CN: Eating disorders, bulimia,
‘Treat Yourself’ or as I was first introduced to it in Season Four of Parks and Recreation, ‘Treat Yo Self’, is the idea that you should do or buy things – often things you don’t need – that bring you the maximum happiness in the moment, regardless of the consequences (usually to your bank account).
In my favourite scene of the season, colleagues Tom and Donna are on a shopping spree. Tom tries on a cashmere and velvet ensemble which is immediately justified by Donna, who leans in and says authoritatively, ‘Treat Yo Self’. Amen. The scene resonated so much because not only is dressing entirely in cashmere and velvet aesthetic goals, but the mantra of ‘Treat Yo Self’ opened up a way to put a positive spin on what would otherwise be unnecessary spending. Getting seconds or thirds of dessert was all fine if it was a treat day. It justified heaps of ASOS parcels, bath-bombs, the shirt which I thought looked cool at a vintage fair but was just ugly.
The way I saw it, the mantra was sustained by a kind of self-deception. Buying things I didn’t need or eating more than I felt I should were categorically ‘not good things’. It was impossible to think about treats without considering the alternatives. The money I spent on yet another bottle of nail polish was probably better off going towards paying a library fine. But excusing this by “treating myself”, at least temporarily, was a way of dealing with the feeling guilty about doing things that made me happy.
Given its tricky navigation between guilt and gratification, it’s unsurprising that ‘Treat Yourself’ has become a running theme in some of the more popular incarnations of the Evil Kermit meme. The meme is a hilarious reimagining of the trope of the good and bad angel on your shoulders. Good Kermit talks sense, Evil Kermit encourages poor choices.
But the absorption of ‘Treat Yourself’ into the Evil Kermit meme’s binary of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is problematic, particularly when it comes to food. In these forms of the meme, treats are usually offered by Evil Kermit as the alternative to ‘sensible’ action. This association of food with evil, and by extension feelings of shame and guilt is a behaviour that I’ve struggled with in the past. The Evil Kermit model is an unnerving mirror of the compulsion to binge eat. In my head, the conversation always went something like this:
Good Kermit: I’m sad, I’ll have a snack to cheer me up.
Evil Kermit: Eat a whole pot of spaghetti then throw it up.
I found it difficult to separate food as treat from the concept of excess. A treat is something out of the ordinary, something that’s supposed to make you happy. But I didn’t think I deserved to be, and hated myself for even seeking comfort. Bingeing was a way of weaponing a treat against myself, a punishment for recognising my own vulnerability and daring to try and remedy it. It meant seeing myself, acknowledging my own existence. This was a tough ask for a black girl growing up in majority-white boarding schools. I was so used to feeling invisible and playing the dutiful best friend in the drama of my friend’s lives, that I never really got around to establishing a healthy relationship with myself.
Most of my issues with disordered eating are gone, but until recently, the uneasiness about treating myself remained. Adjusting to the first few weeks of University this term put an unprecedented strain on my mental health. But ignoring my anxiety and rising stress levels to focus on supporting my friends was easier than looking after myself. It took some shitty things happening for me to pull myself together and try to fix things. As Audre Lorde said, ‘caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ And so, ‘Treat Yourself’ has become praxis for me in the last couple of months, and it’s been wonderful.
“More important is the diagnosis of a need, whether it’s encouragement after a bad supervision or validation after I’ve met a deadline, and the remedy of a treat.”
Using ‘Treat Yourself’ as praxis offers the notion that your pleasure is the most important factor in decision making. In treating myself, I try to focus on the pleasure inherent in the act itself, rather than alternative ‘sensible’ actions or labelling my actions as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. More important is the diagnosis of a need, whether it’s encouragement after a bad supervision or validation after I’ve met a deadline, and the remedy of a treat.
Making cocktails, putting on facemasks, letting the nice lady at Bobbi Brown talk me into a makeover, going for brunch with friends, and impulse buys from Topshop have been some of the little things that have got me through term. To ‘Treat Yourself’ is to know yourself. I’m the only one who fully understands what makes me happy, and being able to actualise this on my own, without feeling guilty, makes me so proud.
Now when I cook, Ruby Tandoh’s face replaces Evil Kermit as I make comfort food: rich risottos, spicy bibimbap and decadent linguine. It’s a labour of love for my fifteen-year-old self.