Shame: A mixed-media piece by Libby Doyne and Anna Rindos
When I was six I had to take a test to get into the gifted and talented program. They gave me a handful of M&M’s to eat while I took it. I thought the M&M’s were part of the test so I didn’t eat them. I thought my restraint made me gifted and talented. The chocolate melted in my hand during the test, and after it was over I proudly opened my fist to show what I had accomplished. The teacher wasn’t impressed. She told me to throw them away and take some fresh ones on my way out. I left with a rainbow of shame stained onto my palm. I didn’t get into the gifted and talented program. I wish I had eaten those M&M’s.
In the early years my parents were very healthy. Our birthday cakes were made of couscous with fig butter icing. As my two sisters and I got older, my parents eased up. They claimed it was because they had already established a healthy foundation for us but I think they just grew tired of the struggle that started after we ate snacks at our friends’ houses, our taste-buds forever changed after a single bite of strawberry Pop-Tart. The judgment from my dad started young. If I got bitten by a mosquito it was because I ate too much sugar. Itchy ankles? It’s the sugar. Tired? Sugar. I grew up fearing sugar. Like any ailment could be traced back to my indiscretion. I took to hiding food under my pillow, a secret hoard for late night snacking, crumbs that betrayed my secrets. When I got older I watched my dad cook large vats of millet with vegetables and pick at them for days. Hovering over the stove shoveling heaping spoonfuls into his mouth. The joylessness he misconstrued for health. The glare that accompanied anything that wasn’t served up in a pile of beige mush.
As an adult I think a lot about the food I consume in public versus private. How on a first date I’ll eat sushi, sensible sized mouthfuls chewed slowly with intention. Six dates later I’m eating chicken pried off the bone with my teeth. Once my lover has seen me in the throes of passion, surely they can handle some open mouth chewing, sauce on the face, fingers licked clean. Pretense and pomp melt away when exposed to love’s heat.
Couples often gain weight at a similar rate in the early months, the hearty meals that replace a bowl of cereal alone in front of the TV. The long conversations over dinner providing the heft needed to keep us from drifting away into the ether of our love. There is an intimacy in sharing one’s eating habits, trusting a person to bear witness to our secret gastronomical rituals. Cookies in bed. A fork taken directly to the Cool Whip in the fridge. I once saw my friend hold a block of cheese up to her mouth, cutting off tiny pieces and catching them in her hand to place on her salad. “One less knife to clean,” she said. It felt like a deep act of vulnerability, like seeing someone naked for the first time. I do this. Do you do this too?
Like a hungry dog protecting her meal from another, I want to guard my eating habits for fear that they could be taken away from me. Not with bared teeth but the stinging bite of shame. How do I stay ahead of the ever-moving line between acceptable and despicable. Of quirky and filthy. What if this is used against me in a future recounting of red flags? Will that bowl of soup I ate while taking a bath become an irreconcilable difference? Lately I’ve grown tired of hiding the eating habits that sooth me. So what if I’m in my underwear at 2 AM watching Vine compilations and eating an entire jar of olives. Shouldn’t I give someone a chance to witness this and love me anyway? To accept me just the way I am. To remind me that restraining from eating my M&M’S isn’t an achievement, but a punishment. That enjoying what I want breaks an inter-generational curse.
Libby Doyne is a comedian, writer, clown, and poet based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published in Reductress, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, The Belladonna, and LGBT Monologues That Are Actually Funny. She performs regularly at the Upright Citizens Brigade and The Second City Hollywood. She has a pet rabbit named Juniper. Find her work at libbydoyne.com.
Through the surgical dissection of mass publications, Anna constructs new fantastical landscapes that question societal norms and ideals. Combining contradictory tastes and states, she recycles imagery originally produced to promote consumption, to instead promote reflection. Familiar imagery is built upon to highlight the unknown or undesired, inviting viewers to approach beliefs and standards in a new lens. Find her work at annarindos.com, or follow her on Instagram @annarindos