Real Quick: Actresses who eat things are FASCINATING.

By | February 16, 2011

Oh, Marilyn, you made it all look so easy.

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.


30 Comments

JonelB on February 16, 2011 at 8:24 pm.

BUT THINK OF THE WEENS.
They obviously love an attractive, slender woman who’s got an uncontrollable appetite for all sorts of meats(wink), why can’t the rest of us just you know, fall in line with that, it’s not like it’s HARD OR IMPOSSIBLE TO DO.
It’s such a double-negative, guys like thin, maybe with tits and ass, sort of woman, but they don’t like hearing her talk about her diet or ever be on a diet or worry about calories?
This really is where eating disorders come from. or at least the female obsession with food. Whenever I hear of a “omgawsh look at this hawttie eat” sort of thing, I look at it like this: This was probably all she ate all day. That’s it. Maybe she even ran to the bathroom afterwards and vomited it up. Sure, yeah, there are some girls that can eat it and not worry but they’re few and far between, you cannot hold every woman to that standard. That’s like me expecting every dude to look like an underwear model–I don’t, I realize what real bodies look like and what real people eat on a regular basis, I don’t live in some fantasy world where dudes only wear underwear and are always hairless with a six-pack and protruding junk.
How much is it to ask that guys don’t live in a fantasy world revolving around super-attractive women with insatiable appetites? Apparently too much.

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G on February 16, 2011 at 9:09 pm.

Ugh I read this article today too and went “WHAAAAAT’. I think you hit the nail on the head: dudes want woman who look hot while not having to work at it (and will consequently never get fat), who have a healthy appetite for all the pleasures of the flesh.

It was also notable that the sole dissenting voice in the article happened to be Carol J Adams, a vegan, who said that consuming women and consuming animals was the same. Hi, is there anywhere I can hide from people judging what I eat? I can’t for the life of me understand why they used her as a counterexample.

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contemporarycontempt on February 17, 2011 at 4:22 am.

G, I think there are some books on the idea of women and animals as consumable objects…oh, actually it’s Adams’ book. Heh. Something I’ve been meaning to read… But hopefully there are other books, too, because this is an interesting idea to be explored.

Anyway, I think that the media helps us forget that plenty of people like real women in all of their incarnations, regardless of the idealized images that are circulated. (Which, of course, doesn’t make these mediated images and tropes any less damaging, but is also something to keep in mind for the good of one’s sanity.) And important to note that the media also furthers stereotypes of what the male gaze is and wants, without taking into account what many real men actually find attractive–which is to say, real women.

So let’s be confident in ourselves–we are all beautiful, and we should love ourselves for who we are.

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jmdr on February 17, 2011 at 10:54 am.

“and will consequently never get fat”.

I think you’re especially on to something with that one.

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Frances on February 16, 2011 at 9:12 pm.

A friend of mine – a serial dieter – found Two Whole Cakes recently. She told me when she found it, because she knows about my blog, and I agreed that you are fab. She said, “I like it! It’s like being in cultural studies at uni. My brain hurts, but it’s good.”

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. – YESYESYES. That NYT article made me feel icky but I couldn’t find the words to explain why. This is why.

This post is Lesley Kinzel Breaking Shit Down 101.

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Lesley on February 17, 2011 at 10:18 am.

Ha, this is awesome. I feel like “My brain hurts, but it’s good” should be the site tagline now.

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kbryna on February 16, 2011 at 9:30 pm.

THANK YOU for writing about this. I love that there’s even a publicist-industry term for this eating: DIPE. I came across an interview with Natalie Portman recently – Natalie P who had to work 8-10 hours a day and eat virtually nothing to play her role in Black Swan, Natalie P who eats vegetarian and vegan – and she spoke about eating pretzels (with mustard, I think) and something else equally esoteric. And it struck me as so peculiar, so very very odd, to be reporting on what some woman eats.

Reading the m4w online dating profiles always disturb me like this, too – the men want a “lady who takes care of herself” but isn’t “afraid to eat a steak or wings.”

And Lesley, this sentence: “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” — it makes me so, so sad. Because it’s so true. Because for some people (like my sister, whose gene pool was clearly kept separate from mine), they can eat almost any foods and essentially “effortlessly” be thin. But for a lot more of us, we’re in a constant battle to output in calories-burned more than we input in calories; for many of us, the food we eat does show up on our bodies. And then every single bite, every mouthful of even the healthiest of health foods, becomes the enemy.

I had the realization maybe 8 years ago, and ever since then it’s how I’ve been able to not hate myself when I look at famous thin people, that it is quite literally their JOB to be thin. Natalie P and Cameron Diaz and whoever the heck else doesn’t spend an 8-hour day pushing paper at a desk; they spend a number of those hours with a trainer, doing yoga, running, doing whatever it is they do. They have the money to afford it, and the time – and without the body that results from this, they would NOT have their careers.
If it was MY job to be thin, I could probably manage it. But god, how I’d hate it. How I’d search the want ads, looking for something more satisfying.

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RRose on February 16, 2011 at 10:56 pm.

This drives me crazy too. It frustrates me that it doesn’t seem to matter what a woman has achieved or why she is being interviewed, the focus always seems to be on what she is eating/has eaten, what she’s wearing, and whether or not she’s a mother. You never see that in interviews with men.

I used to have a work friend who was naturally very thin. She was society’s ideal – tall, super thin, blonde, and beautiful. She lived on junk food and was always snacking. Guys were always making comments about how hot it was that she was eating like that. I have always struggled with my weight and I would get looks and/or comments if I ate so much as one cookie. We used to talk about weight issues, body issues, and how frustrated we were with society. She felt bad about her body because she thought she was too thin and couldn’t gain weight. I have to admit that I was jealous of her even though I knew she wasn’t happy or comfortable in her body either. I would love to be allowed to publicly enjoy a good meal or eat a snack when I’m hungry. I’ve gotten the evil eye many times even when eating something healthy. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to actually be celebrated for eating.

I also get discouraged when I read the M4W personals. I saw an ad recently in which the poster said that he loves McDonalds, eats there every day, and wants a girl who also loves McDonalds and will eat there every day with him. He then specified that he was only interested in meeting slim or athletic women. He was obese. I’m not saying that in a derogatory way, I’ve been attracted to people of all sizes, but it was the hypocrisy that infuriated me. Ads like that are the norm, at least in my area.

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Jami on February 17, 2011 at 2:18 am.

As many women have said whenever People Magazine runs an article about a “formerly fat actress” turned thin – if I was rich enough to hire someone to cook for me, someone to make me excercise, the best doctors in the world, and be able to afford liposuctioning off that 3/10ths of a pound I gained at the drop of a hat – I could be thin too. PCOS or not.

Those interviews are probably the only time these women get to eat what they like – and even then it has to be all for show.

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The Real Cie on February 17, 2011 at 4:00 am.

I always wished that I could eat like Jughead from the Archie comix. Granted, he isn’t sexy and feminine, but he is my hero!
I don’t understand this fascination with what women eat either. Guess there’s a lot of Freudian thought going on.

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contemporarycontempt on February 17, 2011 at 4:13 am.

Really entertaining article! I think this fits into a larger category of the quotidien trope that a lot of formula-writers for these types of media use: she-was-wearing-blank; he-ordered-blank. [Insert mundane-yet-charming-because-it's-a-celebrity-doing-what-we-do details here.] But I really enjoyed your deconstruction of this particular type of the celebrity-as-normal-person trope, and its implications for women of various arbitrary sizes. Your insight and wit continue to cut to the core of issues–thank you so much for your work on this blog!

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Kath on February 17, 2011 at 4:57 am.

Aww, the actress thinks she’s people! Look! Look! She’s EATING, just like people do! Isn’t that just the quaintest thing?

Great breakdown, I’m off to share the shit out of it.

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Lesley on February 17, 2011 at 9:19 am.

IT’S LIKE LOOKING IN A MIRROR, am I right?

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librarychair on February 17, 2011 at 9:00 am.

It’s also sexy to show thin women eating because we all know that it’s forbidden. They publicly do something “bad” for the sexiness of it. For the public, it can also make them seem MORE perfect than they are – we tend to assume that displayed behavior is the same as average behavior for the person, and assuming that these women with industry-standard bodies eat massive quantities of food habitually makes them seem even more like gods who can bend the laws of physics.

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kbryna on February 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm.

@Librarychair (excellent name, btw):

Yes, because we’re really supposed to believe that Padma Lakshmi eats a platter of ribs on a weekly basis. Having her host Top Chef has always annoyed me; she may love food, but she either eats very little of it, has one of those naturally skinny constitutions, or works her ASS off, literally, to keep her ass skinny.

It does make me sad, though, when celeb women have to somehow also *justify* their eating in interviews. I know I’ve read various actors and models saying things like “sometimes, though, I just want to eat a cookie. So i’ll have one! And then, you know, I’ll spend an extra hour at the gym.”
Like eating ONE effing cookie is this huge indulgence, this terrible decadent act that requires near-instant penance to work it off.

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Christine on February 17, 2011 at 9:21 am.

Gosh, not just actresses, but regular ol’ normal folks too…I hate when I hear people talk about their significant other who is always not just slender but very thin, and how they’re attracted to her because “holy cow, can she eat!”

Gah.

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Jenny on February 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm.

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.

That’s the stuff of bulimia right there; “eat” but “don’t eat”; the classic push & pull.

Also: the stuff regarding veganism made me want to punch someone.

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Veronica on February 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm.

I mostly read these articles and saw proof that some people can eat whatever they want (and exercise however little they want) and still be thin.
I must say though, the food = sex theory is a good one. Although I wonder if this is as widely spead in my culture (Norwegian) as it seems to be in yours.

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Shaunta on February 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how being fat is so outward that people feel comfortable labeling it. Fat people are lazy or unhealthy or bad, or whatever. And a skinny person is virtuous or good or or healthy, or even lucky, even if they live on fast food. It doesn’t even matter if that person is actually healthier than a fat person who eats intuitively. Try telling a thin person that they might not necessarily be healthier than you, if you’re a death fat, though. It’s like you’re speaking a different language.

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JonelB on February 17, 2011 at 5:31 pm.

I usually get the “YOU’RE LYING!” reply.
I have, in my fridge, a wide variety of foods, which I sample from every day. I cook for myself, and I am careful with portion and then we have my roommates.
Who share the fridge, and only ever eat fast food, ice cream, totino’s pizza rolls or hot pockets.
They think I am less healthy than them, that I am eating something magical that keeps me this fat. Fast food is like a once a week thing, max, for me. And they eat it every day.
They go to the gym semi-regularly, and I don’t–but I walk nearly every day, and usually clear across my school’s large campus. It makes no sense, even if I showed them proof, they would assume I was out and out lying, you can’t be fat without -deserving- it, apparently.

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thirtiesgirl on February 17, 2011 at 8:18 pm.

You have articulated perfectly why that paragraph in every glossy women’s or men’s “fashion” magazine about the cover celebrity eating food has always bugged me for some inexplicable reason. It’s now no longer inexplicable. …Well, in actuality, since I’ve become more aware of size acceptance in the past few years, I now understand why that paragraph bugs me, but I could never really articulate it well to others. Now I think I can.

I’d also say that this fascination with thinner women who eat big meals, eat a double cheeseburger, fries and a coke in one sitting, or eat a big plate of anything made with carbs for a whole meal, extends to non-celebrity women, too. I was recently fat shamed by a co-worker for doing just this and NOT being a thinner woman. I went to lunch with 3 women co-workers, all good representatives of more slender body types (i.e., all of them thinner than me). I ordered the cheeseburger, fries and a lemonade because I was craving a cheeseburger (not that I need to explain my choices). One of my thinner co-workers ordered a large plate of nachos with seasoned ground beef, sour cream, guacamole, and lots of cheese. I’d guesstimate that our orders had approximately the same amount of saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium and calories in them. Mine maybe had a bit more, but not by much.

The reactions to our orders were decidedly different. To my slender, nacho-ordering co-worker, my other co-workers gave her subtle implications of the “good for you” message for ordering such a “daring” plate of nachos. As if to say “good for you” for ordering nachos AND being thin. I received no such subtle implications for my order, and was told by my fat shaming co-worker in the car on the way back to work that the reason I’m fat is because I “eat unhealthy food.”

Message received. It’s ok – “daring,” in fact – to be a slender woman and order a large plate of food. It’s not ok – “unhealthy,” even – to be a fat woman and do the same. *eyeroll* When is this shit going to stop?

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JonelB on February 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm.

I’ve gotten that out with friends in college before. Some of the girls get crazy stuff plus dessert–I’m talked half a rack of ribs, etc, and I get a chicken sandwich? OMG Fatty! Sure you don’t want a plaid lettuce-only salad and glass of diet air? And Oh wow Thinny you’re so courageous and sexy for eating those ribs! Can I have your number? Do you want to go tackle the local food challenge because you’re just that sexy-amazing for not being on a diet—oh wait, you are? I guess that’s cool then, it’s sexy to see you cheat on your diet and be a bad, bad, immoral girl for tasty food.
There is no winning teh wrens see you as nasty. I could be having a glass of diet air and I still wouldn’t get a “good job, fatty”, just a “I don’t want to talk to you unless you’re a size 8, call me then.”

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Kelly on February 18, 2011 at 6:25 am.

OK, I’ve hardly read any glossies interviewing ingenues but I’ve totally seen this! Almost a porny description of how much she eats and how beautiful and fey and t-hee while she does it! Very well-written.

Also, “fatassery” is about the best word ever!

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Miriam Heddy on February 19, 2011 at 4:53 pm.

If food=sex, then fat women are the sluttiest of sluts. We wear the scarlet FAT on our bodies and every time we eat in public, we’re publicly indecent.

And this is why Feminism is so useful in FA.

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shyvixen on February 20, 2011 at 4:34 pm.

That NYT article made me feel uncomfortable and know I know exactly why, thank you.

“Sure you don’t want a plaid lettuce-only salad and glass of diet air?” – this made me laugh out loud for real.

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Lydia on February 22, 2011 at 12:50 am.

“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”.

This is what pisses me off about thin people who want to heap shit on fatties. They point the finger and say that being fat is unhealthy – which it certainly can be – but you don’t ever hear a word about thin people who are unhealthy. Why? Because they are thin. Surely if food or certain lifestyle choices are unhealthy, then it is unhealthy for everyone, regardless of size. But thin people eating unhealthy food is apparently OK, as long as there are no visible signs of getting fatter.
At the moment, I am trying to lose weight, primarily because I have knee problems, and because I do want to be healthier, so I am eating very lean, and exercising regularly i.e. every day. I’m really enjoying it because it is very sensible, and I feel fantastic. I’m not asking for a pat on the back BTW. But if the majority of thin people had to live the way I currently am, they would DIE – they simply do not have the willpower. Many of them can’t even get off their arses and do 30 minutes of exercise. And their diets are terrible – irregular meals, non-stop milk based coffee, and a tsunami of sugar. It’s not just fatties who are propping up Donut King. There are shitloads of thin people going there as well, but somehow you never see headless thin people munching on doughnuts in stories about unhealthy eating on the news. It’s always the fatties.
The overriding problem with the alleged ‘obesity epidemic’ the Western world is apparently suffering from, is that it’s an image issue masquerading as a health issue, and this post points to that. If it is indeed a health issue, why aren’t thin people being taken to task for the crap they eat? Why is it OK for them but not for fatties? Talk about discrimination.

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Addie Broyles on February 22, 2011 at 9:48 pm.

Like.

That is all.

Glad to have found your blog. Power on…

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Robz on February 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm.

I feel very scrutinized when I eat in public. I feel like people are looking at my food and thinking, “ah! that’s why she’s fat then!”

I remember a conversation with a “friend” in which she told me I was kidding myself because I thought I was naturally a large person. Apparently when we went shopping together at 14 years old she thought I had a flat tummy (because people have naturally reached their ideal adult size at 14?!!) I stood up for myself saying that I try to follow a healthy lifestyle and she pointed out the chocolate biscuits I had offered her as proof that this couldn’t be the case.

I had another friend who was getting sick a lot and my husband and I are fairly healthy and apparently that wasn’t fair because, well, look at us…

I’m sure that these people have long since forgotten what they said but they still cycle around in my head. I’m also sure that if they ever scrutinize what I eat it has more to do with them than with me.

Awesome post!

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Bethan on March 6, 2011 at 6:30 am.

I love this blog!

I struggled with an eating disorder for ages (and even now have this immense guilt and obsession about food, which is frustrating particularly because I consider myself a pretty independent lady in all other aspects) and only wish this post existed for me to read a couple of years ago!

If the media (and public!) obsession with what other people are eating was a person, I’d kick it in the face.

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maria on April 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm.

EXACTLY. i mean, fuck, i’m unhealthy – i can’t run anywhere, my knees give out on me fast, my diet is a bit rubbish and i have low energy levels. but i’m skinny, so i don’t get judged for my unhealthiness because all that is visible to other people suggests i’m ‘healthy’ to their standards. it’s bullshit.

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