‘I call my mum in Argentina and tell her in Ireland TV presenters are normal women’
New to the Parish: Marianela Davico first arrived in 2006
Marianela Davico with her daughter Keela (6). Photograph: Dave Meehan
Marianela Davico has always felt uncomfortable about her body size. Her first diet began when she was 13 after some of the boys at school teased her about her weight. The Argentinian media, which she says is filled with impossibly beautiful, stick-thin actresses, didn’t help the situation. It would take nearly two decades for Davico to learn to accept her appearance.
“As far back as I remember I’ve always been dieting or going to the gym. I was never happy with that part of my life. It’s an obsession over there; all you see on telly are these model women. Now I call my mum and tell her that in Ireland the TV presenters are normal women. Irish TV shows normal, everyday people.”
Davico first came to Ireland 10 years ago after she met an Irish man backpacking around Latin America. She was working in a hostel in Buenos Aires at the time and envied the young travellers embarking on adventures.
I told my dad ‘I’m gonna fill this passport with stamps, I swear it’
“All the people I spoke to were saying we’re on a year-long trip. Economically at that time it was pretty impossible to travel. As far as I understand young people could even get a bank loan to go travelling. That was unthinkable in Argentina. ”
After her encounter with an Irishman en route to Australia, Davico became determined to go overseas. “I was checking these people in every day and looking at their passports so when I renewed my passport I told my dad ‘I’m gonna fill this passport with stamps, I swear it’.”
Davico began saving, applied for a six-month work visa and in late 2006 arrived in Dublin. The youngest of three children, she says her parents were open-minded about her decision to travel to Ireland. “They weren’t those kinds of parents that say you have to be a doctor. They had the mindset of ‘do what you want, study what you want’.”
Arriving into Dublin in the mid 2000s, it was easy for the young Argentinean to find temp work around the capital. She stayed with friends she had met through the hostel in Buenos Aires before settling in an apartment with her boyfriend. She found Irish people to be very welcoming but struggled to grow accustomed to the incessant grey skies.
“When you are used to South America and our blue skies the weather here can be challenging. It impacted on my mood completely. I always say you have to be Irish not to be bothered by this weather.”
In 2008, less than two years after moving to Dublin, Davico decided to go home. Her relationship was close to falling apart and she missed her family. She spent a year back working in hostels in Buenos Aires but still felt the itch to travel.
With her Italian background through her grandparents, she was eligible to apply for a European passport. In October 2009 she arrived back in Dublin with her shiny new passport, ready to give Europe a second chance. Within a few days she had met another Irish man and three months later discovered she was pregnant.
“I was 26 at the time and didn’t want to accept the importance of what was going to happen. That one decision would dictate the rest of my life.”
The couple broke the news to Davico’s parents during a Skype conversation. “It was the first time my parents were meeting him, the whole thing looked like a soap opera. I said ‘we have something to say, you’re gonna be grandparents’. There was a minute’s silence and then my dad said if he’s nice and will be there for you and this is what you want, then we’re here for you.”
In 2010 Davico gave birth to a baby girl they named Keela. Her relationship with Keela’s father broke down a few months after her birth and shortly after she met an Argentinean man living in Ireland. Davico was devastated when he decided to return to Argentina and ended the relationship.
“My world completely fell apart. I’d never felt that way before and got really depressed. I ended up turning to food. It was the only thing that would make me feel better and forget how painful my situation was.”
Davico began binge eating and quickly put on weight. “I got to the point where one day I looked at myself in the mirror and said I need to do something.” A colleague suggested she visit a local Slimming World meeting to help regulate her diet. She discovered at her first meeting that she weighed more than in the days after her daughter was born.
“I didn’t realise I’d gone that far. It was my suspicion but I didn’t want to face it.” It took a year of meetings and controlling her diet for Davico to return to her normal weight. She says the results were not only physical but more importantly, psychological.
“It gave me peace of mind. Eating all that food was a cycle. I did it because I wasn’t feeling good and after eating it I wouldn’t feel good either so I’d eat again. It was a never-ending story. Now I feel healthy, confident and have peace of mind.”
Inspired by her personal success, Davico has set up her own Slimming World meetings at the Little Flower Centre on Meath Street.
As cheesy as it might sound, I think I’ve found what may be my purpose in life
“I’ve struggled all my life with my weight so as cheesy as it might sound, I think I’ve found what may be my purpose in life; to help other people overcome the way they feel towards food and themselves.”
Davico plans to stay in Ireland at least until her daughter turns 18. Keela’s father plays an active role in his daughter’s life and Davico says she owes it to him and his family to stay in Ireland. Coming from a family of Irish speakers, Keela’s father insisted his daughter go to a gaelscoil which means their six-year-old daughter is now fluent in three languages.
“I don’t think I would take Keela back to Argentina. I’m so used to being able to walk everywhere and always feel safe in Dublin. I never have that feeling backing home. My daughter is from Ireland and her dad is here so I will respect that until she’s older. Then maybe I’ll retire to Italy. ”