When Calorie is The C Word

Women for Independence tweeted recently that they wanted to hear thoughts about food.  It makes sense.  ‘The domestic is the political’, as the saying goes and it’s a saying that needs to become overused and clichéd because it’s so damn true.   The more I think about it, the more I believe that everything that goes on in our homes and heads is politically linked.  The more we connect the ideas of home and Holyrood or the House of Commons the more we increase the understanding that political engagement is something we can exercise to influence things for the better, particularly in a relatively small country like Scotland.


So here it is from me, you can provide the Food Glorious Food soundtrack from Oliver yourself. Or, you can (please) take it from my head where it’s played on loop every time I’ve thought about writing this post in the last fortnight.

I’ve been mulling over what my relationship with food is.  I came up with a few things; allergies, and hormonal conditions that need balanced with nutrients sprung to mind for starters.  How my family does the food shop came into my thoughts too.  But the main thing I kept coming back to?  The thing I kept trying to avoid thinking about so I could concentrate on easily quantifiable schizzle?  Well, that was an encounter that threw an axe head between my experiences of food and had a huge impact on how I feel about and discuss food and self image today.  It was an encounter that was emotional and I was hesitant about going there.  Yet… since it kept coming back to me I knew it was valid.  Then, the more I thought about it without kicking it away, the more I realised the emotions that are side dishes to food are a narrative we need to reconstruct to challenge ideology that limits woman in how they view themselves and are viewed by others in terms of their political (and domestic) impact.

Quite a few years ago I had a friendship group that I thought was pretty much perfect.  Three interesting women with different lives and outlooks crossed my path.  Thanks to some synchronicity in our weekly routines we soon found ourselves meeting once a week.   It felt positively Sex and The City and, fresh from being at home with pre-schoolers, I was happy for a sassy new highlight in my weeks.

Then came food – goddammit  – and the good times and diverse chat took a turn I wasn’t expecting when we agreed to make time to meet weekly for lunch.  The problems arose from the fact that I was not on a diet and they all were – permanently.  At first there was a jovial, bantery acceptance of the fact that I would always eat more than any of them at a lunch.  Then there was the triangle consensus between them to support each other in a plan to exercise more and eat less – I wasn’t there that day but was told of it much later.  In fact, in preparing for a big night out the plans extended to eating nothing but salad leaves and simply drinking water.  For days.  I was shocked and said as much, repeatedly, saying firmly but as non-confrontationally as I could, ‘count me out. Completely.’

Then there was the fact that we (they) seemed to have simply stopped talking about anything other than weight, food, exercise, ‘perfect’ bodies and diet cheats.  I had nothing to say on the matters.  In all my other friendships we talked about politics, ideas, the world, stories from our pasts, kids, our hopes, our dreams, work, relationships, learning, music, the universe, cake, clothes, art, spirituality…. and now here I was in conversational territory that was alien in its focus on just one area of self flagellation.  I was genuinely confused about how the same point could be made again and again and capture interest and emotion.  The conversations were leaving me blank and hollowing me out.  There was a vast irony in this that I didn’t see at the time; I was overweight and feeling good.  Everyone else at the table was a size 10 and feeling not good enough.  The confident women I’d met had, it turned out, been bluffing all along.  Worse, they’d assumed I had been too.  I was the odd one out.  Or, had they all just brought this out in one another and magnified it?  I couldn’t figure it out.

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Things got acutely strained the last time we met for lunch when, despite my consistent stance in the months before, my lunch was taken away from me halfway through the meal because, ‘let’s face it, you’ve had enough’.

The quick round up from there is that save some awkward exchanges we haven’t had lunch (or coffee, or drinks, or basically anything much) ever since.  It’s been a lot of years now.  They could never see what they did wrong and what they believe apparently works for them.  I could never get past having been overruled about my food, my body, my self-esteem and my need to talk about a gazillion things.  Those things are red line for me.  Nobody gets to tell me what I should change about myself unless I ask for their opinion – not overtly, not subtlely, not through words, not through behaviour or side glances.  We can discuss concerns, sure, but not if they’re based on vanity and someone else’s ideas of how I could appeal to them more.  That stuff is ridiculously less than helpful.   It’s something I feel even more strongly about since my son was diagnosed with scoliosis (curvature of the spine).  Regardless of what the covers of magazines and billboards tell us all, there simply is not just one body type, shape or form that is beautifulThere are limitless variations on beauty.  It’s a label that absolutely everyone is entitled to give themself.

For all the flag waving, self-loving feminism in what I declared at the time and in that last sentence, the whole thing deflated my self esteem like a stealthy puncture.  The sight of that plate being removed from beneath my face, my fork and knife still in my hands and the sound of those words hitting my ears has replayed in mental slow-mo more times that I want to admit.  I felt embarrassed, for a while, that I’d found myself beautiful and happily excluded from dieting and body-hating only to be almost bludgeoned into it by how society supports the heinous notion that every woman is a deep down self-hater who wants more than anything else to be skinny, even if it means she’s hungry, tired, stressed, neglecting her bones, internal organs, muscles or the neurons she needs to stay strong.


I’d thought at some point the conversation would switch back to other stuff.  I’d thought I could keep the concepts of ‘my relationship with my friends’ in one part of my brain and ‘my friends’ shocking self-hatred’ in another.  I’d had no idea whatsoever that at some point those two filing cabinets were going to collide all over the space between them and contaminate me with horrible thought-worms that would root around whispering, ‘you probably are really ugly and unattractive because people you trust certainly think so’.  But the thing is I was also always going to fight for the thought that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, by my standards, when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see something repugnant smiling back.  I saw a person who valued so many other things so much more than she valued any thoughts about any size, age or conformity.  Dare I say it (society loves to hate women who value themselves so I’m out on a limb here), I also saw beauty.  I was raised that way by a mum who knew herself to be beautiful and yet was never on the cover of Vogue.  I fought my way back to that woman and have had to chalk up the bad experience to, well, experience.  Different strokes for different folks.  I need food for fuel and food for enjoyment and relaxing with people I adore and who adore me.   Sometimes I need food as a bonding prop at a meeting or a get together.  Breaking bread together is a good thing for connecting.  I will not be coerced into seeing it as something that makes me ‘naughty’ or ‘really good’.  Because I’m a self-determining adult.  Because I am a good person, regardless of my dress size.  A stick of celery, sixty five doughnuts, a gazillion runs and all the scales in the world have fuck all to do with that.

So there’s some of my relationship with food – the bit with the massive learning curve blip where I realised that context and echo chambers really affect self-esteem and self-actualisation.  I’m not sure what I could’ve done to have made things work out more happily with those friends. I live and I learn, hopefully.  And I still love lunch.

From food notes to footnotes….

I’ve been trying to find out who first came up with the phrase, ‘the domestic is the political’.  I think it might have been Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote (the frankly amazing); A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792).  Do you have any insight on this quote?  I’d love to know more about its origin.

52and39/34 Show Me The Monday

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I’ve been trying out listening to classical music after enjoying the dancing fingers of piano playing guests this summer.  I wondered out loud what it was about classical music that makes it so relaxing.  ‘It’s the lack of beat’, answered my husband, ‘it’s arrhythmic’.

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I think there’s a surrender and engagement with classical music when you’re hearing it for the first time; a bit like watching an unreviewed, intriguing performance. 52and39


Maybe when time’s unmarked by a beat I keep myself uncharacteristically still, so I can mentally lean in a little more.


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Stunning colours and compositions at the Matthew Carey Simos exhibition in Hula Juice Bar, West Bow

52and39/33 Shut Up and Let Me Go



I’ve come to acknowledge I have an unhealthy relationship with competitiveness.  It lives inside of me, waiting to jump out of my shoulder and be hideous to people or show off and maraud around like an ape on steroids.



I’ve become the patient, hippyish parent of this hyper, pulsing alter-ego.  My body is its Steiner School.  It’s treated with love and its bad behaviour is ignored.


I use distractions to lure it from evil.  I praise it when it is contributing to positive outcomes that make the whole class feel good.



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For clarity and cake hunting sanity, the interior cafe & cake shots are taken at Pentland Plants Ltd.  

Gallery Series: The Opposite of War

gallery seriesI’m sure I’ve mentioned a million times before that since my Mum died I search for her likeness in the voices, hopes and hands of other older woman.  It’s a bit sinister but there it is, experiencing terminal illness through the conduit of someone you love is nothing if not enlightening.  What you couldn’t dream of doing before suddenly becomes possible, because fighting for someone’s life makes you an optimist, essentially.  An optimist who can’t be shocked by dealing with the indignities of illness.  You get comfortable with the uncomfortable.  It’s a bittersweet, boundary-busting blessing.


Without realising my search was still active, I found a little of her a couple of weeks ago as I listened to sculptor Phyllida Barlow talking about the pieces and processes in her exhibition simply entitled ‘set’, at The Fruitmarket Gallery.  Or perhaps I found a bit of the woman I wish my Mum had been able to age into.  Writing this, I’m acutely aware that my Mum was sculpting me into the woman that she dared not be herself.  Her hopes for me fought harder than her ambitions for her own life.  She fed and nurtured me with lines she never uttered outside my company but, by god, she sewed words and actions of self-esteem tightly onto my veins and they push out when I’m in situations where people are testing their boundaries, like they are seeking the braveness she felt when she made them part of me.


I long to be taken under an older woman’s wing and granted her wisdom, her help, her attention and warmth.  Simultaneously, I’m audaciously specific in the indulgence of my own thoughts about how that older woman should be.  I want her brave, bold, funny, honest.  I want her scathing and tender.  I want an arm from this lady and a hand from that other one.  I want a leg from Janis but Norma’s nose, please.  I’d like Sandra’s hair but Kirsten or Monica’s dress sense.  I want Jenny’s politics and Susan’s laugh.  I am, to all intents and purpose, metaphorically sculpting a fantasy cut out of my mother from the bodies and thoughts of others who appeal, trying to make her come alive again.  It is the stuff that REM sleep dreams (and possibly nightmares) are made of.


Barlow also talked a little about ISIS, about the shock with which she watched terrorists smash up museum pieces in Mosul, via the news.  She talked (and I’m paraphrasing here) about how art is up there with the best of what people do and about how creating something, or seeing the beauty or the story or a sculptural event in something ordinary is the opposite of destruction.  Anyone who knows my blog will know these are the type of thoughts that make my heart fly.  These thoughts are not to belittle the atrocities ISIS have committed against people – quite the opposite, in fact.  They are, I believe, to say that whatever the worst of humanity is doing has to be countered and challenged by the best things that humanity is capable of too.  Art – whether written, drawn, sculpted, sung, sewn or thrown is one of the ways human can push frontiers. Stopping pushing means that the things at the very bottom of human capability – the wars, the intolerance and the willful ignorance – all those things get more air to breathe.  The momentum that art creates pushes us forward, makes us question how we think, pulls us up short or simply allows us to say that we don’t like something, the only possible obligation being to explore your own context – even just a little – to explain why.

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Maybe you look at art and you stand there feeling heady and happy.  Maybe you look at art and you stand there realising that shit, even after almost a decade you are still bereft about no longer being someone’s daughter.  Maybe you stand there like Barlow did when she was creating and placing the work, when she felt it was telling her to Fuck Off.  The answers are never dull.  They are your story, your ebbing and flowing truth, your anger, your joy, your perfect imperfection and your burgeoning, brilliant, snowballing identity and journey through the cosmos.  In all of that, they are everything that opposes ISIS and other terror organisations who can only cope with black and white and who refuse to acknowledge the world is a million beautiful shades of grey and a spiraling rainbow of colours in-between.

I think the time has come to take my vacancy notice for a parent down from the window.  She was enough.  Time to fight the last fight on the grief frontier – The Battle of Absolute Acceptance.  Time to open the door to meeting new people of a certain age for who they are, not how they might best fit with my adult orphan complex.  It feels terrifying and liberating, so it must be right.


It would be easy to read all of that and to think that I wander around with desolate eyes bleeding plump tears onto the world and looking like an unlikely understudy for a Bonnie Tyler video.  I don’t.  I live a smiling life, in the main.  In fact, I’m a much happier person since my Mum’s death.  How’s that for a mindfuck? Death showed me an urgency to life that I hadn’t felt before.  Death stuck a magnifying glass over the people around me who were happy and giving and slapped me with a stinging lesson that my happiness was there for the taking, so stop waiting for it to show up and make me smile.  If Mum could smile and laugh in death, I can bloody well do it in life, even without her.  For the three decades or more taken from her, I determined to live for both of us and love brilliant people that bit harder, to keep her alive in me.  It’s a strategy that I know is ultimately selfish.  However, it serves me well and harms no-one so I stick with it as a guiding principle.  Time and again it leads me back to art and reminds me that being brave, taking risks and feeling fear are bloody good comfort zones to drop into on a regular basis.

Grief, eh?  And art.  How do you eat yours?


Phyllida Barlow’s solo exhibition ‘set’ is yours to view for free at The Fruitmarket Gallery until the 18th of October, 2015.  

52and39/32 Life Is A Cabaret


Edinburgh put on a great show when two of my favourite people visited last week.  The sun shone and the streets filled with the spiking energy and randomness of another Fringe and Festival starting to breathe, then testing their limbs for flexibility.


Just as intriguing as all the art, entertainment, touting and commentary in Edinburgh at this time of the year is the normal life of the city, trying to carry on regardless. I’ve decided it’s best viewed as a temporary ballet-comedy of circumstances and endeavours; people watching at its finest.

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52and39/31 Morning Pages


I love the first hour of full light on a summer morning.


It seems a secret time when anything is possible; when birds are busy and a handful of people quietly share the world with more space and air between than is normal.


I wish I could stop the clock and sit holding a mug of coffee at my chin, knees pulled into my chest.  I like staring through a window, waking slowly as the gears of the day slot one into the other, pulling tiny seconds methodically away from night.52and39




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