food to escape the pressures that come with an elite university experience, whether it’s by depriving ourselves or overindulging in delicious, salmonella-infested batter.
It is really unfortunate that, for many students on campus, so much precious mental space is devoted to obsessing about their bodies instead of to significantly more fulfilling ventures, like salsa dancing or world peace. With some conscious effort, we can change this. I vow that the next time I find myself engaged in a frenzy of self-hate, whether it’s about my weight, my shape, or the way my cheeks jiggle when I move my head abruptly, I shall turn to the immortal words of Mo’nique and declare, “I ain’t fat. I’m sexy succulent!”