When I was little, Easter and Christmas meant one thing: chocolate. The ritual and ceremony around both festivals – the build-up, the songs, the decorations – were exciting, but only because they were pointers along the path that led to a WHOLE DAY where I could eat as much chocolate as I liked.
These days I’m ambivalent about chocolate, but the excitement has remained intact. Now what excites me about Easter and Christmas is the sense of a special occasion and the likelihood of long days spent with family and friends – catching up, laughing and, yes, eating. But whereas aged eleven I would have taken all that chocolate and eaten it silently and solitarily in my bedroom, now the food is bound up with the celebrations, which feels like a happier and healthier approach.
None of which means I don’t eat too much on these occasions, and this year was no exception. I had a Cadbury’s Flake for breakfast, and then a buttered bagel, after which we had a family lunch of roast chicken with ratatouille, green vegetables and roast potatoes with gravy, followed by apple crumble and ice cream.
Then we sat in the garden and ate cake and chocolate eggs and cheese, and while I can’t remember how much I had of the first two, I’m pretty sure I ate about half a round of camembert as well as substantial slices of stilton, brie and red leicester. My aunt, sitting next to me, didn’t have much cheese but said she’d overdone it on the chocolate eggs, and it occurred to me that we probably always attach more importance to the foods we have a troubled relationship with than to those we can take or leave. Maybe I had two chocolate eggs or maybe I had ten: I’m not obsessive about chocolate, so I didn’t notice and it doesn’t matter. My aunt didn’t have any cheese – or didn’t have much, I can’t remember – and so in my mind she didn’t gorge herself like I did. And she probably didn’t, but had she been gorging on chocolate I wouldn’t have noticed, because I don’t think chocolate is important.
All of which serves as a reminder that our perception of our eating habits is rarely the same as the reality, and that our notions about food often veer wildly from what is true. This was reinforced starkly to me recently when I heard an interview, I think on Women’s Hour, with someone who’d carried out a survey relating to teenage girls and body image. The vast majority of girls were unhappy with their bodies, and when asked whose body they’d like to have, most chose Cheryl Cole’s. What was interesting about that was that when they took the girls’ measurements, most of them were already about the same size and shape as Cheryl Cole. In other words, they were unhappy about their bodies, but when asked how they’d like to look, they described the bodies they already had.
It’s not hard to imagine that what these girls really wanted was to be successful, or beautiful, or rich, or popular, or any of the other things Cheryl Cole is. Hey, I’d like to be all of those things. But the idea of young women suffering crises of confidence and perceiving that crisis as a desire to possess something that in actual fact they already have is horribly sad. And it exposes as fantasy right from the start the idea that if women eat less and exercise more they’ll end up happy with their bodies. With rare exceptions, the unhappiness that we weave around our physical selves has very little to do with our actual physical selves.
All of which I will ponder as I make my way over the coming days through the remainder of the Easter chocolate. Anyone got any Rennies?