A story on the intertwining relationship between food, shame and body autonomy

Artwork: VXN

Growing up, my least favourite word was “Satisfy”. Sat around the dinner table and reaching for seconds, I would be reprimanded with a sharp glance and a pointed “Satisfy”: an ever present reminder I was too greedy, too chubby, liked food too much. I swallowed the mantra, hoping it would sate my guilt.

As a child, I watched dance films longingly. With a kind of sordid fascination, fixated on the dancers’ slender, defined bodies, convinced that if I were to deny myself, I would one day be in complete control of my body the same way they were. I wanted to join them, but knew intuitively to be a dancer was a biological precondition; you were either built for it, or me.

When the first lockdown struck, I was stranded in my uni accommodation, recovering from a fever and too scared to return home for fear of spreading anything. For the first time, in a very long time, I was absolutely alone. I had no groceries, my anxiety preventing me from leaving my house. Realising the likelihood of returning the following term was slim, my rent money transformed into possibilities, and takeaway and I became fast friends.

It was heaven. I tried everything I could find which sounded good. There was nobody to reprimand me for listening to my body, telling me to split the meal into two and save the other half for the following day. When my disobedient mind whispered my echoes of guilt, I pushed them away, took bigger bites, and watched myself eat in the mirror, humming happily with each delicious mouthful.

Nobody was watching me except for me. In the mornings, I’d turn my playlists on full-blast and dance my way through the day; Janelle Monáe’s upbeat funk at breakfast, high octane 80s bops in the shower, teenage throwbacks while I got dressed. My joy bled onto my social media, and I found myself recording myself dancing to whatever was the mood of the day and sharing snippets to my stories. For the first time in my life I didn’t care about how my tummy folded beneath the sports bra I wore for mostly decorative purposes, or the fact that everything jiggled as I popped and locked and jammed and broke. In fact, I loved it.

Dancing – in the garden, in the mirror, in my underwear, naked, in front of my window – rebirthed an important relationship with my body, one founded on kindness and love and understanding.

It was the first time I’d consciously directed such positive emotion towards my body, and it arrived with a wave of euphoria. Who said I couldn’t eat? Who said I couldn’t dance? Who defined my limitations but my own learnt shames? And wasn’t it time for me to unlearn them?

Being in my own space, being reintroduced to my body and its limitations and desires, allowed me to finally connect with an essential truth: I am more than my body. And I would no longer force my body or myself to ‘satisfy’, because I deserved indulgence, and I owed myself that in every sense of the word.