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Without Fear of Flavor

Updated: Nov 11, 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

Fatso

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

spareribs.


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 BroadwayWorld.com

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