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Body Culture exhibition curated by Kerrie O'Connell
Group exhibition responding to research by Dr Emma Rich about children's body image and eating disorders
Bath Royal Science and Literacy Institution
I asked her to keep a record of everything she consumed for 7 days.
I've been meaning to write to you for a while but there were so many things to say that I couldn't sit down and start. So now I will try. The show in Bath opens on Friday and I am currently going through my notes. When I work with other people in this way I like to keep them anonymous, out of respect for them and what they have shared with me. With this food diary project, in allowing me access to all that you had consumed - such a banal thing yet so intimate - you had given me a gift. We have never met, yet you trusted me, and I am grateful for that.
It was a strange and interesting week. As I incorporated you into my body, I found myself feeling protective over you. I was projecting emotions onto you and imagining the life that you lead. At some point I started feeling sad - your sadness or mine I'm not sure. And I decided that you should be happy, and that I would do nice things during the week on your behalf. One day I ate lunch on a park bench in the sun so you could feel its warmth. On the Wednesday, a friend joined me for dinner (to share the 'burden' of drinking Glenfiddich and smoking, he kindly contributed some Malboros to the project) and we had a lovely evening, listening to music and talking. Another day, on Saturday, I met up with my ex-boyfriend in his lunch break to share a bottle of Prosecco. He only had 20 minutes, it was fun. Though he found me strange, said I had a different energy and wasn’t myself. He and I had stopped being a couple a while ago, yet he is still there for me when I need him. He was surprised that I should be so thankful, as though drinking Prosecco were a burden, he laughed. The night before I had been stood up by someone who had promised to meet me for the Indian meal that you had eaten - I ended up getting a takeaway and having it at home alone.
Food, love and sex are intricately bound for me, with their overlapping appetites and all the underlying control, trust and violation. This project was as much about me resisting you as it was about me embodying you – you the other woman, who is also me with all our apparent similarities. What were the rules to this game that I had created? How far could I impose my choices onto the menu that you had given me? I went grocery shopping, trying to find safe alternatives to some of the foods you had specified. Could I substitute dandelion coffee for real coffee, or sugar free biscuits for Fox’s? I decided it would be cheating but kept them in the back of the cupboard as reassurance. When suffering panic attacks in my early 20s, I went on an exclusion diet and became hypersensitive to everything. As my body and mood levelled, I was able to be more flexible with how I ate. I still avoid sugar and caffeine. On the first day of the food diary, I got a headache and felt so nauseous and upset that I didn’t think I’d be able to last the week. But my tolerance grew, as my moods peaked and troughed and I became accustomed to feeling lethargic and nervous. I slept heavily every night.
I have always had a strong aversion to cigarettes. During my week as a smoker, albeit the light smoker that you are, I started to understand the desire. Smoking out my apartment window in the evening looking at the night sky, or sitting in a park alone lighting a cigarette; those 5 minutes of calm solitude, followed by a nicotine high that left me floating. Almost all the people I have ever loved have been smokers. I miss the taste in my mouth.
Louise, I would like to ask how you feel about me using your name? It seems significant to me that I keep it – you are the woman from the story I sent you - but I want to make sure that you are comfortable with this? Today I put a copy of Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson in the post for you. In the meantime, here is a quote:
You are still the colour of my blood. You are my blood. When I look in the mirror it’s not my own face I see. Your body is twice. Once you once me.