SUSAN ZELOUF works up an appetite, but for what?
I don’t need to step on a scale to know I’ve gained weight. Nothing fits, not even the accessories I’ve amassed, unable to face the changing room. Rings and shoes bite, and I wear shapewear to bed, refusing to sprawl, despite the squeeze and pinch. Like Edina in Absolutely Fabulous, “Just once I want to take my clothes off and not be marked by them.”
Five sexy years living in Italy taught me to play up my best features and disavow the rest, seduction by distraction. I interpreted the Mediterranean diet loosely: your body will tell you what it wants. Mine hankered for fruit and veg (in season and sourced locally), big Tuscan reds and free-range ragazzi: Fabio, Maurizio, Giancarlo-oh oh oh! I grazed, sampled, indulged, enjoyed what I ordered, on and off the menu. I didn’t worry about filling out my bra; as a screenwriter, my life was full and rich and varied and abundant. There’s a subtle distinction between going wild and being reckless – the former behaviour nourishes, the latter, at worst, leaves blood on the floor; you’re ravenous, but what do you truly, madly, deeply want?
A game I play with myself, and an opening gambit any decent Life Coach would propose to a stuck new client: you wake up with a couple million in the bank. Now, what do you do with your life? Sounds like a no-brainer, but consider the options! Taking the necessity to earn a crust off the menu, the world our oyster, we are faced with endless choice: which cake will I choose, what flavour gelato, would I like chicken or fish, should I have an appetiser or sides, a Pink Lady or Porn Star Martini, or both? Freed from the daily grind, we’d be faced with identifying our fondest dream, and living it.
In her new documentary Generation Wealth, Lauren Greenfield examines our cultural obsession with being rich and famous (and young and beautiful) and “popular culture’s embrace of bling and image over substance”, in which “we never feel like we have enough or are enough”. In an article for The Daily Beast, Greenfield cites Florian Homm, and what he calls a “toxic dream”, when even work and the pursuit of our dreams may become addictive, if “the constant quest for more makes us sacrifice the things that actually matter: family, community, wellbeing.”
Watching season five of Mad Men, which takes place between 1966 and 1967, I was struck by each of the character’s hunger. Ad man Don Draper and his male colleagues pursue better sex, better accounts and offices with better views. Draper’s women are forced into transactional relationships during an era in which their talents are sidelined; Don’s ex Betty’s weight balloons, and she sees her worth plummet. His new younger wife Megan, model-pretty and thin as a whippet, hungers for Don’s attention and her own career. Office manager and bombshell Joan Holloway trades sex for a place at the table, knowing she’d never be allowed to work her way there, despite being the smartest guy in the room. Gifted copywriter Peggy Olson should have had it all, career/husband/family, had she been born a man. My mother swallowed her own hunger during that period and now, at 87, torments herself with what-ifs. What if she’d been a journalist instead of a teacher, forced to quit even teaching to have a family?
I’m a lot of things, but mostly a writer. I want a bigger career. I’d also like to lose weight, to fit back into my black leather Bottega Veneta trousers but, as my husband points out, I dabble in diets like the Black Arts. I need to retrain myself to order what I truly, madly, deeply want – in life and off the menu. I’d order dessert first.
(1) I’m flaunting my curves in a dress from Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant’s www.unique-vintage.com (2) I’m embracing my cravings, thanks to Women, Food, and Desire. At your local library. (3) I’m adding more fish to my diet with a vintage sardine can pendant by Hattie Carnegie, at www.abigailprada.com (4) I’m following the trajectory of Mad Men’s Joan Holloway, a stacked secretary born for the boardroom. (5) I’m becoming a meal in myself wearing Orchard, the latest perfume by Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop, with notes of apricot and salted butter over a generous base of hay. Moo. (6) I’m revamping my wardrobe inspired by Unique Vintage, a collection of 1950s style pin-up frocks for the full-figured. (7) I’m feeding my appetite for good design with the Classic Utensils Cookbook Set from www.kaufmann-mercantile.com. (8) I’m sticking a fork in it because I’m done with dieting, beginning with this pumpkin sheet cake recipe from www.abeautifulplate.com (9) I’m buying a Prada banana print leather mini bag from www.farfetch.com (10) I’m celebrating my contours with sexy shapewear, from a selection at www.simplybe.ie.
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