Guest post by author Sam Barnette
"Eight Bites" is Never Enough
I was at a time in my life where I was approaching middle age. To top it all off, I was a fat woman in the age of the skinny or so I thought. Before this body positive movement, I was stuck in a body that I was shamed for and led a life in which I was discriminated against, not for the merit of my education or the words I spoke, but for my size. There was never a place that I could go to be safe – not the doctor’s office or the hair salon or even sometimes in my own home.
Shortly before finishing my graduate degree, I took a class on the form and theory of prose. One of our required readings was Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Every story in that collection was brilliantly constructed to show a different aspect of the female experience through a magical realist lens. She spoke out on medical misogyny and body autonomy in “The Husband Stitch” as well as the idea that women cannot make decisions for themselves as seen in “Difficult at Parties.”
The story that stuck out
The story that stuck out to me, however, is “Eight Bites.” Machado shows us a bigger woman who obviously has struggled with food for her entire life. She has sisters and a mother, all small, who constantly tell her how much easier their lives are that they are small indicating that at some both they were big as well. Her mother talks about only eating eight bites and that it was all she needed to survive. It is obvious early on, though, that all is not well when the narrator has a last meal before her own bariatric surgery. Her sister joins her and is very much eating vicariously through the narrator.
The narrator’s struggle with weight and society’s overall perspective of big bodies is why I connected so much with this story. I could feel her pain as she scarfed down her last meal, wondering if she would ever eat anything decent tasting again. I felt connected to her as she sat alone before her sister joined her and felt judged by the entire restaurant. The magical realism comes in when the weight she has lost haunts her house. Although, I would not say I was haunted by my fat, I would say that the surgery exacerbated any feelings I had surrounding food and its social implications. Instead of feeling confident after my own surgery, I felt empty, not only literally, but figuratively as well.
Expectations vs Reality
My own relationship with food is a dark, twisted path of unrequited love and self-loathing; all reasons why I had the surgery in the first place. I went into the surgery expecting a change. I would be a different person, eat the right things at the right time with the right portion. I expected to be seen differently socially. I expected to feel good about being supported by friends and family and for aches and pains to decrease.
After surgery, though, I felt like I lost my best friend and my social problems did not go away, they just changed. Now, people were not looking at me as the fat girl who could not fit in a booth, but now I was the girl that needed to go to a restaurant that had something she could eat. If I ordered a small portion, I was usually asked if I was sure that’s all I wanted. Coworkers were excited to see the weight came off. I thought I’d enjoy the support, but it just added pressure. If I failed, I’d have to face these people multiple times a week.
My pain didn’t go away it was just caused by something different. I had gotten used to getting around in the world in certain ways to accommodate my size. After I lost some weight, though, I had to carry myself differently which meant my body had to acclimate to a different posture, a different gait, and a whole new shape. Everything still hurt. It didn’t feel like I won.
Finding My Voice
Machado’s story gave me voice and a community of women who had been through the same things I had. I no longer felt like an outcast or worse an invisible part of society. I felt seen. I didn’t think about other women who had struggled with bariatric surgery because all I saw was the success stories. I had the surgery before reading the short story. Even though, I could’ve used it before, reading it after prompted me to look for other struggling women, ones who also struggled after bariatric surgery.
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