by Sarah Baca
My earliest memories of my grandmother are of her throwing up dinner. I was about seven years old. I asked my mom if Grandma was sick. “No, she’s okay. Just leave her be.” I know now that this was how my grandma kept her body smaller — it was her way of controlling the world around her in a way I couldn’t understand when I was seven.
Growing up I learned the cardinal rules of being a good American woman. The biggest rule was that if you are fat, you are not good enough. Nothing you did or said could negate the terribleness that is being fat. So I, and every woman I knew, spent a lot of time and energy trying to make our bodies smaller so that we could be worthy of love and belonging.
The beauty of believing this lie was that if you are worried about the size of your thighs, you don’t have the energy to challenge the current status quo. It is a piece of a system that compartmentalized me into little boxes so that I could not ask too many questions.
In Management 3.0, Jurgen Appelo defines a complex system as one that is “not fully knowable, but reasonably predictable.” It takes a lot of work to understand our very complex relationship with food, but it’s pretty likely that you heard some messages when you were young that still affect you on a daily basis. These messages can affect us in ways that aren’t obvious on the surface, that have to do with deep feelings such as our worthiness to take up space. As humans we try to simplify complex systems so we can understand them easily. But simplifying our relationship with food into simple ideas like “you must have a small body to be healthy” or “burn more calories than you take in to lose weight” simply ignores the complexity that comes with our relationship with food.