Virginia Sole-Smith is the author of The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image and Guilt in America. As a journalist, she has reported from kitchen tables and grocery stores, graduated from beauty school, and gone swimming in a mermaid’s tail. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine (read When Your Baby Won’t Eat), Harper’s, Elle and many other publications. She’s also a contributing editor with Parents Magazine, a frequent contributor to the New York Times. Her next book, Fat Kid Phobia, is forthcoming in 2023. Virginia lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, two daughters, a cat, a dog, and way too many houseplants.
We asked Virginia:
Who are you?
I’m a journalist who covers diet culture and fatphobia, which is to say I write about how we feed, move and exist in our bodies in a culture that tells us, constantly, that we’re getting it all wrong. I think a lot about how our cultural messages about food and health inform the way we relate to our own bodies, but also to the bodies of our children, as we feed and raise them. I’m a mom to two daughters, one of whom struggled with a severe pediatric feeding disorder as an infant and has since become a confident and joyful oral eater. Both of my kids teach me every day what it looks like to trust and listen to your body.
What do you do?
I tell stories about the ways we eat, move and live in our bodies. That can mean questioning big systemic issues, like what it takes to access healthcare in a larger body, or heal from a restrictive eating disorder in a culture that reinforces weight loss at any cost. And it can also mean navigating much more mundane questions, like “is my kid too obsessed with Goldfish crackers?” I draw on research, interviews with all manner of experts (scientists and doctors, sure, but also folks who are just experts at living in their own particular body), as well as my own lived experiences as a former dieter, small fat person, mom, food lover. Sometimes it feels like I’m finding answers and strategies that will really help people; other days it feels like I’m just helping us all see just how huge and pervasive these issues really are.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Real talk: The knowledge that if I don’t get an hour to myself before the rest of my family wakes up, I love them a lot less! So I get up early to eat breakfast, read, and do yoga or putter in my garden before I’m thrown into the chaos of our day. But I think you meant metaphorically. The metaphorical answer to this question is: Every email or DM I get from a reader saying that my work has helped them navigate feeding their kids or themselves, prompted them to get help for an eating disorder, or even just feel more at peace in their own body. That’s why I do it.
What one thing would you like ALL professionals working with feeding to know?
That just about every kind of struggle with food can be improved by disconnecting how or what we eat from what we weigh. And that this connection is, consciously or not, likely driving more of the parental anxieties or other pressure put on the child than we realize, because weight stigma is the water we swim in, and it is particularly intertwined with how parents are taught to judge their success.
How can folks find out more?
Subscribe to my newsletter, Burnt Toast! I answer reader questions and run a free essay every week; there are also audio editions and other content available at the paid level. You can also find me on Twitter & instagram: @v_solesmith
More from our Spotlight series can be found here.