I am on the thin side: fat women and food – Part One

November 12, 2008 at 11:34 pm (Fróðleikr) (, , , , )

Sweet women, beautiful women, round and voluptuous and lovely women, tell me what you think of my mother. She has eaten a grapefruit or plain yogurt for breakfast, a carton of soup for lunch, and raw vegetables for dinner for over twenty years.

My mother is a skinny woman. She is a skinny woman because her caloric intake is enough to sustain her slight figure, and no more.

NAAFA is a horrible group. There are women who belong to NAAFA who are kind and gentle people. The memes that circulate NAAFA ranks are misguided and misleading. These kind and gentle women, and women who are not so kind and not half so generous, are deceiving themselves into believing that a muffin, a banana, a sandwich and a pasta dinner constitute an acceptable caloric intake for a woman in one day. They do, but only if that woman is roughly one hundred and sixty pounds, does at least an hour of heavy exercise that day, and does not wish to lose any weight.

A working woman who sits at her desk every day, is five foot four, would like to weigh one hundred and ten pounds and who regularly goes to the gym would do well not to eat more than a salad for lunch and a piece of fruit for breakfast. Perhaps she could have lentil soup for dinner.

There are no fat women in starving families. To be five foot ten and one hundred and ten pounds, women will often not eat at all for days. These things should tell you something about caloric intake.

The ideal portion size for a thin woman is about one quarter of one main dish they might order at a restaurant. I feel deeply for pathetic photo-bloggers who proudly reveal how normal their daily intake is, ignorant of the sheer extremes to which women like myself have become accustomed to be thin.

I am no longer thin. Every day I am reminded how much sacrifice I must go through to return to the shape I was when I would eat one sandwich every three days; even then I was never lighter than one hundred and four pounds.

NAAFA is right to discourage starvation. They are very wrong, however, in their assumption that what our sublimated estimation of what a “normal” sized portion is, is healthy and correct. Not even the diet industries accurately portray the amounts we should be eating: they want to appeal to the public at large (“The body YOU want, with the food YOU crave, in REAL portions”).

The photograph is of Crystal Renn, one of the most beautiful women alive. I am, it’s true, obsessed with thin-ness, but not so far.

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“Shibboleth” – Last Part

November 12, 2008 at 11:08 pm (Ríta)

When I emerged, Chema was lying, pale and shivering, on blankets that had been spread for him. His partial leg was raised on several pillows; he had lost his knee to surgery.
“He will not make it another hour,” said Ivan to me.
Sir Richard was trembling and cursing and smoking a pipe. He held Chema’s damp hand in both his own. His head was bowed.
“Whatever you do?” asked Alberto Olmedo.
“Whatever I do,” said Ivan, defeated. “If the wound had been below his knee, perhaps he would not have bled so much, and during surgery.”
Alberto Olmedo was not a bad man. He was shaken and grieved for his cousin. He had been perhaps turning his idea over and over in his mind, but now there was no question about what was to be done. Had the doctor said that Chema could be saved by medical means, he might have made a different decision.
“There is nothing to be done,” he said.
“Nothing,” confirmed Ivan. He put his fingers to his brow. “Nothing at all. He is in shock. I do not have the materials for a blood transfusion, and…” He lapsed into silence.
“Is there a stretcher?” asked Maraña.
“One might be fashioned from tent poles,” said Sir Richard.
“Please,” said Maraña.
We did not understand what he intended, but we complied. I threw off my blankets and helped, in a feverish hurry, as best I could. Under Maraña’s direction, we left the camp unpacked, and took only some water and the makeshift stretcher. Ivan carried morphine. We made our way inland on a small path that led from the beach, and ended, with our lives, in the ruins of a small Mahdist military encampment, abandoned for fifty years, untouched, the stink of death faded with the passage of time.
Who am I? For many years I wandered, uncertain, a shadowy bruise, not able to speak the language of my birth, thinking of swords, of screaming, of the soundless sun glowing through the dripping red of my mother’s newly dyed thobe, of my wife’s hands on my cheeks, memories that remained with the body, haunted by dreams of cold and damp autumns, of hunting dogs, of my older brother’s violin, of the rustle in my skirts when I danced. I died at the hands of extremists. I died in the grip of what is now my mind. I died at the hands of what is now my body. I was born in Soudan. I was born in Britain. I was born in the dust, under an unblinking sky.
Maraña, as I have said, went mad. He would not budge from where he sat. He would test his arms, could not make them do as he wished, could only sweep them across the sand. He bit his own flesh, violently, enough to draw blood.
“My eyes!” he exclaimed. “My limbs! I cannot move them! Oh dear God, what is this light…” but his lips and tongue would not form the words satisfactorily. I could barely understand him; one minute he seemed to be speaking slurred English, and the next I could not tell what he spoke. It is only with time that I suspect that he was not only babbling, but also that my own understanding was wavering back and forth, like a radio being tuned.
Chema died from the strain; we buried him where he lay.
Sir Richard fell ill. He was not Sir Richard any longer; from his grey eyes shone a terrified little boy. We were forced to carry him back to camp in the stretcher, where he wrapped his arms around his legs and did not stir. He would not speak a word other than Ummi, ummi, and died of a high fever before sunset. Perhaps he had been an innocent bystander, a local boy who supplied the soldiers.
We could not in the end move Alberto Olmedo; every time we lifted him, he screamed and thrashed, as uncoordinated as a puppet on strings, in mortal pain. It was impossible to force him; in our confusion, we simply left him behind. I now believe that Maraña’s gentle, aged, and tempered mind could not make the leap to a young system, coursing with masculinity and nervousness, awoken from death in the heat of battle, and it drove him instantly to insanity.
Ivan was no longer Ivan but a burly man of about forty I came to call Zubayr. I only knew he must be Ivan later, when I remembered my past, that I had a womb, once; I counted people on my fingers and concluded that it must have been Ivan. He dubbed me Saeed. Heroes of Badr. It was a humourless witticism, but we had nothing else: no memory of our names or of how we knew each other, only flitting visions at best. I am grateful we remembered enough to return to camp.
I am even grateful to Alberto Olmedo, that he knew enough to warn his staff of what might happen. They did not ask who we were, only took us to Khartoum and left us there. Our families, I know, must have thought us dead.
From time to time I see men and women like the man on the plane. I have not seen Ivan. I postulate that he took his life during those first few months in Khartoum. He did not stabilize but became more and more unglued; we drifted apart within a few days. I did not at first notice his absence, and when I did, I promptly forgot him. It was like letting go of a bad dream.
I have forgotten what it is like to sleep. Those like me do not show the exhaustion behind our masks. We do not really live in the world, but move through it like knives in water, a frictionless, dimensionless “I” that has taken up residence in the world, cut loose to hop from one objective self to the next. I have been born into so many, died so many times, had so many fathers and mothers and native tongues. I do not remember how we woke the restless dead. Do not ask me. I do not know who I am enough to know whether or not I would tell you the answer.

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“Shibboleth” – Fifth Part

November 12, 2008 at 11:04 pm (Ríta)

The morning could not have come too soon; I dreamt wildly, clutching at my chest, and when a servant gently shook me awake just after dawn, he told me that I had been talking incoherently in my sleep.
The day was hot; we could not do much more than sit under what shade we managed to fashion ourselves, or dip our feet in the water of the river. Alberto Olmedo was not unkind; the men we had brought with us were at leave to do as they pleased in the heat, unless one of us took ill.
I was certainly not well; my skin was pale and I felt cold. Ivan declared me feverish, and I was wrapped in blankets and given cold drinks to ease my chill and treat my symptoms. I excused myself from Sir Richard and Chema’s impromptu excursion down the riverbank, and Ivan warned them of crocodiles.
“They are not to be trifled with,” he said. “I will not be able to save you if you are wounded by a mature specimen.”
“He is quite right,” Maraña agreed. “We were safer in the canoes, but if you are wading, you will not be safe within thirty feet of an adult male.”
When they had gone, I began to wonder about our camp. There were no signs of large animals anywhere near the beach; it was only visited by birds and insects, and I had seen small fish in the shallows of the water. In this land of little water, the river should have been the focal point of animal life, a beach like this should have been the home of ten crocodiles at the very least, and yet we had not seen a single animal larger than a crow since we had landed in the canoes.
I did not speak my concern out loud: I was feverish and no-one would have given my worry much thought. Or, if they did, they would not know what to make of it. I knew that I had felt malevolence, discomfort, rising from the sand, riffling my hair with the breeze, freezing us with the blue light of the moon, dealing our cards.
My God! The sight of Chema! His leg reduced to so much meat! It was shredded beyond hope of recognition, just above the knee. Sir Richard, his face the colour of flesh submerged in freezing water, carrying the stricken man in his arms, both barefoot, a rifle slung over Chema’s shoulder dragging in the ground and leaving alien tracks in the sand, this is the sight that I awoke to in the midday sun.
Ivan was frantic; he had few supplies. He had the men build a large fire, and bade them stoke it as hot as they dared. An iron pan was heated in it until lit with the barest red glow from within. He had a tourniquet; Chema was held down and made to bite on something, I can’t remember what.
The leg was not salvageable. I did not see the amputation; Ivan insisted I retire. He left the steward to care for me. I asked for cotton to block my ears.

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“Shibboleth” – Fourth Part

November 12, 2008 at 11:02 pm (Ríta)

Before I began to write, I spent a few hours leafing through a book I ordered from a specialist bookstore, about the Mahdist revolution, searching for something that might tell me who I am. Perhaps something new had come up in the last seventy years I spent avoiding my past. I fancied finding my name in this book, but it is, like most history books, interested in movements of power, not the atoms that make it up, and so I found nothing. It does not matter: I would have not known my name had I found it.
Once, on an airplane, I saw a man looking out the window, at nothing. He turned his face to me, and I could not look away. He nodded at me, once. I saw his mouth tighten. When the plane landed, I sought him in the arrivals lounge. He was sitting with his bag, staring passively at the wall, lost in thought. When he saw me, he stood.
He said, “Have you slept?”
“No,” I answered him. “Not since I can remember.”
“Neither have I,” he said.
We stood together, in silence. Then he said, “We shouldn’t seek each other out.”
“No,” I said. “You’re right.”
He touched the side of my face, briefly. “I wish you luck,” he said. “If that means anything anymore.”
We walked in opposite directions. I did not know him, nor he me. But there is something, in the eyes, perhaps in the set of the lips, that we see in each other. Like marionettes, or a badly fitting mask. It is a tell, as certain as a bad poker player. I wonder, how many times has this happened? How many times have the vengeful dead tempted the living? What did Alberto Olmedo Maraña know, and how he did he come about such knowledge? Because he certainly cannot have known his own fate: Maraña went mad.
He was perfectly sane; he was composed and good-tempered and even cheerful our first night on the beach. While the crew slept, we played cards, wagering our personal qualities on scraps of paper. I had Ivan’s acuity for crosswords and Sir Richard’s throwing arm, and was wagering my knitting against Sir Richard’s humour when Maraña joined the game. He suggested we keep our banks constant, but change the game, to faro.
I had never been an avid gambler, and I preferred games with skill, and so demurred, but Ivan and Sir Richard were bored of poker: I was outvoted. I handed my cards back to their rightful owners.
“But you must pay a fine for being allowed to observe,” cried Sir Richard. I obliged; my stack of qualities, written on the back of cigarette cards in my then flowing hand, were evenly distributed.
Chema was the Bank; he would play Ivan, Sir Richard and Alberto Olmedo, and then would pass on his role. Halfway through Sir Richard’s turn he began to laugh. Sir Richard threw down his cards in disgust, exclaiming that he would not be a part of this bloody-mindedness any more, and that Chema was cheating at any rate, to which Ivan gently reminded him that Chema could not cheat, as the game was pure chance. And indeed, when it came Chema’s turn to play, he lost his entire stack of cards.
The Bank could not lose. It was a malevolent entity, embodied by whoever chose to play it. It soon became the Bank, not the game, that was the source of interest. Alberto Olmedo redistributed the cards to their rightful owners. We changed seats every turn. Alberto Olmedo woke his steward, and made the unfortunate man deal cards in his dressing gown. Still the Bank won.
“This,” observed Ivan, “must be a mind-bogglingly unlikely happenstance.”
I had not spoken for quite some time. I watched as bits of paper representing my personality, my self, were traded around like so much currency, and felt cold. I asked the steward to bring me a blanket before he went back to bed. He was very kind, and draped it over my shoulders himself, before wishing us goodnight. When we finally retired, it was because the cold chilled our fingers so that we could not feel the cards in them.

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“Shibboleth” – Third Part

November 12, 2008 at 10:59 pm (Ríta)

The icebox needed frequent replenishing, as was inevitable on all excursions of this nature, in which the European intellectual tradition felt it simply could not stampede through barbaric territory without a constant supply of aperitifs. I am not ashamed to say I drank my share of quinine, although now I can’t bear gin: this tongue curls up and spits when confronted with juniper. It was not exactly normal for a lady to drink such uncouth, soldier’s fare, but everyone agreed that it was better I not contract malaria. This suited me quite well, and I took to sitting on the deck swirling my ice, staring glassily into the paradise spread before me, pretending to dislike my drink, pretending I could live under a palm tree.
Due to the letters and the ice and other such niceties of civilization – Maraña was partial to lamb cutlets and fresh pears – we were forced to be quite tethered to well-used waterways, at least until the very end of the journey. There was not much “exploration for the good of humanity” to be had as late as the 1920’s; the telos of our journey, and dare I say, of all human exploration was only that we were brought face to face with something unfamiliar.
We were to stop the dahabeeyah at the mouth of an interesting tributary, or, if it was very deep, carry on until it became clear we would not be able to return if we continued further, and then strike out in little canopied canoes, until we found a place of interest, and set up camp. The boy from the Cairo household would be instructed to hold our letters for a few days and to send extra cargo to the boat, ready for us upon our return.
There were several canoes; we would only occupy three, and our luggage and supplies the other two. We took the decision of which tributary to choose very seriously, and would spend at least half-an-hour at the mouth of even the smallest streams, discussing our options over coffee, formulating opinions based on the local landscape, foliage, weather, quality of the water, fauna, and so forth. It soon became apparent that Maraña chose us quite carefully; we had diverse interests and, taken as a whole, far-reaching expertise. Even Chema, who at first seemed but a stand-in for his mother, was revealed to be an avid lepidopterist, and could tell us in great detail what we could expect upstream based on the habits of his bobbing subjects.
We were so pleasantly occupied that we passed over a great many tributaries before Maraña cast the deciding vote. “It is,” said he, “my boat. I suggest that if you wish to avoid a very long walk home, you will agree with whatever opinion I might choose to espouse; and that is: that we have been dallying for far too long and had better start exploring, else we will have to refer to our trip henceforth as the Not Particularly Exploratory At All Exploration of Soudan.” We laughed. “Onward!” somebody cried.
We departed immediately, for we had already packed our bags. In a fit of discomfort and foreboding, I slipped a flask of extremely strong malt whiskey in the breast pocket of the safari jacket I had borrowed from the boat’s steward.
I rode with Maraña; Chema kept to himself. I haven’t mentioned Sir Richard S– , a sardonic man who fancied himself a Byronic hero; he took to playing his fingers in the deeply olive water. Nor have I mentioned his cousin, Ivan G–, born of an Ukrainian father, who made up the fifth member of our group, a thoroughly unremarkable man except for his reputation as a superb physician, attaining his stature in the medical community with a facility that could be called prodigious.
Sir Richard enjoyed calling out the names of wildlife to our canoes, usually frightening away the animal in question. His cousin occupied himself with a sketchbook and a fine charcoal pencil. Chema, unusually jovial, would respond to Sir Richard’s cheerful pronouncements with remarks, such as “and what an enormous wingspan,” or “I seem to recall that alligators grow throughout their lives,” or similar companionable nonsense.
We were completely indifferent to each pleasant inlet, to each sandy bank; we were simply there to enjoy ourselves. But Maraña – I shudder thinking of Maraña’s perfect mask of indifference, whilst he led us, with fingers of steel, to our inevitable destination.
It was, as it turned out, a small beach, lapped by a space of still water, which seemed quite harmless but was in reality deadly for anyone who might decide to explore the boundary between it and the swift current of the river. We had some difficulty steering the canoes past where the moving water hit the standing; there were deathly strong chaotic whorls and whirlpools and eddies, and a space of several minutes, before the canoes broke through to water only ruffled by the breeze.
We did not of course have to set up camp ourselves. We would pick up pet projects; Sir Richard, for example, set about lighting a fire, while Ivan and Chema fell into deep discussion about a novel way to set up the tents so that we might have something of a covered “verandah” by means of extra canvas and a few sturdy branches. I drank coffee with Alberto Olmedo, and discussed the weather.
Such was the foolishness of the idle rich! So unfamiliar with a life of toil! We reduced the labour of the poor to a plaything, assuming we could simply take over and not only be successful at our tasks, but more successful than they. Whether or not we were justified is unimportant; what matters here is the audacity to do what we did in front of those we paid to perform tasks they had no hope of escaping.
That this sort of behaviour persisted into the twentieth century slows my modern heart. Did I partake in this? It is a difficult question, one fraught with others: what is this “I”? These days, I eat snacks and watch sports. I like Chopin. I play the piano. As I write this, I eat salted monkey nuts. I crush them in my palm by curling my fingers, then delicately fish each pair of peanuts from the wreckage. I only eat one neatly split half at a time. This gesture is too intricate for my thick hands with their blunt nails, but I persist, because I do not like the sticky feeling of salt, and so like to keep it confined to my fingertips.

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