Hi, loves. 🌿
Dessert for all, please.
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There is cake everywhere here. The kid gets it three days a week for “little tea,” the snack she’s handed as she exits school. She comes sauntering up to me — backpack strapped to her, jacket flung open in the cold, hairdo falling apart — with a piece of it (or a cookie) in hand. It is on offer, for her, after lunch, too; after warm meals of fish and chips, Scottish pie (no clue), Shepherd’s pie. At our college, where we eat lunch and dinner, it is served every Tuesday and Thursday at 3pm. People line up for it. And we can have it every day after lunch and/or dinner. I finally went to the Tea Room in the library today, and there it was: Today’s Cake, some sort of cranberry pecan thing.
It seems to be a regular part of the routine, a little like tea itself. It is not an indulgence or an “earned” treat, not a reward, not a guilty pleasure (No one is better than Nigella on the absurdity of guilty pleasures.) People here, as far as I can tell, lead rather active lives: most ride bikes (even academics, even in the rain, even in the dark, even the kids) and because driving within Cambridge itself is impossible, people walk a lot, miles a day. And because of the cold and the rain, warm food, sweet food, feel not so much like a reward but a necessity. When I’ve walked 45 minutes in the rain to buy us some bread and peanut butter and milk, I damn well want my pudding!
This feels so wonderfully at odds with life in Los Angeles, where it is virtually impossible to clock 10,000 steps without setting out to do so, where diets or dietary restrictions are every which way you turn, where exercise is a constant source of discussion or trouble or shame (how to fit it in, what it’s doing, is it enough), where much of my pain — it turns out — comes from all that time lodged in the car, in some traffic or another. As obvious as it sounds, it is so much easier to simply be required to move one’s body in order to live.
I joked with friends before leaving the U.S. that I was going to return to my European weight. Of course every joke has some kernel of truth at its core and I was being sort of facetious and sort of serious. What would happen to my body if I asked it to work on a daily basis for me again? If, rather than thinking about restriction or obligation or counting this or that, I simply put on my boots, strapped on my own backpack, and used the damn thing constantly? The vain part of me — the part of me that lost most of the baby weight simply by lugging the stroller along Viennese cobblestones every single day for years — had fantasies of every last LA/Covid-era pound dissolving with the added steps. Of returning to my old body, my younger body; to the picture I have of myself as my right-looking self.
It seems to be working: my body, I mean. I don’t have a scale, so I can’t say a thing about weight loss and I sincerely doubt, at 45, that this is really happening. (It’s no longer so easy, especially when your allegiance is to cake.) But I will say that it feels good and it turns out that’s really what I care about. Feeling good, feeling used, feeling capable, feeling up to it. I love walking in the cold, I love getting out of the flat in my boots in weather of most kinds and just going somewhere. I am so relieved to be able to say, “that’s fine” when we miss the bus home from the train station and my husband asks if I can walk 45 minutes home on a dark trail cutting through town. I love then sitting down to a full meal and enjoying it. I love how every night our kid grabs a new dessert and we talk about whether it was better than the last. This is how I want to live in my body: actively, joyfully, and without restriction.
How boring is it to read about women and their weight? So boring, when do we ever outlive this?
Being here, in some ways, feels like it could have healing powers for me on this front, healing powers I didn’t even know I needed. It is one way of moving beyond all this talk of How I Look and Is It Different Than Before and Is It Okay and How Can I Make It Better/Thinner/Stronger, into a place of health, vitality and easy, regular movement — not exercise, not allegiance to a special diet, but just using the body as it’s meant to be, as I’m pretty sure I used mine before moving to the land of freeways, before I had to fit in exercise. It always seemed to be the first thing to fall off the over-scheduled schedule.
I know this is short-lived; that we will return to Los Angeles, and just like when we first arrived, I’ll struggle mightily with starting (and ending) every day in the car. I’ll figure out a way to live in that enormous city of freeways. But for now, I’m trying to relish all this time on my feet, the world accessible through something other than a car window, the mud under my boots, the sun barely shining.
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I love this, Abby! The ease of using the body to navigate your life. The way it should be. When I lived in Niger for three months in 2006, I suddenly lost 30 lbs. I was sure I had cancer. But it was actually just the walking. Walking everywhere, all the time, as part of life. Not intentional exercise, just what it took to navigate my day. It felt great. So happy that your body is serving you well, thriving. March on!
Love it. Thank you, Abby!
On a personal note: I'm huge. I've always been big, but it used to be mostly muscle with a little "complement" of fat here and there. I'm still muscular, but very fat now. I still get around with little issue (other than a mast cell and connective tissue disorders finding unique ways to eff with me in each season).
I prefer this lifestyle of walking everywhere, intentionally living car-free. I get it.
And with my various health issues, I learned at around 30 that trying to "look healthy" (translating to "be thin," according to many) was never achievable for me. *Feeling good* is what has to matter.
"This is how I want to live in my body: actively, joyfully, and without restriction." Amen.
As an aside: I live in Seattle. It's definitely not as quaint as Cambridge seems, but I love it and walk most of the time. The mild climate year-round helps, and I'd highly recommend checking out the city if LA doesn't have to be where you land.
I appreciate this post so much!