In history class, we learned, a piece of social history meant to supplement the march of dates and legislation that took up most of our textbooks, that the generation who lived through Great Depression held on to expired cans of food and scarps of twine in case times should again require such complete efficiency. In a recent essay in The Atlantic, Arielle Bernstein points out something that had been bouncing around in my head for awhile:
[I]n order to feel comfortable throwing out all your old socks and handbags, you have to feel pretty confident that you can easily get new ones.
The same might be said for our relationship with any number of less material goods. Emotional or abstract things we hold onto, of course, but I’m thinking specifically of food.
I grew up and then taught high school in a wealthy suburb where anorexia was one of the most common struggles facing teenage girls. And, maybe because was an overweight kid who was then not an overweight kid, I spent a lot of time reading about eating disorders, trying to tame my magnetic fascination with what I knew I shouldn’t admit to finding admirable. When we had to pick a health class topic from a list of sexually transmitted diseases, addictions, and mental health issues, my cross country teammates and I reliably made posters about eating disorders. In one Lifetime movie that my best friend and I loved to watch, a pregnant bulimic woman used carrots as a “marker.” She’d eat a regular amount of foods, polishing it off with carrots, and then binge. Then, when she purged, the regurgitated carrots would be her signal to stop. It has been–eighteen?–years since I saw this movie, and I can still see the way that scene was composed.
Certainly the psychology of eating disorders is more complex than the rate of occurrence in affluent communities would suggest. As a college distance runner and then a cross country and track coach, I’ve known enough women for whom food is a fraught issue to understand that it’s not just about perfectionism or a history of abuse or the media or control anymore than it’s just about affluence.
Of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Bernstein writes:
But beneath some of the self-help-inspired platitudes about how personally enriched you’ll feel after you’ve discarded items you don’t need, there’s an underlying tone of judgment about the emotional wellbeing of those who submit to living in clutter. Those who live in KonMari homes are presented as being more disciplined: invulnerable to the throes of nostalgia, impervious to the temptation of looking back at something that provokes mixed feelings.
That those who refrain whose aesthic is marked by minimalism are, “[i]mpervious to the temptation,” “more disciplined” might just as well be said in the context of how we fill our bodies.