By Lesley | February 16, 2011
Yesterday the New York Times ran an article discussing the frequency with which interviews with famously beautiful women talk about what they eat. Or how they eat. Or about how they talk about how they eat, boy howdy, do they ever eat! I ate some food the other day and damn, I ate the shit out of it! I ate it until it was all up in my stomach and I was like digesting it and everything! I really do love eating, yes I do! Sometimes I even do it three times a day! EATING!
Go go gadget blockquote:
A writer meets a starlet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The starlet, usually of slim and gamine proportions, appears to thwart our expectations by ordering and consuming, with conspicuous relish, a meal that might satisfy a hungry dockworker.
Such passages are widespread enough in the pages of American periodicals that at least one longtime film publicist, Jeremy Walker, has coined a term of art for them: the documented instance of public eating, or DIPE. Consider, for example, Cate Blanchett impulse-ordering a side of Parmesan-fried zucchini at a restaurant in London and impishly telling a writer from Vogue that she doesn’t intend to share: “I think we’d each better get our own, or things could get ugly.”
Even when an actress doesn’t overtly chow down, it is not unusual for her to gush about her fondness for doing so.
The article goes on to cite examples of this phenomenon, from Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz’s shared love of macaroni and cheese to Padma Laksmi’s eating-in-bed GQ photo spread to, of course, Christina Hendricks, so thoroughly fetishized for her body at this point that even if she didn’t have body issues prior to landing the role on Mad Men, I’d bet she has them now. How much scrutiny, even so-called “positive” scrutiny, can one body take?
According to mainstream standards, the very thought of a fat woman eating ribs in bed is enough to put many people right off their lunch. Not so if it’s Padma Lakshmi. What is the difference? Laksmi is a sexy eater because she is conventionally beautiful — it’s not the eating that is sexy but the implication. The GQ image of Lakshmi sucking the meat off a bone has rather obvious metaphorical undertones that have nothing to do with consuming food, as Lakshmi herself observes. Eating a salad in bed? Doesn’t quite carry the same emphasis. These images really aren’t about a woman eating at all, and the rib is little more than a clever stand-in for what we’re really talking about, oho, elbow elbow, know what I mean?
The revulsion against fatassery is often rooted in a disdain for the alleged lack of control had by fat people, by which their fatness is ostensibly built. And yet, we’re smitten with the fantasy of the woman who can eat with vigor and remain “effortlessly” slender. It is acceptable to consume voraciously, so long as it doesn’t show on your body, and this is the stuff of which eating disorders are made. Slender women are “allowed” to eat anything so long as their bodies keep to the thin ideal. Fat women who eat what they want are deterred, guilted and even mocked, because they are fat, and if you are fat then you are at fault. Their fatness demonstrates that they — and by “they” I mean “we” — don’t know the correct way to eat ribs, or macaroni and cheese, or pie, or whatever. The thin ladies know how, but we don’t! So the story goes.
The story also invests in the conventional wisdom that people get fat exclusively because they eat too much — as though our bodies are but empty sacks to be filled with food or emptied out on a whim — but if this is true, then shouldn’t slender women also be prevented from eating? They might lose their slenderness and pretty-appeal, which is, after all, the most valuable thing about a woman! If everyone is at risk of becoming hugely fat — and they’re not, but we’re made to believe that they are — then everyone must live in fear of fatness. Therefore, the portrayal of a beautiful thin actress eating with abandon adds to the mystique of such women; she’s fucking magical! She can eat and look like that! What is wrong with the rest of us? This is how culture works to police both the bodies and the eating habits of women.
We’ll finish off with a real winner, for the ladies:
Jon Shook, an owner of Animal, the meat- and fat-centric restaurant in Los Angeles, becomes effusive when he talks about coaxing his girlfriend, Shiri Appleby, a television actress and a former vegan, into eating his fried pork chops. “She’s like 110 pounds, maybe, in wet clothes, and when she’s with me, we eat everything and anything,” he said on the phone. “On our first date, I was like, ‘Hey, why’d you stop being a vegan?’ And she was like, ‘What kind of guy’s going to date a vegan?’ And I was like, ‘You’re awesome.’ ”
Sorry girls, this dude’s taken. Maybe if you too base your dietary choices on making it easier to find a date, he’ll hook you up with a friend of a similar caliber.
In all seriousness, the eating chronicled in performative spaces like media interviews is itself performative — even if it really happens, even if Cate Blanchett will fucking cut you for looking at her plate of food. The meticulous reproduction of this eating, the way these interviews turn a simple lunch choice into an event laden with meaning, contribute to a culture in which a woman’s choice of food is as much a site of scrutiny as her body. The performance of eating represents another (unreal) feminine ideal: the woman who is beautiful and sexually-appealing to men, while not being a drag by talking about her diet all the time. She’ll swallow whatever you feed her! Fact is, the eating habits of actresses are not interesting because they tell us anything real about these women, nor are they interesting because they help us to feel better about ourselves. They’re there because dudes find it sexy when a pretty thin woman eats, and the women who read these articles about the actresses they aspire to emulate are seeing themselves through the eyes of the men they want to attract. That’s what we call the Male Gaze, kids, and it pierces us all.