In the Dark,
I’m Not Fat and
You’re Not Mean
Issue 5, Winter 2022
Is movie theater popcorn good? For the first few bites, maybe, from the top layer that’s crunchy and buttery. The dry middle you eat mechanically; the salty gravel at the bottom, you chuck.
Did I get popcorn every time I went to the movies anyway, despite the exorbitant price tag and risk of instant-onset hypertension? Yes. It’s one of the most relaxing, stress-free, pure pleasure foods to eat.
Not because it tastes great, but because I got to eat it in the dark.
* * *
Eating in public is fraught when you’re fat. There is no option that people won’t comment on — if not with words, then with a withering/approving/pitying/scornful glance. A burger and fries? Like I need all those calories. Hummus and celery? I’m finally doing something right! An ice cream cone? How dare I.
Am I eating quickly? Disgusting slob. Slowly? Good girl, chew every bite 50 times.
Death by a thousand sneers and fake smiles. Probably not from you, but maybe you. We all swim in the same fatphobic soup.
There’s no way to hide the fact that I’m fat because of all the, y’know, fat. And contrary to popular belief, fat bodies still do require regular feeding to function, and fat people do sometimes like to leave the house. So I do the work of not paying attention to other people when I’m eating in public, and I do not use the word “work” lightly. Training is required. Practice. Vigilance.
Eating at home was only slightly less fraught, at least until fairly recently. I was put on my first restricted-calorie diet at age 8. Slim-fast at 10, Weight Watchers at 12. Jenny Craig at 15. What that meant: treats were eaten furtively, alone, and as quickly as possible so as not to get caught, the wrappers hidden under the bed and at the bottoms of drawers.
There were rarely leftovers to hide.
Anything forbidden was a treat: boxes of croutons. Butter. Corn flakes. By the time I left home at 17, my relationship to food was profoundly distorted; I pinged and ponged between caloric micromanagement and bingeing, hating myself the whole time and thinking about food always, always, always.
So boring. So pointless. So banal.
So consuming. Consumed by consumption.
* * *
But the movies! The movies were a one-of-a-kind respite.
At the movies, it’s assumed that you’re going to get popcorn — even my mother would allow a small bag with no extra butter, believing the fiber was worth the calories. It was a treat, but one untainted by fights or secrecy.
You get to take your popcorn into a movie, where you sit in an actual seat and have 90 minutes or so to eat. There’s no rush, no shoveling. No hiding. No swallowing without tasting.
And best of all: it’s dark. Everyone’s focused on the screen. When I got older and would treat myself to larger bags of popcorn (extra butter, please), no work was required to tune out the people around me. I could sit, and eat something buttery and salty at my own pace, and turn off the part of me that’s constantly scanning the faces around me to prepare for the next barb and never learning that you can’t prepare yourself to be hated.
At the movies I get to be like everyone else because at the movies, I’m not fat and you’re not mean.
Michelle Weber is the cofounder and editor in chief of Pipe Wrench.