Birds do it. Bees do it. And if we’re continuing with that theme, even educated flees do it.
I do it. I eat alone.
Yes, in my head all of the above was sung to that tune.
Unlike falling in love, as Ella Fitzgerald puts it, eating alone does not seem to be something we all do. Eating alone requires a certain confidence; a balanced ego, if you will. Of course, if your ego is so large that you become insecure, which is normal so don’t be too worrisome if this is you, then you would never be seen eating alone. If you are this person, then your ego is dependent on what everyone else thinks of you and your sad salad bar creation with maybe some whole grain bread on the side.
There is also an alternative ego: your ego could be what I would like to think is well-sized, so that you are comfortable enough to eat alone without having to tell a passing friend, “Oh, I’m just reading quietly here, getting some ME time!” and push her away when in truth, you just had no one to sit with when you got to the place of eating, the home of said pathetic salad bar, and you’d rather stick with your story than admit your intentions were not solitude and loneliness from the start.
There is an art to eating alone, of course, no matter what size your ego decides to make itself on any day of the week. One must consider where he or she is eating (consider seating arrangements, location of place, type of eatery/cuisine), what he or she is eating, and what he or she is doing, if anything, while eating.
All rules can fly out the window if you decide to throw them there. My dad has two great stories from his high school years. Both involve vomit, but the more hysterical (and perhaps less disgusting) of the two is when he was driving his ‘Stang (hell yeah daddio) and his inebriated friend was riding shotgun, who proceeded to roll down the passenger window and vomit out onto one of the great highways of central Jersey as my father continued driving at 70 miles per hour.
In this fashion, you can throw the etiquette of eating alone out the window.
To do that, though, you must be truly confident, like the tired, middle aged people on lunch break with not a brain cell to spare for catching up on Instagram or reading the Times. Instead, these people eat alone, like so alone that his or her phone is not in plain sight, and they look out the window and make me think, wow, is this my New York life in ten to twenty years?
These people are the exception, though, because they don’t care about eating alone because they don’t think about eating alone. They just eat.
If you are a college freshman, though, you think and care about eating alone. You think and care about eating alone so much that you have group chats with eight girls in them and your conversations, maybe even your friendships, are built from the foundation of sharing meals, eating at the same times, and not being together but rather just not being alone.
To avoid eating alone at any stage of life, one might get “to-go” or “take out” and eat at his or her desk. Whenever I try to do this, whether it’s to save time or to avoid eating alone, I can never actually work and eat simultaneously. I have discovered that it is a lot more comfortable to eat in a place of eating, where you can chew freely, and if I’m going to be catching up on Instagram for those fifteen or twenty minutes regardless of where I am, I may as well eat alone.
So, I do. I eat alone.
I’m not the best at it, though. I usually spend my time on my phone, or writing emails between bites. Once in a while, however, I have no shame. I get quality, one-on-one time with Dinner or Lunch, who become proper nouns when your friends with real names are not dining with you, and I just look at my food and think about chewing like the French nutritionists tell us to do.
In the city, I can eat alone anywhere at any time and feel okay. In suburbia, however, I cannot do that. This could be for a few reasons: I am still afraid of half of the people I went to high school with and their judgments; the odds of me running into someone I know, even a mother, at an eatery is too high, and our conversation would ruin the point of eating alone; when I am in suburbia I usually spend most of my free time catching up with people, and the best way to do that is over a meal (arguably because it is a good way to avoid eating alone); people are in less of a rush, restaurants are in less of a rush, there are less places for counter service, less people to people-watch; this leads to everything becoming awkward.
I want to say that eating alone is eating alone, so if I can do it in the city I can do it in a small, Jewish suburb of the city. But then I remember that eating alone, like the math from AP Calculus I have very much forgotten, depends on its factors, as previously stated; it is not an independent variable. Math people: did I do that right?
I have no problem eating alone when I’m alone, if that makes sense. I don’t get self-conscious. I’ll face the world solo with my fork and knife — and teaspoon, if I’m feeling dessert — even in peak hours of eating.
Do you? Would you? Did you? Don’t do? Should you? LMK. Asking for a friend.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about Selena Gomez.
A few months ago, I noticed that she was looking a little different. She, it seemed, had gotten slightly larger.
Selena Gomez has always been a long lean lanky stick. Like a literal branch that had fallen from a tree. In Wizards of Waverly Place her Free People shirts would just hang on her. And I know she wore a lot of Free People because we had the same six to eight articles of Free People clothing that we both seemed to have repeatedly worn to school in only a way Lizzie McGuire would on her graduation day.
I usually am hyperaware of these things–famous people gaining weight, which is admittedly not a good habit of mine whatsoever but I’ll admit it nonetheless–so I figured I was just being crazy and Selena was just being a normal person.
Then, a month or two went by, and Selena stayed the same. A little “fuller.” Certainly, certainly not “fat.” But healthy.
And then the headlines started. The first one I saw read, “Selena Gomez Shows Off Her Curves in Polka-Dot Bikini After Facing Criticism from Body Shamers.” The second one read, “Selena Gomez ‘Is In a Really Great Place,’ Not Bothered by Body Shamers.” That one went up on the same publication less than 24 hours after the first headline.
Here are some memorable lines from the articles:
“Selena Gomez couldn’t care less what you think of her curves.”
And from another publication: “Looking good, Selena!”
“Taking a dip in the ocean, the 22-year-old “I Want You to Know” singer looked healthy as she enjoyed her day on the beach with a couple of gal pals.”
I thought a lot about what I was seeing but never criticizing, and how it was confirmed by my Facebook news feed. And I started to wonder why we, or the media we feed and consume, have made backhanded body-shaming the new black. Think about it: it used to be all about who’s gaining weight. I mean, it’s still about gaining weight, but it used to be OUT THERE. I think for a solid five years in the earlier 2000s all I did was read about Kirstie Alley and her experiences on Jenny Craig. Now, it’s “in” to write about the body-shaming stars endure and then show how they ward off the evil spirits by going to the beach and still wearing a bikini.
Well, have you ever thought that a celebrity’s life mission isn’t to put their haters to rest, but is instead to live a normal happy life, which may involve going to the beach, especially if you live in California and/or have a lot of money like most celebrities do?
Then came Selena’s Instagrams. First, one captioned with, “I love being happy with me yall #theresmoretolove” and another, from just a few days ago, captioned, “Soul cycle aftermath. I. Want. Tacos.”
Holy shit, I thought. She’s playing into it.
I could have been totally wrong, but I saw a weird game of tic-tac-toe going on. She media is insisting that Selena is fucking the haters by wearing a bikini. Now, Selena has decided to play that role–the role of the young celebrity who doesn’t let the body-shamers bring her down, the celebrity who is real and likes SoulCycle but also tacos, too, goddamnit.
What I’m really thinking, though, is that this new thing is probably just Selena’s natural body. You know, the body she has when she isn’t working out for two and a half hours every day and isn’t on a diet regimented by Gwyneth Paltrow. Doctors, nutritionists, moms, EVERYONE talks about the idea of a “natural body” that you have, which is going to be different from everyone else’s, and is the way your body looks when you are treating it just right with *balance*. It reminds me of the two year period where suddenly, all of my friends from all walks of life became a little thicker, or a little wider. No one got “fat,” but we all just started to have “womanly” bodies. We traded lanky limbs for looking like actual humans. It’s a part of growing up.
The problem with all of this is that it’s really kind of difficult to come to a place where you genuinely love that natural body and are happy in it all of the time. It’s a million gazillion times more difficult to do that if you’re famous. The odds that Selena Gomez has gotten to that place, as someone who is currently 22 and has been famous since she and Demi were on Barney, are slim.
The tabloids patting her on the back? Not saying her body looks great, but saying she’s shutting out the haters… that all just draws more unwanted attention to the issue. This makes her think about it more. That makes her accept her body less. Because if it was totally normal, wouldn’t we be not talking about it at all?
It’s like how sometimes, friends tell me, “You have such a unique body, Han!” or “You really are able to work your body.” That’s like saying, “You aren’t super skinny and you don’t have the ‘in’ body shape right now [that’s basically to be so thin you don’t exist] but you still look great!”
So for a while, I let this train of thought convince me that my body was so unique, but in a bad way–in a way that I had no one to relate to, boob to boob, butt to butt–so I would get obsessive about it and spend a lot of time comparing myself to other people just to see if there was someone else like me out there. That way, I would really know how to work it. I would know what to wear. I would know how to make boys think I was a *dimepiece*, though I doubt in reality I actually want to be one.
I loved finding famous people with my body. It doesn’t happen often. I’d like to think I have the body of Scarlett Johansson, which you’ll know isn’t true within watching the first five minutes of Lost in Translation. A personal trainer once told me that I have the Kim Kardashian/J. Lo shape, which made me happy for a few weeks. But, like always, insecurity creeps back.
Things this experience taught me:
Stars aren’t all magically thin. I used to think that being naturally skinny was a requirement for being famous, and that I could never be famous because I don’t have long legs. I used to wonder if it was sheer coincidence that celebrities are all skinny people. I spent so much of my own life trying to look a way I’m not that I couldn’t process how people who aren’t meant to look like that do, and how they become famous.
Selena Gomez weirdly reminded me that stars are humans, and their weight, like mine, fluctuates, and they probably work too hard to be in the shape they’re expected to be in.
But I didn’t need all of this media attention to tell me that. Really, I came to that conclusion when I saw the first Instagram of her, 12 weeks ago, and wondered–
Hmmm, has Selena gained a little weight? Or is it just me?
Image via my homeslice @SelenaGomez
Last week, I watched Danny Kahneman’s TED talk on “the riddle of experience vs. memory.” Though Kahneman is a sixty-something man with a cute accent and not a 20-year-old girl who’s been regrammed by @Infatuation, he spoke on a topic to which we can all, almost undoubtedly, relate.
Experience vs. memory is a way of measuring our happiness: are you happy in your life, or are you happy about your life? If you read that sentence again and think about it really hard, I promise you’ll notice a difference between the two clauses. It’s there. I promise.
Kahneman argues that we make decisions about what we want to do and what we want to do again based on how we think we’ll remember something. I’ll put it in 21st century terms: we decide what we want to do “for the Instagram” and not because we actually want to do it.
I did some research and it turns out that Kahneman is an 81-year-old Israeli psychologist who got his bachelor’s degree in 1954 from Hebrew University. That is just a few years before the creation of Instagram and Facebook, FYI. Sooo, it seems that not much has changed over time. This could be really amazing for us but really sad for all humans and huwomans: it looks like our vice isn’t our addiction to social media nor is it our narcissistic self-expression, but it is our skewed perception of happiness.
I’ve always had this theory that memory is the best quality to have. This is because I’ve had too many encounters where I don’t remember someone’s name, or even worse, I just don’t remember anything at all and have to ask stupid questions that make me sound unintelligent (including but not limited to: state capitals; telling the difference between continents, countries, and regions; stuff about wine). As I age, there seems to be nothing more impressive or useful than remembering people’s names and remembering stuff about wine. It just makes you more likable.
Hence, the experience vs. memory extravaganza was no surprise to me. Obviously, memory is important to us. It probably should be. But maybe we’re doing it just a little bit wrong. We’re obsessed with memory in a way that we think might make us happier but, in the long run, may not.
Actually, I take half of that back. I might have been lying depending on who you are. If you believe that you will be genuinely happier through commemoration, by posting a photo of it to social media, then you might be. That also means that you just value your happiness in memory more than you value your happiness while actually doing something. Sure, the Instagram was great, but your ego may have been better boosted (and your happiness might have increased) if you didn’t eat that delicious brownie ice cream sundae after your meal of pasta and pizza and red wine at a fancy shmancy Italian restaurant. Now you’re nauseas, you can’t stop asking your mom if you look fat, and all you’ve got is 116 likes on Instagram. You’re lucky it was a brownie sundae; my research tells me that ice cream sundaes minus the brownie have an average of 20 to 26 less likes.
What if you absolutely hate skiing but you went with your friends anyway because you were afraid of FOMO and not posting in Instagram in over two weeks? Would you be happy?
Memory is weird. You might really be enjoying an experience, like eating pasta and pizza for days, until something bad happens at the end of it, like lets say you get really bad diarrhea because uh-oh you forgot to take your Lactaid pills. You are programmed to essentially forget all about the amazing meal and how happy every bite made you and instead promise to never consume dairy again. Gluten, though, we can still work with.
There is a difference between experience and memory and our generation is one that favors memory over all. We do things for the sake of remembering them later. And it extends farther than just our inability to be in the present. At the end of the day, or at the end of your Snapstory, it’s about the fact that memory can be shared, and experience, typically, cannot. You can’t make someone jealous about something they weren’t present for unless you drag them into the past with you.
So I guess what makes us happy is social affirmation. You know what they say: an experience isn’t worth it unless someone else expressed some form of offensive or complimentary jealousy! Right?? …Right?