Allow me a serious moment. I promise to reward you with cake.
I began 2010 in a really dark place, struggling with a pretty serious depression that I eventually started to refer to as “my sadness.” My sadness was full of insomnia-producing anxiety, deep guilt, and an absolute deflation of my self-confidence. My sadness was a life-sucking vampire, and not the sexy kind.. I feel lucky to have recognized that I was depressed and to have also recognized that my sadness was not the result of there being something fundamentally wrong with me. I struggled for the first half of the year through a long process of trial and error to figure out what kinds of things I could do to help myself feel even a little better. Not everything worked, but a lot of things did and the final breakthrough came when I allowed myself to step away from the world a bit and dedicate the summer to rebuilding myself. It was good. I owe a lot of where I’ve come over the past year to my support system—to good friends, family, and especially to Aidan.
Things like yoga and writing and establishing routines were all helpful, but light really started shining through the cracks when I stumbled across fat acceptance blogs and Health at Every Size advocates. These writers spoke (and continue to speak) to truths that I think I have known but not allowed myself to live for a long time:
- That fat shaming runs rampant through Western culture and creates a deep fear that disciplines our bodies.
- That diet culture (including all of those “lifestyle changes” that essentially act like diets in disguise) give rise to all kinds of disordered eating and fraught relationships with food.
- That we are increasingly narrowing our vision of the acceptable body rather than appreciating body diversity.
- That diets only ever work in the short term and maintaining weight loss from dieting is statistically improbable.
- That we have come to mistakenly conflate health with weight. This conflation is particularly damaging when we get discouraged from doing things that can improve our health (like exercising regularly) because we don’t see the weight-loss results we desire.
- That continual dieting does more harm than good to our physical and emotional health.
- That what Kate Harding refers to as The Fantasy of Being Thin often leads us to put our lives on hold, expecting that things will magically come together and we can become the person we’ve always wanted to be if we can just manage to reach our “ideal” weight.
- That medical terms like obesity and medical scales like the BMI further fat shaming and naturalize the narrowing of acceptable bodies rather than encouraging health.
- That there are a whole host of medical studies that have proven that diets do not work, that weight is not a measure of health, and that dieting is harmful to health, but these reports are rarely circulated in the mass media outlets where stories about dieting, weight loss, and the so-called “obesity crisis” sell better.
- That our bodies don’t need to be whipped into shape, but rather that we need to learn to listen to our bodies and the natural cues they give us so that we can feel as good as possible, and that feeling good will always be a better barometer of health than a number on a scale.
When I finally stopped worrying about my weight and severed myself from The Fantasy of Being Thin, I felt free. And most importantly, I learned just how much energy I had been pouring into worrying about my body–energy that I was able to dedicate to my work and toward creative pursuits like baking and blogging that have brought me a lot of joy and that give me something to feel confident about rather than ashamed. All of this is not to say that fat acceptance of HAES are easy roads with no bumps or that deciding to accept my body as it is was something that happened over night. It is a process that takes work. But it is a process that is definitely worth it. And while I think it is important to feel good about myself and would hope that you feel good about you too, I also know that the body politics that fat acceptance embraces intersect in important ways with other social justice movements. That is, unlike dieting, fat acceptance and HAES is not a solipsistic enterprise but rather has the potential, if we only work to seize it, to contribute to the fight against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism . . . and the list goes on.
I’m writing this now because of a campaign called the 2011 ReVolution. Marilyn Wann and a number of other wonderful people have set up a fantastic blog space that now houses a whole host of resources about fat acceptance and HAES, encouraging people to spread the word on social networking sites throughout the month of January. The goal is not only to raise awareness about FA and HAES, but to also try to counteract so much of the diet and weight-loss blather that pours out around New Year’s resolutions. I’m contributing my voice to the 2011 ReVolution cause because I believe deeply in resisting diet culture, in celebrating body diversity, and in transferring the energy we waste disciplining our bodies into more vital social justice work. So I just want to encourage you to check out some of the resources available at the above link and to throw out questions–I’d love to talk about this more! I’ve also listed some of the FA blogs I regularly read on my Favorites page. Check them out.
And now to cake. I made this carrot cake for a program dinner because I was tired and stressed and needed a sure thing. Carrot cake tends to be one of those things where people over-do it with add-ins like raisins and nuts and too many spices. It also suffers because it’s the kind of thing that people try to turn into a healthy, guilt-free dessert. The truth is that it is best when it’s simple, and most satisfying when we allow it to be what it really is: a humble slice of mid-twentieth century American life. If you have a food processor, shredding the carrots takes no time at all. And when you pull it out of the oven, you can slather it with some cream cheese frosting, throw some chopped pecans on top for a little pizazz, and make the people in your life happy. Very happy.
Best-Ever Carrot Cake (From Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, 75th Anniversary Ed.)
- 4 beaten eggs
- 2 c flour
- 2 c sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3 c finely shredded carrots
- 3/4 c vegetable oil
- 1/2 recipe of Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (below)
- 1/4 c chopped pecans (optional)
- Grease and flour two 9″ round cake pans or a 9×13 cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda.
- In a medium bowl, combine the beaten eggs, carrots and oil. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stil until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. If making a layer cake, allow the cakes to cool for ten minutes before removing from the pans. Allow cake to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
- When the cake is cool, frost and sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired.
Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (from Smitten Kitchen)
- 2 8 oz packages of cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 c pure maple syrup
- 2 c powdered sugar
Beat cream cheese, butter and maple syrup until smooth and then slowly add powdered sugar. If necessary, refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.