Changing Rooms

Fayes T Kantawala had quite the emotional rollercoaster ride of a Thanksgiving

Changing Rooms
The most immediate change in New York, post the election, is that the most famous part of 5th Avenue has, for all intents and purposes, completely shut down. Trump Tower (known variously as the Tower of Sauron or His Phallic Compensation) is now a heavily guarded fortress and now the whole situation has made it impossible to go to the most famous shopping district here. If you want to do so, you’ll first have make it past a sea of protestors chanting “Not my President” and then climb over a wall of NYPD offices, Marines and Secret Service agents. If you’ve made it this far then you’ll see a group of rich Arabs looking really pissed off because they can’t get into the tacky building in which they bought an apartment.

The thing that makes this whole thing really sad is that the iconic Tiffany’s jewelry store is also in the Trump Tower, which makes Audrey Hepburn-style morning breakfast strolls highly problematic. Midtown 5th Avenue is not a place I visit very often, but I found myself running across town this Thanksgiving when a friend had invited me to her office party with free food and wine (“You had me at free…”). But I mistook which hotel I was supposed to be in - and therefore had to make my way from one tourist trap to the biggest one there is: Times Square.
High on turkey, I went in. A part of me never came back. Never go shopping after a large meal

Whenever I exit the subway into the surrealist landscape that is Times Square, I am genuinely shocked that more people don’t convulse into fits of epileptic shock and just die. There are screen everywhere, constantly changing lights, flickering ads, giant peanuts trying to sell you things, taxis, cars, buses, Shreks and Batmans. It is an overwhelming experience, made especially intense on American holidays when mid-Western tourists have hiked up their travelling socks and booked that long awaited trip to the Big Apple. But the prospect of free food is a big motivator, and eventually I made it to the right hotel, where there was a buffet of every kind of Thanksgiving food you have ever thought of: Roast Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, vegetable pies, baked fish, three kinds of gravy, cranberry sauce, Fried Turkey, collard greens, creamed spinach, candied carrots, cheese pasta, Braised Turkey, soufflés, pecan pies, pumpkin pies, chocolate pie and - sorry, I got a bit carried away there.

Times Square, New York - visual cacophony for some
Times Square, New York - visual cacophony for some

I got very carried away at the event too. I went for second and then third helpings, pushing out Asian children and old women from the line so that I could take the last soufflé, more out of sheer greed than hunger. Thus sated but sadly deeply unpopular with the other guests, my friend and I went for a walk to shake off the food coma and for some absurd reason I decided that this was going to be the time when I would go shopping for clothes for the winter.

This was a huge mistake. It is a fact universally accepted that changing room mirrors are the most evil things that the Lord above us created, narrowly edging out disease and mortality. They are horrific, judgemental, body shaming cupboards of hate and this is particularly true when they have 360-degree mirrors. I can trace back most of my life decisions to moments of self loathing in front of mirrors, so much so that I now avoid changing rooms (mirrors or not) altogether and just throw a bunch of stuff in my basket and hope it fits. But this time, high on turkey, I went in. A part of me never came back. Never go shopping after a large meal.

That mirror revealed the ugly, ugly truth of me, and put it under a sharp overhead light so harsh that I looked like skin was made of fatty sandpaper. A cruel German voice in my head began laughing at my obesity as I went into a spiral (das ist morbidly unattractive! Ahahaahaha!)

How did this happen? I work out. I haven’t been eating a lot. How do my love handles look so wide? Is that really how I look from the back? Oh my God, why is my stomach protruding? Where did my shoulders go? Why does my chin sag now? Did it always sag? Is this what thirty is like? Oh my God what’ll happen in five years? Twenty? I tried on a different sweater, hoping to cover my shame but it just looked worse, and even more clingy. I looked at the size and saw a ‘Large’ printed in dark, unfriendly letters. But I wear a large! Does this mean I no longer fit large? Am I bigger than large? Am I X-Huge? Oh, why did I eat the turkey? Why did I eat the cake? Why did I eat the second cake and then go back for more turkey? Why do I eat at all? I should basically only ingest water. Lord take me now!

A half hour later my friend found my in the corner of the changing booth, my knees huddled to my chest, rocking back and forth as I pinched the fat around my belly, muttering to myself. The worst bit was the changing room was decorated with life-sized posters of models in swimsuits - which had to be the idea of a vindictive and sociopathic thin person.

I was feeling really good about myself all month before I got into that changing room: happy, productive, upbeat, strong. I had worked out most days and eaten responsibly. But the truth is, after 30 it all just goes away, doesn’t it? You have to work twice as hard to lose half as much, and even then just one bite of pecan pie can send you into a paroxysm of belly fat and shame. Shaky and sad, I did eventually make it out of the fitting rooms and into the checkout when I spotted a sign by the upbeat cashier.

“Dear Customer, Please note that our merchandise from Japan is usually two sizes smaller than conventional American standards. Please contact our sales representatives for further size details.”

Do you know what that means? That means that I was trying to fit my body into a small, and not a large. A small! And not just any small, a Japanese small! Obviously things bulged and protruded. It’s not me - it’s the Asian anorexic system!

I felt suddenly lighter, and less mad. But the meltdown did teach me that on this day of giving thanks, I should be thankful for the healthy body I do have and the sanity that I cling to so precariously.

So my advice to you this holiday season?

Tell your body you love it, because life is hard. But scream it in German, because life is also terrifying.

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