Katy Wix on her complex relationship with food growing up
Written by Katy Wix
Katy Wix’s new memoir is raw, profound and relatable. In it she opens up about food addiction, her binge eating recovery, fat shaming, her grieving process and the complications of loss, all with her trademark wit. Read an exclusive extract below.
The following is an extract Katy Wix’s memoir, Delicacy: A Memoir about Cake and Death. Here she recalls the beginnings of her complex relationship with diet culture and food shopping with her mum.
Warning: the following contains details about eating disorders and dieting that some readers might find upsetting.
The supermarket is a great place to practise wanting. You tie your school jumper tightly around your waist, so your tits stick out more. You walk past a shelf displaying lubes, on your way to the bread aisle, and act like you know what they are.
You pass a boy you like the look of, from the back, then spin around to see his face, front on, when you get to the end of the aisle, so that your long, dark cloak of hair will stream around you. You see a really fit boy in the cereal aisle. Unexpectedly catch sight of him again near the frozen ready-meals, and perhaps even risk eye contact. You continue to play peekaboo with him till you see him again at the checkout, when you get nervous and look away.
You stare at your mum, as she chats with the lady on the checkout. Feel grateful to be loved so much, by anyone, let alone someone like her, who is so expert in loving – despite the fact that you suspect she was badly loved herself. She strokes your arm, but you don’t respond and unload the shopping onto the conveyor belt as it moves forward.
You take care not to let the young cool couple behind you see what you are buying because you don’t want them to know personal information about you and a weekly shop is way too revealing. You don’t like the idea of this couple seeing your salad cream, your tampons or your first deodorant.
This is because you are a Pisces, but also because people knowing what you desire is embarrassing. You recall those TV shows where the presenter shows a family what they eat in a week, by displaying it all on a trestle table in their backyard, like a puppy having its nose rubbed in its own shit. You wonder if shaming people into changing ever works.
You get older. On results day, you will ask your university tutor if you got a first and when they say no, and think: “Well, it was still worth it because I made a lot of friends”. But you do wish you’d read more. You never fully know what you are studying towards and don’t trust your brain anyway. You wish you’d eaten more. You consumed only bananas, gin and small amounts of pasta with tomato sauce from a jar, the whole three years you were there. You are happy with a 2:1.
A boy in your hall of residence says to you one day, “You’re a lot more serious now you’re thin,” and you’ll say, “I know,” apologetically. But it feels more important to be thin than funny right now.
After you graduate, you’ll move back home and your mum will still drag you out of bed in your skunk-scented room, at 9am on a Saturday to go to Tesco with her. So there you are, your mum and you going up and down the same aisles, in the same order, just as you always have, except now you are 21. You notice how ugly the place is. You didn’t see it before.
You notice the women’s toilets has a new mural of a dandelion on one wall, which makes it look like it is growing out of a sanitary bin. The café is now a pale apple green, like a children’s hospital. The neon lights are the same, the servers look younger, the recycled air tastes the same, rowing couples, dead flies, stale scones – all the same.
You notice how Mum is dressed for the supermarket as if she were going into town. There is something glamorous about her that some of the other mothers didn’t have – you didn’t see that before either. She wears bright, bold printed dresses that she has probably sewn herself, gold dangly earrings, and her hair is home-dyed. She tries to teach you how to sew, over the years, but you’ll think it too gendered and too technical.
Following a pattern is hard. You’re scared of following all her patterns. You don’t like the sewing dummy that she keeps in the corner of her bedroom, because it’s headless and creepy and smells of lavender.
Standing by some mushrooms one day, you feel your whole body clench with sadness as you realise how much she gives and gives to others, cares for others, and doesn’t expect the same in return. You realise that you are probably trying to fulfil your parents’ unrealised creative dreams, and yet she demonstrates to you that womanhood equals martyrdom. It’s confusing.
Others won’t see her sadness, because she’ll put on a show. They’ll see only her charisma and self-assurance. Her longing will be subtly stitched into her lining, for only you to glimpse.
Now that your body has got used to hunger, you are thin. Women will show more interest in what you’re buying. Now you are thin, you enjoy putting unhealthy foods in the trolley, to show the world that you are not obsessed or starving, but that you are just normal, healthy and happy. In the same way that there is that trend of very thin actresses posing in pictures with junk food it was hard to believe they had actually eaten.
You’re tired. “We’re almost done,” Mum says. At the end of the bread aisle, there is a woman handing out free samples of cake. “Oh what a treat,” Mum says, popping the sample bite in her mouth. “Who doesn’t like cake?” the woman beams back.
The cakes come in a pink box. The packaging is confusing and patronising. No surprise, I suppose – products marketed at women are often quite patronising. It’s also like they are selling sex. The cake is about temptation, naughtiness and desire. The cakes also come in a special low-fat diet version, which is in a lighter-pink box, to suggest less vibrancy. The special diet cakes taste like biting into air.
Above the picture of the cake on the diet version there is a sort of halo, indicating controlled desire. This cake represents the cake you are not eating, the pleasure you are not taking, the life you are not living. All cakes should come in a plain brown box, like cigarettes, but marked ‘Cake’, and maybe what type of cake, but that’s it.
The shopping is done and everything has been stuffed away into the boot. You sit in the car and Mum pulls the diet cakes out of their light-pink box. The cake is broken into four pieces and placed on a tissue that she balances in her open hand. It is all so peaceful and cosy, except that you don’t want to exist.
You are thin. But you feel cheated and as though you have been lied to. You aren’t any happier. In fact you hate yourself more because now you are so empty and tired. You don’t have the energy for romance, you don’t feel small enough anyway despite what friends say, and the hunger keeps you adrenalised and awake at night. Being thin means nothing. Your internal experience of who you are hasn’t changed. The women’s mags told you the problem lay within you, not the world, that it wasn’t society that needed to change, it was you. They promised you a day when you would finally get the love you wanted and deserved if you could reach your goal weight.
It’s as if you have finished a game of pass-the-parcel that lasted for years, only to find no gift at the centre. A smaller body has little to do with intimacy, joy, pleasure, connection and power. All thinness gives you is a feeling of having a body that doesn’t stand out. You don’t trust the diet cake. Your taste buds still remember proper cake. You look out of the window at the sad, abandoned trolleys. You both stare ahead at the back of the supermarket building at whatever ad campaign they are running.
Mum complains that the women in the photos, all around the building, are all under 35, which doesn’t accurately reflect the true age of the average woman that shops there. You aren’t listening. “What’s wrong?” your mother asks you, noticing that you are distracted. There is a panicked feeling in your stomach and then you gradually speak: “I don’t know … I’m not really interested in life.” She frowns, studying the cake in her lap. The sentence feels much worse to say than you imagined. Dying was a fantasy, really. You just wanted certain parts of yourself to die. The important thing is – you have said it.
All those years you spent together, shopping for food, even though you complained, a part of you loved the relief of feeling mothered. For a moment, you could stop having to be a tough teenager, putting all that exhausting energy into image management and pretending to be harder than you were, more confident and more rebellious than you were. Being in Tesco with her, just for those few hours, meant being in no rush to grow up.
Delicacy: A Memoir about Cake and Death by Katy Wix, published by Headline is out now.
For information and help on eating disorders, visit Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity’s website.
Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at [email protected]
Images: Photo of Katy Wix by Faye Thomas, book cover via publisher
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