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Without Fear of Flavor

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

By Naomi Serviss / New York City

When I was a seventh or eighth grade

Ogontz Junior High student,

the school nurse gathered

small groups of girls

in her office each fall,

for one purpose.

To weigh us.

In front of our peers.

Each girl’s weight was announced.

It was humiliating and terrifying.

I weighed much more than

the small-boned, petite

popular girls

who flocked together

in wealthy perfection

to judge outliers like me.

I was always a tall kid,

towering over

others my age and feeling schlubby.

It didn’t bother me

after I was deemed a “tomboy.”

No one cared if I got

schmutz on my hand-me-down clothes!

My passion was fueled by

tree climbing, railroad track-crossing,

and creek exploration.

The natural world lured me

away from my screwy, negligent, abusive family.

And cheap rental apartments.

It wasn’t a fun childhood,

yadda, yadda.

My older brother fat-shamed me

when I was still wearing sunsuits

and a stupid haircut.

Epithets through the years included:

Fat pig


Fat ass

His vocabulary was limited,

but his vitriol was visceral.

My mother’s Bingo friend deemed me

pleasantly plump.

I wasn’t even 10.

I wanted to kick him.

Instead, I internalized that negative moniker.

My oldest brother teased me

about my prominent front teeth

and called me Bugs,

as in Bugs Bunny.

My best friend called me Pugsley,

after the chubby boy in

The Addams Family.

You get the drift.

That’s when I started taking notes.

Payback is killer!

Good news, bad news:

My resilient nature got me through.

But the price paid was a lifelong food disorder.

Body dysmorphic syndrome

is a mental health disorder.

For instance, if you ruminate

about secretary spread

or rings around your neck,

you’re probably painfully self-conscious.

Dysmorphia affects both sexes

and even prepubescents.

I spent years in the Food Hall of Shame.

Anorexia was not for me, I chose bulimia!

You can have your cake and un-eat it, too!

My mother had weird nutrition.

Yes! Blame the mother!

She chain-smoked

unfiltered Philip Morris cigarettes

drank black coffee.

She picked off little brown tobacco flecks from her tongue.

Eating dinner out

was Lucy’s second favorite activity,

after church bingo.

We often went

to her favorite Chinese restaurant.

She taught me the dieter’s secret

to eating sweet and sour pork, lo mein and


Chopstick in hand,

she’d spear a portion

then dunk it in her water glass.

“This is how you get rid of calories.”

She swirled it around, then fished it out.

“And it still tastes great!” she exclaimed,

popping it into her mouth.

Lucy was maternal-lite to her brood of five

once we outgrew toddlerhood.

Some narcissists can’t tolerate competition,

even with their own kids,

once they stop being cute.

I essentially raised myself,

With encouragement

from English teachers, librarians,

and good friends’ families.

The eldest brother flew the coop, joining the Air Force

after our father kicked him out.

Bully brother lobbed water balloons

from the fire escape

and punched a fist-sized hole

in an outside wall,

which wasn’t so great in winter.

One older sister got out by going to university.

My other sister left home when I was around 10.

I witnessed my mother

cutting off my sister’s hair twice

and smashing her guitar.

My mother’s wrath was legendary.

I watched the hurried leave-taking,

sitting and sobbing on the hallway steps,

Lucy was screaming terrible things.

Sometimes her words came out with spittle.

You might correctly conclude

my world was a “tad” unstable.

Resilience and a little bit of luck goes far!

Food became a reliable ally.

Until it wasn’t.

Bulimia, anorexia and other food disorders

are horrific diseases.

Speaking as a recovered purger,

I know of what I speak.

But they are symptoms

of a profound psychological component

that needs addressing.

It’s a tough row to hoe, but the rewards

can be literally life-saving.

I’m in a good place now,

after intense therapy

and bouts with depression.

My journey is not unique.

Thankfully, I’m still on it, knock wood.

Making mistakes,

reconciling with loved ones

and severing emotional ties

when necessary.

My daily meditation and yoga practice

is a tonic.

I recall memories without emotion.

Like watching a movie that I directed.

I’m still waiting to be discovered!

Have I got a memoir for you!

Food is no longer my enemy.

Extra sauce! More flavor! Spice it up!

I have tasty predilections with no restrictions.

And numbers on a scale don’t mean a thing.


Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including



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