Having your cake and eating it
Samara Ginsberg // 28 May 2008
EDIT: Believe it or not, I was a fully-fledged anorexic by the age of 12, so it’s not as if I’m a stranger to eating disorders! I had an utterly horrific childhood, which I won’t go into here, but let’s just say I’m not quite the privileged middle class type I seem. So I was really horrified that people thought I was referring to women who really did have serious issues with food! The thing is, I had been pretty much unaware of this “I mustn’t eat this and that” culture until such time as I started making a massive effort to get better permanently. When I had promised myself that I would never again restrict what I eat, suddenly the whole world seemed to be telling me that I needed to police my eating habits. The fact that I was trying very hard to no longer police my own consumption really opened my eyes to just how “disordered” most women’s relationship with food seems to be, or rather how disordered the relationship with food that we are “supposed” to have is. It makes me angry that perfectly healthy women feel the need to feel bad when they eat “bad” things, and it makes me angry that if I hadn’t had an eating disorder, if I hadn’t been forced to examine my own attitude to food in order to get better, and if I hadn’t been forced to swear to myself that I would never, ever diet or restrict my food in any way unless I got overweight, perhaps I’d be participating in it too. I’m really sorry if I’ve offended anyone, but I do stand by what I said – I think that most of the time, saying things like, “I shouldn’t eat this, I’m being really naughty” is a frivolous female bonding exercise, but it just doesn’t help any of us. And it especially doesn’t help people who really do have genuine issues. I’ve lost friends over this – for years I was too fragile to be around girls who talked about their restrictive eating habits all the time. I really regret not saying this in the original post, but it seemed a bit too personal at the time. I now realise that a bit of context would have been appropriate! Seriously, I really am sorry, and extend my heartfelt sympathy/empathy/best wishes to anyone of any gender struggling with any kind of eating disorder.
I was at a press conference the other day, at which the organisers had kindly provided us with a big tray of yummy pastries. As is generally my way when there is free food around, I had pretty much parked myself next to it, but I decided to use my vantage point to conduct some observations. I listened to the comments of every single person who approached that tray of yummy pastries, and boy was it depressing. Not a single woman took one without commenting on how she really shouldn’t be eating it.
“I’m being really naughty”
“Oooh I really shouldn’t”
“Oooh I’m so fat”
“This is going to go straight to my hips”
Incidentally, not one of these women was above a size 12. Interestingly enough, I also observed that not a single woman in the room didn’t eat one. Women do eat. A lot of us just feel the need to apologise for it. There’s an unwritten rule that we must constantly be seen to be making an effort to keep our weight down. We can eat cake, as long as we suffer terrible guilt as a result. We can eat biscuits, as long as we visualise them sticking to our thighs and sink into self-loathing.*
I think there must be an awful lot of front to it – if a person really did suffer such horrendous guilt for eating cake, then they probably wouldn’t eat cake. Creating the guilt is a way of proving that although you are eating cake, you are a good girl really because you feel so bad for it. You get to have your cake and eat it too. I think it’s a sort of female bonding thing. We’re all in this struggle together sisters, trying to control our wayward bodies in a world that contains cake!
I don’t think I need to tell you that this annoys the hell out of me. I love my food. And nobody is going to persuade me that I’m only allowed to eat anything other than salad if I pay for it in guilt. I hereby declare that I eat an entirely adequate diet, including cake, and do not feel guilty about it. We’ll only stop this madness if we refuse to join in.
Alternatively, we could just find better things to bond over. Like for instance the fact that we live in a society in which women are villified for being even marginally overweight, whereas men have to be morbidly obese before suffering a similar degree of discrimination. Or the fact that women are still paid less than men. Or the fact that men usually get away with raping women. Or the fact that our right to have a reasonable degree of control over our reproductive systems is under scrutiny. We are locked in a common struggle, sisters, but it’s not with our thighs.
*In a strange sort of loophole, chips are okay as long as they’re stolen from a man’s plate. I’ve never understood that one.