The server threw me a questioning look as he observed my half-full plate.
“Was everything okay with your meal, miss?”
“Yes, it’s fine. I’ll just take a box please.”
“Oh, you can eat more than that! You barely touched it!”
I glanced down at my plate, then my stomach. I’d stuffed all that would fit in the compartment.
“Hahaha, no really you can take it,” I said, pushing the plate further away from me.
“Okay,” he relented, his tone skeptical as he reviewed the remains of my dish.
Surely he didn’t expect me to eat that whole gargantuan plate of food!
Unless it’s at a place of fine dining and serious dollar-mining with portions so small you wonder if the kitchen is rationing food, I almost never finish an entire entree when I dine out. It’s not because I have birdlike eating habits.
It’s no secret that American restaurants serve gigantic plates full of enough food to feed you for multiple meals. Unfortunately, instead of eating such generous portions over the span of several meals, for many the inclination is to consume the entire dish. This is on top of whatever else they’ve eaten that day. That’s a hell of a lot of food! Restaurant serving sizes have grown many times over what they were decades ago.
Save for half-order lunch options, restaurants don’t usually serve select-a-size meal portions. I’m 5’1″ (and 3/4!); I’m a petite woman. When I order an entrée, I receive the same servings as everyone else who orders the same menu item, including say, a 6’4″ 200-lb man. Between me and a man of that height and weight, one of us requires far more daily calories to function than the other. Yet, we’re given the same amount of food. If, on a consistent basis, I ingested the same quantity of food as that man, eventually I probably wouldn’t be able to leave my home. I’d be a candidate for my own show on TLC, broadcast from my bed where I am laid up like a blown-up Tootsie Roll ready to pop.
I don’t do diets. I’ve tried my fair share of fad diets in the past: don’t eat carbs; eat more fat; drink spicy lemon water; chocolate shakes; strawberry shakes; vitamin supplements; starve and smile bitterly through your hunger pangs as delicious culinary scents waft under your nose.
None of that crap worked for me long-term, if at all.
I’ve comfortably settled upon portion control, with an emphasis on healthier options, as my choice of “diet.” It allows me to eat what I like in moderation. This way there are no happy rice grains and pasta strands high-kicking their way through my dreams taunting me, “You know you waaaaant us, you know you liiiiike us.” No staring at the clock, eagerly anticipating the time for the next meal. No deprivation. No calorie counting. No boring people with talk about my dietary habits.
I know it’s radical and revolutionary, but combined with regular exercise, this method works well for me and keeps me in good shape.
At brunch in Houston a few years ago, I ordered a side of bacon to accompany my stack of cakes.
“Do you want four slices or eight, darlin’?”
Four or EIGHT? Those are my options? I just want two slices of bacon! Two!
I opted for the four slices of bacon and pawned two off on my sister. Let’s be real: it’s not hard to get rid of bacon in our pig-lovin’ society.
The pancakes arrived, an imposing tower of spongy starch. I dug in, brushing aside my initial intimidation at the sight of the mammoth heap, slowly savoring each bite. The only way I’d inhale the whole mound is if an Amazing Race win was on the line. Thank goodness for takeout boxes.
It’s something I’ve heard often, that I’m a good listener. It’s probably the trait of which I’m most proud. Who doesn’t want someone to listen to them? Who doesn’t want to be heard? You can change the tone of a conversation or an argument just by letting the other person know that you are listening to them and reflecting listening behavior.
I value strong listening skills because too often I have felt like I have no one to talk to who will really listen. My closest friend tend to be those also described by as others as good listeners. By good listener, I mean, if sharing a story, they don’t interrupt to tell you their own story; clearly engaged in conversation such that their eyes meet yours, they nod in comprehension, their expressions change to reflect the intake of narrative. If you have a problem, they listen and offer support in the way that you need it, rather than tell you what they would do if they were you or what they think you should be doing. If you say something hurts your feelings, they don’t invalidate your expression of emotion by asking, “Why are you so upset by this?” or dismissively comment, “Maybe you’re being a little sensitive?”
Sensitive. That word. I’ve long hated that word. It rarely seemingly used in a complimentary way, especially when directed at women. Sensitive people or expressions of sensitivity are sometimes viewed as weak, emotional or neurotic. The US is a society that applauds typically masculine traits and too often derides more feminine traits, such as sensitivity, so it’s no wonder many, including myself, consider it insulting to be told they are sensitive or even worse, “too sensitive.”
This past spring, I participated in a past-life regression session with a friend of mine who does past-life regression therapy for a living. Her goal is to help people move past the trauma holding them back in their current lives, by uncovering the source of the pain, which is sometimes rooted in past lives.
We were bridesmaids together last year and I met her for the first time not too long before all the bridesmaids planned the bridal shower together. We bonded during the bachelorette party as we discussed everything from the significance of Jason Collins coming out to the potentially dicey topic of religion.
Something about her makes me feel like I can trust her with the kinds of secrets & vulnerabilities we hold nearest to ourselves for fear of being exposed for who we really are or who we fear people will think we and have our vulnerability used to hurt us, tortured by our own Kryptonite. When she offered to do a regression for me the next time I was in Los Angeles, but warned me it could get pretty emotional and raw, I had absolutely no qualms about taking her up on the offer.
Prior to beginning the hypnosis part of the session, she asked me a series of questions to assess my susceptibility to reaching a deep meditative state. She asked me if I am more of a visual or auditory processor and while I always thought of myself as more of an auditory processor, she helped me realize just how much I “see” life as a series of stories, images, themes and patterns.
The entire experience was incredibly intense and emotional, as promised. She said to me, “You have a sense about why people do the things they do and you see things in the world in a way that only a small number of people do. It can be isolating.” Even though I was in a “hypnotic” state, I could still comprehend her words and respond to her. She finished with, “It’s probably why you can get upset with people easily, because you see things they may not even be aware of and it frustrates you.” She’d practically reached into the depths of my past, unwrapped a box I had stashed way deep down, and seen a part of me I usually protect, hiding for so long I don’t even think about it.
“You exist on a different ‘plane’ than many people. Not that one plane is better than another, they are just different. You probably feel like an outsider sometimes. Even in your family; like no one understands you. It’s probably why you live so far away from them. You wanted to find where you belonged.” Girl, yes! Like it’s not enough that I’m a short, black, left-handed, female living in an America that prefers tall, white, right-handed males, I am even the weirdo in my own family.
So wait, I’m not weird? Why has no one ever told me this?
What she said really stuck with me. I began reading up on visual processing which led me to a series of links about a book named The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron. Of the book, a Marie Claire article shares:
…what all HSPs share is an uncommon ability to pick up on subtleties that others might miss — a look, a feeling, a message embedded in a seemingly straightforward statement. “It’s like they’re wearing an extra pair of glasses,” she says.
This sensitivity I’ve been beating myself up over for so long is actually much of what makes me who I am and there’s a lot of meaning in that one word. Being sensitive means:
1. I Hate to See Others in Emotional Distress
Last December, on my way out of the office with my boss and co-worker to have drinks before our holiday party, I noticed another co-worker dressed up and ready to go, but solo. I asked her if she had plans to get to the party and when she said “No,” I invited her to join us. My boss looked at me with a bit of wonderment and commented, “Keisha, that was so nice of you. So many people would have just left and not said anything.” Exactly. So many people do do that and miss out on opportunities to reach out to others. I’ve done that. I’ve also been in situations where I’ve felt alone or passed by as though I were invisible, whether intentional or not. It sucks. I didn’t ask her to join us because I felt pity or because I wanted to feel like martyr, I did it because she’s always been polite to me and I hate to see anyone alone if they don’t need or desire it. We’re human beings. We are social animals, whether some of us care to admit to it or not, and we seek acceptance and welcoming by others.
2. I am a Loyal Friend
If I decide I care about you, you can expect I’ll throw down for you, without question. I’ve been in three fights in my life that got physical (once with beer) and two of those times were in defense of a friend being picked on by an asshole (whom I am often good at spotting). The third time was a stupid fight with my sister, M, when we were in middle school, over whether you had to have seen Halloween III to understand Halloween 4. I don’t remember who won, but my mom came home in horror and put a stop to the fisticuffs. We were dumb.
3. I Can Smell Bullshit
You’ve heard the phrase, “Never bullshit a bullshitter”? Well, I have a very vivid imagination and know how to spin a tale and I can hear when someone is trying to sell me a baggie of crap. I can spot a bullshitter with ease.
4. I Love Animals
I got my first dog at five. I had him for one whole weekend and then he disappeared. My dad claimed she got sick or something, but I think he didn’t like that the puppy pooped on the floor and sent him back where he came from. Some of my friends laugh when I say I want to have a ranch one day with some of my favorite animals. Giggle all you want, but I will have an alpaca buddy one day. For now, I have the two kitties and not-so-secretly hope to meet an eligible suitor with a lovable dog.
5. I am Sensitive to the Moods of Other People
I have to protect myself from situations and people who are energy vampires or carry too much negative energy because I absorb it without intention. Last week at work, I had to leave a very heated meeting – one of the top 3 most painful meetings I’ve ever sat through in my entire worklife – because people were tense, argumentative, confrontational discontent, and frustrated with each other. Like a fucked up family dinner with no food and no alcohol for maximum suffering. Each unhappy sentence rolling off tongues felt like being hit with repeated soft blows by invisible balled up fists of bad energy. The minute I left the room, two-thirds of the way through this hour and forty minute torture session, and took a walk around the building, I felt better, freed from the emotions contained and simmering in that hot conference room.
6. Sometimes People Think I’m Psychic
When a guy I dated broke things off with me a few summers ago, I told a friend of mine, “He is going to marry the woman he dates after me.” My friend looked at me doubtfully, attributing my words to post-break up grief, I imagine, “How can you know that?” Sure enough, less than a year later, he was engaged to the woman he dated after me and they are now married. I just knew. The signs were there. I’m not psychic. I just saw the cues.
I’m rarely surprised anymore when someone I work with announces they’re leaving. The signals are almost always there, some people just notice them more than or before others. I am one of those people.
I’ve many a time been called perceptive and insightful and less frequently had people jokingly ask me if I’m psychic. I’m often not consciously looking for signals, but the patterns are there in the world, you look and listen for them.
7. I’m Conscientious
I’ve been told I’m polite and at times in frustration, I’ve had people tell me I’m too polite. I treat people the way I wish to be treated. My conscientiousness is the result of a couple of things. I have a mother who went to charm school growing up and thus taught her daughters how to be “charming.” Secondly, I simply believe in being considerate of others. That seems to mean a hyper-awareness of social observances that other people may not have. Boy do I get pissed in the BART station when some people don’t notice that everyone else is standing on THE RIGHT SIDE of the escalator, and you are the only clueless boob standing on the left, blocking the flow of stairclimbers. It initially strikes me as a rude move by someone who isn’t thinking of others, and I can’t stand when people are inconsiderate. Get some home training! However, as I am often reminded in life’s mysterious ways, not everyone thinks the way I do about manners and consideration and I have to demonstrate patience and give others the benefit of the doubt. Else, I risk spending too much time being too through with people for not behaving as I think they should. Life is too short for that.
8. I’ll Pass On The Violence
The older I get the less I am able to withstand images of violence or people in pain. Once, while trying to decide what to watch on TV with an ex-boyfriend, he landed on a documentary about the Holocaust.
“I can’t watch this,” I said.
“What? Why? This is important.”
“I know that. Trust me, I’ve done plenty of reading and watching about the Holocaust. Horrifying images are seared in my head. Joseph Goebbels is a disgusting human being and obviously Hitler should burn in 80 million hells. But, it’s going to make me really emotional to watch this. I just can’t. I’ll start crying and it’ll be a mess.” I could barely keep it together during the opening scenes of Up.It’s for that reason that I still haven’t seen Schindler’s List, even though I know it’s a highly lauded and important film. I visited the Anne Frank house when I was in Amsterdam and I had to take a seat. It was too real. I recovered at a “café.”
9. I Love Beautiful Things
When I went to Paris almost five years ago, I fell in love with Picasso at the Pompidou Museum. I understood what the fuss was about. His art drew me in and that trip to Paris will always be linked in my mind with my discovery of Picasso and a new perspective on art. A lovely and romantic experience in a Paris museum, just me and Picasso.
I also see beauty in different ways, not only in classic or tangible aesthetics. My youngest sister graduated from college a couple of weeks ago. Her area of study is largely majored in by women. The graduates comprised of a plurality of ethnic groups including black, Latino, white and Asian students. Women, graduating by the hundreds. Women, who less than 100 years ago, couldn’t vote in this country. Women, who less than 50 years ago were barely accepted in the workplace. Black men and women whose enslaved ancestors only could dream about the freedom to study in a school, alongside people of different colors and graduate with a college degree. Individuals whose families may have struggled to reach the point where they could send someone to college. I imagined the ghosts of our ancestors sitting alongside their family in the audience, beaming with pride. In that moment I really felt the weight of the meaning of my bachelor’s degree for the first time since I earned it over a decade ago. That’s beauty.
10. My Sensitivity Isn’t Always Appreciated
I’ve had people tell me my thoughts are too intense or that I ask too many “serious” questions. At times it’s resulted in my retreating, reluctant to express my thoughts. A feeling of, “Don’t get too deep. Play dumb and light to get along well with others.” Again, that’s isolating, there’s a feeling of being unable to express your true self lest your observations or theoretical questions are met with a blank stare and a slow, “Uh…yeah, that’s interesting. What made you even think of that [weirdo]?”
More and more studies emerge suggesting that having high emotional intelligence, which is linked to sensitive traits like self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy, makes for stronger leaders. Sensitivity is being rebranded.
Being sensitive doesn’t have to mean being neurotic, weak, dramatic or soft. If you’re sensitive, embrace it; you’re normal and it’s okay. If you know someone who is sensitive, appreciate what they have to offer, perhaps they’ll help you see the world through a different lens.
I don’t know if I’m one of those “highly sensitive people”. I don’t feel the need to label myself with yet another adjective. What I am though is someone who can be sensitive and I choose to see that as a positive trait and not something to hide in shame. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, being who I am.
I’ve been thinking about my weight since I was 13.
One day I ate everything I wanted with abandon and the next, the size of my thighs were cause for angst.
Thirteen is about when I started working out. My mom had a catalog of Jane Fonda videos from the 80s and I was Jane Fonda’s devoted follower. Those videos work!Jane still looks hot today. It’s unreal. I also became a fan of Joyce Vedral and her fat-burning workout. I thank her to this day for my interest in being fit and toned.
Once, upon being presented with “soaked in the deep fryer” chicken for dinner, I whined to my parents with dramatic horror:
Fried chicken?! Oh.my.God. Do you know how much fat and salt is in that, mother?!
(I learned from watching white teens on TV that if you are angry with your parents you refer to them – with the disgust only a teen can muster – as “mother” and “father”. See: Brenda Walsh). My mom would reply with something like: “You don’t like it, you can get a job! Sit your butt down at this table. I don’t have time for this. And do not take the Lord’s name in vain.”
“Mo-ther! I am not eating this!”
In college I gained the “Freshman 15.”
I’m short, so even an extra five lbs becomes noticeable. That first year, I steadily free-fed on dorm food – bovine-style. My frequent meal-buddy and I would even stow away bread rolls and whatever else we could easily hide for later consumption. It felt deliciously decadent to have dessert with every meal. Then, the summer after my freshman year, I looked at myself in the mirror one day and my rounder image horrified me. My face was fat(ish), like a burnt chipmunk. I was wearing a crop top with a fat roll muffining its way out. Who was this schlub?! Well it had to stop.
I went on a superdiet.
I greatly reduced my caloric intake and worked out like I was training for The Olympics. My weight quickly came down, and down, and down, until I looked like a chocolate Tootsie Roll pop. I’d gone too far. I lost my butt. As the ever-wise Lil Wayne says about women with no ass: “You ain’t got shit.” Or as his labelmate, Tyga raps: “If you ain’t got no ass, bitch, wear a poncho.” When the ass goes, you’ve overdone it and misogynistic men won’t give you a second glance. What will you do with your life then?
The problem is that even though I was too thin, I received a lot of compliments about my size: from men (“hey baby!”) and women (“please share your secret!”) alike. I learned: skinny = validation.
When I graduated college I was ill-prepared for the shock of the real world. I went from constant partying studying and working, to what seemed like days and days of endless, routine boredom. I came to understand that this is called “working for a living.” The novelty of ordering office supplies for my desk quickly wore off and the reality of working in corporate America set in: this shit is boring.
So, I ate and my weight crept up.
One evening I went out with my roommates for a much needed bout of drinking and dancing. While walking into one of San Jose’s “clubs” (the city was boring as all hell) I bumped into a cute, slender Asian girl about my height. Having already thrown back a few, I gushed to her: “You’re so cute. You must be a size three. I used to be a size three.” She looked me over – I was probably no bigger than a size six – and with her voice dripping in bubbly judgement replied:
What happened to you?!
Her reaction stunned and hurt me. It also saddened me that a size six is considered worthy of disgust. I should have been fine with my size. I was healthy and within the right range for my height. But, by this point, my body image was so distorted, I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I also wasn’t getting the skinny validation I’d gotten in the past.
Then followed an intense battle between my body, my mind and my other mind.
My body insisted on stowing away fat for the winter that never comes in my part of California. My mind wanted to eat everything in sight to soothe my boredom and loneliness. My other mind wanted to be thin.
I started bingeing and purging. I’d go crazy eating cookies, chips and soda in one sitting, feel ill and disgusted with myself, and then run to the bathroom to throw it up. I only did this for a short time. It’s not effective and it’s too much damn work. Do you know how much work it takes to stick your fingers down your throat and force yourself to vomit? Who has the time? People are starving all over the world and I’m eyeing food with a mix of lust and hatred. It’s also bad for your teeth and I like my teeth. Not to mention, if anyone catches you in public, you have to explain why your feet are facing the wrong way in the bathroom stall. Either you are barfing or you have a secret penis. My dance with bulimia ended within a couple of weeks, never to be revisited again.
A few years later, I was in Los Angeles. I’d started dating an actor (warning: don’t do it). He said to me one day while we were phone-flirting:
You got some thick thighs, I like that.
Well, I sure as hell didn’t like that! Thick?! Why the hell had I been going to the gym?! He meant it as a compliment, but I took it as a reason to go annihilate myself at Bally’s. I replied with a hesitant “Uh, thanks.” That relationship crashed and burned miserably (I said not to date an actor).
Another couple of years later, I’d worked my weight down to my “normal” (for me) size. I went to visit my feisty grandma. She took one look at me and said matter-of-factly “Keisha, you’re too thin. Men like women with a little extra padding.” I’ve heard more than enough times from others that men like more “cushion for the pushin’”. Grandma knows. My grandma is no “oh my, golly gee, let me bake you some cookies” granny. She tells it like it is, she keeps it real and you can bake your own damn cookies. I laughed and told her how awesome she is.
Then I got into a serious long-term relationship.
For at least a year, I maintained my weight. Boyfriend liked my body and the “thick” thighs were just the right size. Then came year two. Happily in love, I spent less time at the gym and more time, well…none of your business. By year three, I’d grown faaat. I mean, actually fat. I was clinically overweight. I had never weighed so much in my life. I comforted myself with the thought: boyfriend will still love me anyway, right? But, I didn’t love me.
I had to buy a whole new wardrobe. Not only did I feel bad about how I looked, I felt bad physically. My body wasn’t used to carrying so much extra weight. I didn’t know how to dress for my new size. What looked good on me? So, I tried to lose weight. Then boyfriend and I broke up. That was the kick in the pants I needed to get my fat ass back in the gym. It’s the depression weight loss plan.
I couldn’t shake the weight, no matter what I did. I figured it was because I was nearing that age where people say your metabolism slows. Since, I was also having problems sleeping and breathing properly, I visited a specialist to check things out. He said to me,
“You’re too heavy! That’s why you can’t sleep.”
That was his expensive doctorly wisdom: you are a fat bitch. Well, fuck you very much doctor dickhead. The issue did turn out to be medical and once pinpointed, the weight started to come off. I’ve been able to maintain a reasonable weight (for me) since then.
I straddle two worlds: one black and one mainstream.
In the “black world” depending on who you ask, I am either “just right” or “too thin”. One of my younger sisters is very slender. She once had a black boyfriend tell her she was too skinny and that she needed to start eating some cornbread. I marveled at this. A free pass to pig out on cornbread? I’m sold! Does he have an older brother?
In the “white” or “mainstream” world, the view of what constitutes thin has shrunken over time. In Los Angeles, some women probably think I’m “big.” To those types, if you’re larger than a size two, you’re a tub o’ Crisco.
I would love to say that I no longer care. That I don’t think about my weight and that I don’t have days when I just want to say “Fuck it all, I’m going to eat some motherbleepin’ ice cream and then a big ol’ tub of movie popcorn and be fat and happy!” But, that’s not the case. However, after several low-carb diets, starvation diets, weird heart patient lemonades, and flirting with bulimia, I’ve learned to allow myself to enjoy food. I can eat well and be healthy. I’ve also learned to appreciate my womanly figure, including the “thick thighs”, and pay less attention to my clothing size.
What happened to the days when women with a little bit of belly fat were thought of as gorgeous? Can we go back to that? To the figurative days when having extra pounds meant you were fortunate enough to have plenty of food to eat? We aren’t meant to starve ourselves into stick figures. Life is meant to be lived and food is part of living (and too damn good to be chucking in the toilet). So, live, eat, and love your body!
I'm Keisha ("Kee-shuh", not to be confused with Ke$ha). I am a (later) thirty-something, non-mommy, non-wife, who lives in San Francisco, California New York and has lots of opinions on lots of things.