I Only Knew She Had a Problem When I Remembered Her Recipes From the 80s
I was born in 1976 which means that my entire life has been lived in the cradle of Diet Culture. All of the women around me were dieting. This is not hyperbole, but a fact. It was a universal part of life in the 80s when we were too collectively naive to find anything wrong with all trying to look like the exact same photograph of Jane Fonda on the cover of her 1981 workout book with her legs stretched straight up in a V-shape (For victory, obviously). The diet message of those times was that you, too, could look like this–a concept that was able to simultaneously defy both physiology and reason, but somehow remain sexy and aspirational.
My mother and grandmother were the two women that I personally got to watch wrestle with their bodies every day of my childhood. One of them was successful, one was not, but it was only later that I figured out why.
My mom was an eager student, but never quite excelled at mastering the art of 80s weight loss. There was a lot of Tab, cottage cheese, halves of grapefruits, and fat-free blue cheese dressing, but she never made it to Jordache Jean nirvana. Thankfully, I do not remember when she took diet pills the year after I was born, which my dad said were actually “uppers”. However, I do remember when my mother tried the NutriSystem diet because there was a particular drawer in the kitchen that exploded with small white plastic bags of vitamins that she was supposed to take along with the food-like food they sent in a weekly box. She never took the vitamins because even she probably knew on some level that health has nothing to do with being skinny.
She continued on with dips into and out of Weight Watchers until they came out with the Points System because she learned to calculate all of that in her head. Why would she pay to be weighed on a doctor’s scale in front of strangers once a week when she could stand in the aisle of a grocery store and count how many points there were in a serving of brown rice before it even hit the basket? Besides, vegetables were always zero points and she could live on salad better than the whole rabbit enclosure at the zoo.