Thin Privilege

One thing that really annoys me at the moment is that the HAES movement has managed to effectively elide the difference between “slim” and “skinny”. It’s generally best espoused by the phrase; “Thin shaming is nasty comments, fat shaming is structural oppression”.

 

And it’s bullshit. It’s gaslighting of the absolute worst order.

 

I am a thin person. I don’t like posting photos of myself, but if you dig through this blog long enough, you’ll see photos of me. I’ve been thin for my whole life, a product of being an extremely premature birth, being malnourished to some degree for much of my childhood due to poverty, and due to Ehlers-Danlos which, amongst other things, makes my digestive tract inefficient and kills my appetite and makes food about as likely to come up as it is to pass through.

 

It started in early childhood, where I didn’t put on weight like other children, so there was a constant stream of social workers to the house and the constant assumptions and whispers that I was being abused. By about 6, other children had picked up on it, and I was “skinnyface” – Either getting food smeared on all of my belongings, or having my pack-up stolen and thrown over the school fence because I “didn’t need to eat, [I am] a skeleton”.

 

It continued at secondary school – New city, new people; Single-sex and selective. The pupils immediately picked out that I and two others were unusually thin, so the rumours spread immediately that we all had eating disorders, and we were shunned to varying degrees for that. Again, eating at school was fraught; Having a bar of chocolate would always be accompanied by sicking-sounds from everyone around me (Because of the assumption that I was bulimic), and eating in the dining hall was a nightmare since other students would pour vinegar on my food to “Help my diet!”

 

It only took a couple of months for the staff to join in as well – At PHSE, I was the one in my class who was always held up as an example of “Someone who could use feeding up” or “Someone who OBVIOUSLY put wanting to diet ahead of how they looked” or “Someone who probably has an eating disorder”. The geography teacher found it hilarious that other students had scribbled my name under a picture of an emaciated child in a famine. The history teacher, a few years later, tried to stifle her laughter when the same thing happened with a concentration camp photograph. It didn’t take much to convince the teachers that I was a cruel bully who paraded my thinness in front of the other students to mock them, so they pretty much without exception joined in in pointing out how ugly, freakish and skeletal I looked. Did I mention how confusing it is to always be singled out in lessons about drug use and eating disorders, with the assumption that you’re a heavy drug user, and that you have an eating disorder, when you’re neither? Academically, despite getting good marks and being generally very interested in learning (I still am interested in learning, and improving my skills at various things) I was assume to be stupid and un-teachable and to have no interests other than being thin.

 

Thankfully, sports was a small reprieve – Within my own team, outside of school, I was known to be a fast swimmer and a hard worker, but every new coach had to be persuaded that I wasn’t just there by accident and wasn’t doping. And, honestly, in the changing rooms there were still rude comments and snide remarks, but at least nobody spat in my food.

 

Obviously, in all of this time I’d never had clothes that fit, and going to school in jumpers that hung off me like sacks and tights that wrinkled around my calves made me unfashionable as well. It didn’t matter, my uniform got holes cut in it pretty much every other month by mysterious perpetrators “who were never caught”. One of the ringleaders in my class said that I should be flattered because everyone wanted to see my lovely thin whore body, and everyone laughed.

 

At around 11 or 12, the physical pain started – All of my joints going to pieces. I went to the school nurse first. Her verdict was simple; I needed to stop obsessing over my appearance and eat more. I was stupid, vain, shallow and the literal worst kind of person. I braved going to the GP. He told me that eating a bit more, since “Boys like curves” would help. I still didn’t have an eating disorder, I was still trying my best to put on weight at every turn, to stop the constant taunting and assumptions that I was a bad person. Despite continuing to try to see doctors regularly for both my phsyical health and mental health, it took until I was 26 to be diagnosed with any physical pain-causing problem, and given any pain relief at all, by which point I had basically lost the ability to walk. Because everyone had decided that my only problem was being too thin, go and eat a sandwich.

 

At 16, I started looking for work, and was immediately turned down. Employer after employer told me that, well, a skinny fragile thing like me could never do stand-up work. Bar work? Cashiering? Shelf stacking? All needed someone who looked less “snappable”. This is despite the fact that at the time I was a fairly high-level athlete and hillwalker. No amount of my protestations that really, lifting a tin of beans was not beyond me, would get through to people. At 22, finally, I got a job that I loved, building drystone walls, and was very happy with it. After that, I had a few years of demanding physical work in a teaching lab. All stuff that, when I’d been seen in-person first, it’d been assumed that I couldn’t do. Both of these were jobs I’d got via telephone interviews. I’d always been turned down for non-physical jobs as well, because I “Wasn’t the image that our company wanted to project” – Too unhealthy, probably a drug user, a depressing reminder of poverty.

 

Have I mentioned the street attacks yet? There was a reason that I didn’t go to nightclubs or bars, or really socialise much, and still don’t. Firstly, tht it’s impossible to socialise when every time you go into the toilet, you get someone trying to look over the door because “The famine victim went in there, what do they look like with their knickers down?” or someone tries to rip your hair out to “make you look more holocaust since you’re already halfway there” (By the way, my hair is as thin as it is largely because of scarring in the follicles from multiple people per year thinking that they were the first to make that joke). The thing that stopped me was someone slashing me with a knife, to “See my ribs”. It needed stitches. The police officer that I’d reported it to said “Well, you ARE very thin… They were just curious” Buying food in restuarants or cafes was basically impossible – If I ordered something “too fatty” it’d get spat in or turn up with hair in it, or a cruel note. If I ordered something “too healthy” (which was often the verdict thanks to my cow’s milk allergy) I’d find it spiked with butter or milk that’d make me ill for days.

 

And as for clothing – Yeah, I’ve never been able to just buy clothing that fits. As I sit here, I’m wearing a pair of oversize army surplus cotton trousers which tie with a drawstring, and a silk shirt made for me by my best friend. I’ve never seen someone like me on an advertising board, or a catwalk, or in a TV show (Other than, once in a while, as a heroin addict or a criminal). Clothes are not cut to fit someone with a huge square ribcage and hollow shoulders and a recessed breastbone, and pressure sores on their scapulas and hips and arse and knees from sitting  down with too little padding.

 

In case it’s not obvious – This was not just treatment inflicted by one person. This was not just treatment inflicted by one toxic subculture in one city, or one institiution, or one profession. This is everywhere that I’ve lived, in three countries, five schools, a dozen places of work, everywhere that I’ve ever tried to socialise. I eventually gave up on even the naturist swim – A place where people are famously accepting – because I got too many comments on my grotesque body, and too many people assumed that it meant there was something grotesque about my personality as well. This was, well, structural, systemic; in education, in society, in healthcare, in the workplace and in the media.

 

So the constant gaslighting that “The worst that happens with skinny shaming is being told to eat a sandwich” can frankly go to hell.

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A is for Appetite

One of the things that you quickly become aware of with EDS-HM is that collagen is everywhere. It’s not just in your skin, your joint capsules, your eyes, your nail-beds, your gums, it is everywhere, and that messes with every system you have in weird, subtle ways.

In no way is this more apparent and weird than in the stomach.

One of the many things that controls appetite in the healthy person is the stretch receptors in the stomach – Stretch far enough, and they send a signal back up the vagus nerve that you’re full, and should stop eating. They are literally just cells on the surface of the stomach which, when they get far enough apart, ping a signal. Very simple, very much mechanical. Fill up with bread, milk or lard, and it will take the same volume of stuff to activate them, they do not care.

There are two ways that this can go, in EDS: One is that the stretch receptors are insensitive due to being constantly moved around, and thus no matter what you eat, you never feel sated. The other, more common variation, is that you eat a single spoonful of something, it hits the stomach like a four-pound lead shot, and the stretch receptors decide that you’re full.

The result of this is either eating and drinking like Thor until there’s nothing left to eat, then feeling sick for the rest of the day as you try to digest far too much stuff, or settling down to a delicious meal, when you’re ravenous, then eating a mouthful of it and suddenly being put off, even though you know that two chickpeas and a bite of paratha won’t fill you up.

Many zebras spent chunks of their childhoods either being told off for never finishing a whole plate, or being picky eaters, or for constantly eating between meals. Most of us are inveterate grazers, and if left to our own devices won’t have anything approaching a three-square-meals setup, and the remainder eat like snakes; One huge blowout feast on Monday, sleep all of Tuesday, work on Wednesday whilst picking at leftovers, then eat again on Thursday. Repeat.

The cruellest thing? These can both happen to the same person. So one week, they’ll be happily snacking on handfuls of almonds and raisins every hour or so, and the next they’ll be craving buckets of vindaloo and stealing off the side of their dining companions’ plates once they’ve finished their own. So there is no way, whatsoever, to plan ahead.

Anecdotally, many of us report fairly intense food cravings – Never just “I’m hungry”, but more specifically “I need protein” or “I need carbs” or “I need B-vitamins”, even if it’s expressed out-loud as “I need toast, with marmite” or “I need fish and chips”. I sometimes wonder if that’s a side-effect of years of not being able to rely on our stretch receptors, and instead relying on the “taste” receptors in the stomach, which can tell the difference between fats, proteins, glucose, monosodium glutamate and a handful of other things, to mediate hunger for us.

Whatever it is –None of us have a very normal sense of appetite, even before we get to talking about gastroparesis, that often means tube-feeding, either for the long or the short tem, or slow gut transit, which causes food to sit in the stomach for longer than normal and thus to feel less urgent hunger, or our odd adrenal responses that mean that we might not feel hunger at all until it’s absolutely gnawing. And many of us are on some kind of restricted diet due to the combination of other gut problems that EDS causes, making finding suitable food often a complete nightmare – Does it have to be low in FODMAPs? Does it have to be nearly liquid? Does it need to be extremely nutritionally dense, so as not to just take up space uselessly? Does it need to just be a light broth or basically flavoured water, to sate food cravings whilst the actual nutrition goes in through a PEG-tube?

So that’s basically the first challenge, and the first thing that makes the EDS-HM experience deviate from the norm.

(Notable runners-up to be “A is for…”; Ableism, anger, arthritis, arthralgia, Aargh!)

Doesn’t remind me of anything

Recipe time.

 

Back before I was vegan, I was a pretty good (albeit not formally trained) pastry chef. Not of the “How much icing can I fit on this cupcake” variety, which I honestly think is a bit vulgar, but more in the vein of trying to resurrect lost puddings and biscuits from old British housekeeping manuals, and getting really into French patisserie – The absolute acme of my non-career being a two foot tall croquembouche for a New Years’ party, where everything from the whipped cream to the gold-powder-infused caramel was made from scratch – No packet sauces or aerosols involved.

 

And then in 2011 I went vegan, and it all basically stopped, because vegan cake-making-stuff was expensive, and never gave the results I wanted, and using bananas as egg replacer made everything pink and stringy and taste of banana. (Though converting recipes with the Phallic Ratio does always amuse me).

 

So, this week, after a few months of craving financiers, I decided to experiment a bit. Urad dal, the white kind rather than the unhulled kind, is a pretty good source of protein, much like an egg white. And to make financiers, I pretty much only needed egg whites, for the texture.

 

Financiers, experimental

 

So, one tablespoon of dal, into four tablespoons of boiling water from the kettle, left overnight, then strained in the morning to separate out the solids. I suspect this would also work if the dal was cooked, and the water saved, which would be quicker. The result was a thickish white liquid that, when spread around, seemed to be pretty proteinaceous, rather than starchy.

 

The dry ingredients didn’t need much changing, just a matter of working out the proportions; 3tbsp almond powder, 1tbsp icing sugar, 1 tbsp self-raising flour. Mixed up in a bowl, making sure there’s no clumps.

 

Then, to make beurre noisette – A pain in the dick at the best of times, becuase of all the stirring and risk of setting off the smoke alarms. I decided to use Vitalite (2 tbsp off), in a heavy-bottomed non-non-stick pan. It melts faster than real butter, but takes a bit longer to brown up, and needs constant stirring with a fork to keep it agitated and consistent, rather than burnt. It actually worked, pretty well.

 

Mix wet into dry – dal first, then the beurre noisette, slightly cooled, then leave everything to stand for a few minutes. A good time to grease tins, arrange silicone cake cases, and get the oven heated up to 200c.

 

Give everything another stir, and it should look a lot like “proper” cake mix. Put one tablespoon in the bottom of each mould, or cake case (Moulds are better, metal is best, since they make the undersides very crisp). The amount above makes six small cakes, since this was only a test run, but you’ll note that it’s an easy to convert ratio to make as many as you like.

 

Baking is a matter of faff – Five minutes at 200c, to get them to rise and start to crisp, then reduce the heat to 160 and bake for another eight minutes to cook the centres, then return to 200 for about another five minutes to  crisp the shells up so that they’re nice and golden. The edges where they’re touching the metal pans should be a chestnutty colour, and the middles should be the classic gold that makes them look like gold bars.

 

Pop out of the trays, leave to cool for a few seconds if you’ve got the patience (And they do get a little crisper as they cool) then eat. The centres will, hopefully, be almost like an almond fondant, and the outers will be crispy sponge cake.

 

 

 

Mathanga Erissery

Nutritious comfort food that doesn’t take too much preparation or fresh ingredients;

One large squash/small pumpkin or 4 large sweet potatoes (Or a mix of the above) cubed.

1 tin of black eyed beans

1 tin of coconut milk

2tbsp dried chilli flakes

4tbsb dessicated coconut

1tbsp coriander seeds

2tbsp turmeric

1tbsp mustard seeds

1tbsp black onion seeds

2 curry leaves

handful of frozen coriander leaves

salt

coconut and sesame oil to fry

Boil the squash/potatoes until almost soft, then drain. (circa 10 minutes)

Add the black eyed beans and the dried spices (chili flakes, dessicated coconut, coriander seed, mustard seed, onion seed, turmeric, curry leaf) and fry in a mixture of coconut and sesame oil until the squash skins begin to blacken and the sweet potatoes begin to caramelise.

Add the coconut milk, and heat until the squash/potato begins to break down into gloop and thicken the sauce.

Add the frozen coriander, and allow to defrost whilst stirring in. Salt to taste.

Serve with lemon or coconut rice.