Having your cake and eating it

// 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.

Comments From You

Amity // Posted 28 May 2008 at 2:08 pm

I used to *hate* listening to this in my office full of women. Someone would bring in a cake or cookies and every single one of them would talk about how bad they were being by eating it and justify it by talking about the intense workout they had the night before or the meager salad they had for lunch. In the meantime, I’d had two helpings while they blathered on. No apologies here! Cake is good and I’m not one to turn some down based on what other people might think of me.

Lew // Posted 28 May 2008 at 2:24 pm

Aye, it annoys me too, but I’ve started doing it without thinking =/

All the same, my will-to-live has been topped up, so thanks. x

Lindsey // Posted 28 May 2008 at 2:36 pm

I love cake. Anywhere that has cake has surely provided it for me to eat. And yet…

I have become more and more likely to complain about becoming a chunky monkey. I don’t think there is anything wrong with my diet and have no intention to change it, so I justify my complaining with ‘I really should do some exercise’ which again I’m not really arsed about arranging. I’m aware that I shouldn’t feel guilty but I find it hard to justify when the only one telling me I should is in my head.

The funny thing is that whenever I say something like this in front of my boyfriend he starts on about his own little belly and how he is becoming a pie boy…

Hannah // Posted 28 May 2008 at 3:05 pm

It annoys the hell out of me too! In my office there seems to be a rule that you have to apologise and talk about how ‘bad’ you’re being if you so much as have a bag of crisps or a couple of biscuits. Meanwhile, there seems to be a lot of competition over eating just a salad and nothing else all day and going to the gym as much as possible. Going on about ‘being naughty’ with food/the endless quest to lose weight is definitely a female-bonding exercise in the workplace. I have done it on occasion – I think it’s really easy to get into the mindset of ‘anything which isn’t a salad is bad’ but I’m trying to avoid this as much as possible. There’s nothing ‘bad’ about my diet and I want to be able to eat what I like and not feel guilty about it!

Smart Blonde // Posted 28 May 2008 at 3:18 pm

I’ve never really been one to appologise for eating cake… or biscuits, chocolate etc for that matter. But this story puts me in mind of something that happened to me the other day….

I was in the office canteen getting myself some breakfast, two slices of toast with marmalade to be precise, when a man I’ve never seen before (I work in a big office) started to make snide comments to me. “That’ll do you no good you know” and “Tut, tut, all that sugar is bad for you” and “Oh dear, you shouldn’t be eating that”. It was f-ing toast for goodness sake! I was too shocked to think of anything to say to him, so I steadfastly ignored him while continuing to finish marmalading (is that a word?) my toast, then I walked off disgusted. So even if you don’t feel guilty, some helpful men will try their best to make you feel like it’s not ok to eat. This also happens whenever I bump into certain men at the chocolate machine. By the way I am a size 10 (but I don’t think these things are ok to say to someone of any size).

Samara Ginsberg // Posted 28 May 2008 at 3:55 pm

@Smart Blonde

Holy crap! This really surprises me, because it’s always struck me personally that men don’t seem to give a toss what women eat, and are generally pretty cool about us tucking into pies. I’ve always had the impression that this policing of eating habits was a largely female habit with little input from men. Perhaps you are unlucky, or perhaps I am particularly lucky.

@Everybody who has been bitching about their colleagues

I work in a very male-dominated office and, aside from ironically being by far the least sexist environment I have ever had the pleasure of working in, one of the best things about it is that I don’t have to listen to my colleagues harping on about their diets. Whenever I’ve worked with a lot of other women in the past, apart from driving me up the wall it’s actually made me feel really left out. Not to mention depressed that it is so much the norm, and that I can count the number of young women I know who do not have this attitude on one hand.

Nina // Posted 28 May 2008 at 4:07 pm

You should have smeared marmalade on his face.

This has bothered me since I was a teenager and women started to make these kinds of noises in my presence. I have always thought it was the height of madness but other women seem to find my propensity to stuff cake in my mouth without any excuses and an expression of joy a little eccentric. No matter how many times I tell people that eating the cake is fine they seem obsessed with the art of making it guilty. The cake is going to taste less good if you attach guilt to it! Stop talking about how bad it is! It’s just bloody cake! Arrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhh!


Charlotte // Posted 28 May 2008 at 4:08 pm

As a recovered anorexic I can’t begin to say how much this gets to me (I can honestly say one of the hardest things about recovering from an eating disorder is maintaining a real sense of “normal” eating on a daily basis when faced with instances like this)….

I think there’s a lot more going on than worrying about breaking a diet/ getting fat when women kick up a fuss about eating “bad” foods. It’s like we’re apologising, not only for eating the nice cake or whatever, but for so much else that we’re not supposed to have; we’re not “supposed” to eat, are we? We’re meant to be these dainty little creatures that flitter around eating bird-like portions whilst our strong men-folk get all the grub. And it’s not just the food we’re apologising for, it’s like we’re apologising for having bodies that, god forgive, take up space. Women aren’t “supposed” to take up space, are we? Just like we’re not “supposed” to have a presence in, say, powerful positions in the workplace, or in the street late at night. We’re not “supposed” to be able to have it all, are we, to have our cake/ good job/ whatever, and eat it too. That would be greedy, and women aren’t “supposed” to be greedy and power-seeking. There’s a lot we feel we need to apologise for when it comes to our bodies, our very “taking up of space”, that I think women are implicitly apologising for/ justifying when they do the whole “I really shouldn’t eat this” thing. Women don’t feel they have a right to be living, eating, taking-up-space bodies unless its accompanied by a whole lot of guilt.

(Having said that, try as I might, it is so hard not to have the confidence and self-assertion not to join in with the other women).

Feminist Avatar // Posted 28 May 2008 at 4:08 pm

Most of my female colleagues (in academia) are also feminists so you don’t hear this sort of complaining. But instead we have a different sort of relationship where we discuss how much we eat, what we made for dinner, how much rubbish we eat (not in a guilty way but more of a ‘I am sooo busy’, where bad food= academic productivity) etc. Sometimes this is just small talk, but there are occasions where I feel it is almost a replacement of ‘bad food’ guilt, where we are justifying our eating and how we do it. As if food is so central to our place in the world that we have to obsess about it, and perhaps also we need to share about our eating habits to know that it’s normal, which I think says something about the centrality of food to women in this culture.

Cara // Posted 28 May 2008 at 4:10 pm

Smart Blonde – yes, a guy did the same thing to me at the vending machine at work! i.e. said Tut that’s not good for you.

And he was no Adonis, so where he gets off telling me…

MEN and their PRIVILEGE. GRRRRR. Angry and inarticulate today.

Samara Ginsberg // Posted 28 May 2008 at 4:15 pm


You’ve read Wasted, right? If you haven’t, do! One of my favouritest books ever, I highly recommend it to anyone and wish it was more well-known.

Soirore // Posted 28 May 2008 at 4:18 pm

I’m exceedingly lucky that I share an office with men and women who love their food and make no apologies about it and we take it in turns to bring in nice things to share. Others from our department have noticed our happiness with food and I think some may be a little jealous of the absence of diet talk and the camaraderie we enjoy while sharing a snack and discussing its merits.

Anne Onne // Posted 28 May 2008 at 4:24 pm

I have never had much of an appetite, but during social gatherings I love to eat nibbles, rather unapologetically, which is probably a bit odd considering there’s this idea that women should just lightly nibble a tiny bit.

I think it is apologies on two levels. First, women are pressured to recognise that exciting/fattening food is bad for their health (in exess, people!) in a way that men aren’t. No matter how much ‘junk’ men eat, even if it’s huge chunks of meat, or fast food, they don’t need to apologise, because it’s considered ‘manly’ to eat huge portions of ‘unhealthy’ food. But women have to be ‘health-conscious’, or rather dieting to be socially acceptable, so we find ourselves reaffirming that we do know the calorie content of what we eat, to prove we’re female and dainty and all that.

And on a deeper level, women aren’t encouraged to accept themselves or take responsibility for treating themselves, but encouraged to develop a ‘temptation versus starvation’ attitude to food, which is unhealthy, and messes with our minds.

Hannah // Posted 28 May 2008 at 4:39 pm

I definitely agree re; the way men eat at work as opposed to women’s eating habits in the office. The company I work for is huge and therefore has several canteens on site, serving cooked meals as well as snacks/sandwiches. Every day you see huge groups of men tucking into enormous plates of ‘hearty’ food, puddings, etc and you don’t hear them sitting there saying how ‘bad’ they are for eating it – this would be almost unacceptable for women. In a mixed group what you *will* hear is women saying to men ‘Oh, I’m so jealous that you can eat whatever you want’ as they polish off a plate of food.

Wiggly // Posted 28 May 2008 at 4:55 pm

Many moons ago I remember being at Euston station with a friend – she was purchasing a rather large cookie from one of the shops before we headed off to our platform. Anyway, this young man came up to us and told my friend not to buy it – but she did. Then he proceeded to tell her not to eat it because it would ruin her figure and that would be a shame because she looked so lovely.

I was astounded that this stranger actually dared come up to her and impart his ‘advice’. Unfortunately instead of telling him to get lost, she laughed and flirted with him…

JoJo // Posted 28 May 2008 at 5:07 pm

Charlotte had some really good points about the space women are allowed to take up, and how lots of food is given or allocated to men, but not women. It made me think of non-Western/traditional societies (not sure of the best way to describe them) which allow men to eat first and best, and women to have the leftovers. Same for boy children vs. girl children – who is justified in needing strength or sustenance.

We had cake in the office yesterday and I went yum yum! Everyone else went “I can’t….oh it’s ok, because I’m doing aerobics later” or “I’ll have this but I won’t eat my sandwich, that’ll be ok”. One woman I work with eats decent amounts and gets called for it, and then has to justify how it’s ok because she’s doing sport in the evening. But not just to shut up the colleagues, but because she needs to convince herself too.

And I’m eating more cake right now! Yum!

rooroo // Posted 28 May 2008 at 5:10 pm

Behaviour towards food is so polarised, I don’t think a lot of people realise they do it, it seems like something deeply ingrained into the subconscious where we need to apply a moral judgement to what has been taken into the body

Sarah // Posted 28 May 2008 at 6:03 pm

I’ve also been reprimanded by random men at work for having too much food on my tray in the canteen, and for buying chocolate from the vending machine – ‘oh dear, I hope that’s not all for you’ etc. I’m not overweight and I wasn’t eating excessively on either of these occasions – not that it would have been any of their business if I was. So while I’m familiar with the ‘female bonding’ ritual over cake that Samara describes, I don’t think this just happens between women, there are men who seem to think it’s appropriate to shame women for eating in public or trying to enjoy their food without guilt.

I second Charlotte’s comments – this is beyond unhelpful for anyone with or recovering from an eating disorder.

Charlotte // Posted 28 May 2008 at 6:22 pm

Samara- yes I have read Wasted although not for many moons as I am a bit ambivalent about how triggering some of the content is. When thinking about my comment I had in mind books like Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth which I’m pretty sure says something to the effect of what I wrote, although more eloquently articulated. I’m sure there are other examples in feminist theory.

The issue of internalisation is interesting- the status of women’s bodies as visible, object spectacles open to public commentary (such as men telling strangers what they should/n’t eat) which has been naturalized to the point that women interiorise these attitudes and self-police what is good/bad for their image. Men, in their invisibly normative bodies, have no such/less continual awareness of their bodies as visible objects and therefore happily wolf down anything they want without guilt or public comment… It’s sad that this is largely still the case but it takes a very strong and self-aware person to go against the cultural grain day in day out when these ideas are so deeply internalised for many women.

Elena1701 // Posted 28 May 2008 at 6:33 pm

I also find this kind of behaviour deeply strange! None of the women I knew at university reacted in this way to food, so I found it really strange when I started work and found myself surrounded by women who did the constant “I really shouldn’t…” whenever they were offered cakes or biscuits.

Like Samara, I now work in a mostly male office and it is refreshing not to be surrounded by this attitude. But, I occasionally get comments from one of the guys about the fact that I’m “always” eating. I do tend to have several small snacks throughout the day, but I wouldn’t describe it as constantly eating. Now I’m wondering if it’s because he’s just not used to women eating without the “guilt commentary”.

Jaime // Posted 28 May 2008 at 8:02 pm

Thank you!! Market Kitchen is on in the background featuring the ”lovely” Gillian McKeith, I was having a rather angry internal rant about her when I found this post! She does all the bad things listed above in the most negative and insulting way under the false pretence of ”encouraging people to eat healthy”. She makes me want to tie her up and force her to watch me eating lard covered chocolate with chips and cheese. I loathe that woman so much, she is an evil bully.

Anyway! I work in a predominantly female environment and it is quite hellish. Personally myself and a couple of other ladies are always the first at the table for food (board meetings = free food!) and have no shame in eating but I have to admit we do get little twinges when we realise we’re the first/only women there. It’s stupid but thoughts about what the other women in the office are thinking or think about our eating sneak in, not enough to stop us, but just enough to make us voice these thoughts.

Bethan // Posted 28 May 2008 at 8:47 pm

I have a confession to make (or maybe that should be two?) – I don’t like cake, especially those that combine summer fruit and cream, bleurgh. This is probably due to being forced to ingest huge quantities as a child to please grandmothers and other eldery relatives. I am also (second confession) – by some fluke of nature – a size 8.

Now, whenever I am at a party or family do and politely turn down the proffered dessert, I am met by a chorus of ‘oohh gotta stick to the diet, right’ and ‘aahh, look, she’s worried about her figure!’. No – i just don’t like the bloody stuff. Is that really such a crime? I much prefer cheese, in fact I absolutely love cheese and at parties you will usually find me hogging the cheese platter all to myself. I mean, who needs yucky cake when there’s a piece of brie so ripe it’s walking!

But cake is something we women are meant to like, isn’t it? It’s feminine and gooey and soft and often pink and every last one of us MUST spend every waking minute of every day lusting after more, more, more.

By contrast, if I were to list all the things my brothers and my father refuse, point blank, to eat, it would take a whole page! But no one bats an eyelid, and menus are adjusted accordingly for them, while my body shape, weight and dietary preferences are deemed suitable (and even inevitable) topics for public discussion.

My point: every woman’s body is public and must be policed accordingly, and no matter her size or shape, if she does not fit some pre-ordained Ideal AKA ‘the (elusive) norm’ she is an open target for comment and criticism from both sexes. I know I don’t get much of a sympathy vote, and I know it’s exactly what I’m doing now, but I’m fed up with having to justify my body shape and eating habits to the whole world. Something I just *had* to get off my under developped chest, thanks for providing a space where I can, for once, indulge myself without fear of being judged.

Carrie // Posted 28 May 2008 at 8:48 pm

I have just gone to buy a box of cookies and a bar of Dairy Milk inspired by this piece.

E-Visible Woman // Posted 28 May 2008 at 8:51 pm

This makes me sad too.

I am vegan, so often when I am offered cakes/biscuits/sweets at work, I sadly have to turn them down. I have never turned down food without another woman heaping praise upon me and saying “oh, you’re so good/so healthy/have so much willpower/etc!” – women even say this to me when I am eating/drinking something equally bad/unhealthy at the same time as turning down the non-vegan thing!

Aimee // Posted 28 May 2008 at 9:29 pm

Bethan… I too hate cake! It’s so nice to encounter a fellow anti-cakeist. It’s yuck. Bleugh. I do however like many other kinds of food that I ‘shouldn’t’.

I too work in a female dominated environment and i’ve started spending my lunchtimes outside or … as far away from the ‘oh i’m so fat’ ‘oh I shouldn’t’ ‘Oh i’m so naughty’ kind of crap. There’s one woman at work who constantly goes on about how many ‘sins’ are in everything she eats, and I sit there looking incredulous because this woman has a beautiful figure for a start, and because to hear labels such as ‘sins’ applied to normal foodstuffs infuriates me. Why should women be considered ‘sinful’ for eating?! Gah.

Re. The cake issue; we have ‘cake fridays’ and I always decline the cake on account of not liking it and I am always asked if i’m watching my weight and even worse, congratulated on being ‘good’. I’m not extra super skinny… i’m about a 14-16 and I am always made to feel as though declining food is somehow good, and to be seen eating it is dangerously indulgent; like it is my duty to be trying to lose weight. I don’t want to lose weight. I don’t want to have to buy more clothes for a start and i’m pretty happy with how I am. It infuriates me that people, almost entirely might I add, women, seem to feel it appropriate to make me feel as though I shouldn’t be happy with my appearance because I don’t adhere to some bizarre socialised model of female beauty; namely looking like a pre pubescent boy post coitus.


Kuja // Posted 28 May 2008 at 9:42 pm

I love cake. I eat cake.

Why does a man feel within his rights to say that when a woman feels the need to add “in moderation, when I’ve been good, as an occasional treat, and only the Weight Watchers kind!”

Rhona // Posted 28 May 2008 at 11:25 pm

This post has just reminded me that I have some rather lovely lemon cake sitting in a box in the larder, which I think I will go and enjoy with a nice cup of tea in a minute.

I don’t, however, like chocolate very much. When I politely refuse it and get the ‘watching figure etc’ comments, I really have to fight the urge to grab whoever is commenting by the ears and scream, “NO I’M NOT! I JUST DON’T LIKE THE TASTE OF THE BLOODY STUFF!”

Kristy // Posted 29 May 2008 at 4:48 am

My own mother loves to annoy me with it! everyday I see her seems to come with a new compliment on how i seem to have lost weight (as if its the best thing that could ever happen!) accompanied by a questioning look if i order something other than a salad – and neither of us needs to lose weight! Female friends especially love to judge ‘overweight’ women in cafes etc who order big meals and marvel over ‘thin’ women who do the same, they don’t judge men this way so why do we have to oppress our own?

Sarah // Posted 29 May 2008 at 9:28 am

“I’m not extra super skinny… i’m about a 14-16 and I am always made to feel as though declining food is somehow good, and to be seen eating it is dangerously indulgent; like it is my duty to be trying to lose weight. I don’t want to lose weight. I don’t want to have to buy more clothes for a start and i’m pretty happy with how I am. It infuriates me that people, almost entirely might I add, women, seem to feel it appropriate to make me feel as though I shouldn’t be happy with my appearance because I don’t adhere to some bizarre socialised model of female beauty; namely looking like a pre pubescent boy post coitus”

I think this is the real issue – it’s nothing to do with your actual weight or appearance, the real taboo is being content with the way you look and not wanting to change it. It seems that as women we’re not ever ‘allowed’ to say that, in fact we must constantly reassure everyone around us that we really, really hate our bodies and are working hard to change and ‘improve’ them, and people seem to get quite upset when a woman dares to suggest that, actually, she’s perfectly OK with the way she is and doesn’t feel any need to alter her appearance.

It’s a strange phenomenon, I suppose it’s because people don’t like having their beliefs and habits challenged. Still it would be amazing – if we managed to show up the ‘great lie’ for what it is and realised that most of us are actually fine as we are, imagine what would happen to the whole diet/makeup/cosmetic surgery/fashion magazine industry?

Sarah // Posted 29 May 2008 at 9:33 am

Unlike some of the other commenters, I do actually quite like cake and other sweet foods – but I’m still annoyed by the attitude women are ‘supposed’ to have towards these types of food, as though it’s some weird addiction. Like the whole ‘women prefer chocolate to sex’ thing. As Germaine Greer (I think) said – it would seem odd if someone claimed to like bacon better than sex, but for some reason chocolate seems to be used in popular culture almost as a proxy for women’s sexual appetite – because of course we’re not allowed to have one of those for real!

Amy // Posted 29 May 2008 at 10:59 am

I read this post with great interest as I experienced a rather depressing example of this myself recently, at a meeting… a group of about four or five women starting cooing over a Kit Kat in the break, and the conversation went like this:

“I’ve got a kit kat, but I’m on a diet.”

*cue about five minutes chat about the Atkins diet*

“Oh go on, one won’t hurt.”

“If I go to the gym later, I can have it.”

“Oh don’t worry, if you have it with a cup of coffee it doesn’t count!”

“Yes, it cancels out the calories!”

*good natured giggling and twittering*

“Oh well *I’ll* have to get one now!”

“Go on, keep me company!”

*woman disappears to vending machine and comes back with Twix*

“Oh, how much chocolate is in that?!”

“Not telling you!”

“It’s okay, it’s not got that much chocolate in it, and anyway, the biscuit cancels it out”

etc etc etc ad nauseum.

I too feel a sense of despair when I hear conversations like these… I saw it as purely bonding and reminding each other that they’re in the female ‘gang’ with this pathetic game over food. No men butted in but then, there weren’t any around to contribute really. The women in the meeting obviously didn’t need them, they were perfectly able to police their own eating habits. :o/

And I don’t understand what it is with having to say ‘oh it doesn’t count’ or something ‘cancels’ something out. It’s food, it’s got calories in it, either eat it or don’t eat it but get over it!! Sheesh.

Jaz // Posted 29 May 2008 at 1:08 pm

I usually don’t eat much (I eat often instead) cos I’m still recovering from my eating disorder. I don’t get told I’m “good” or anything, I get told I need to eat more… Doesn’t seem like that’s very common :P

Annika // Posted 29 May 2008 at 1:26 pm

Mmmm, cake!

I eat what I want, when I want, as much as I want. I don’t care what people think, or even say for that matter, if I want to eat it then thats that. I love my food, especially anything sweet, and I am not going to feel guilty for it!

I used to work in a bookies, definately a man’s world, and when seen eating always being told “You stuffing your face again? You’ll get fat, you know”.

SO FUCKING WHAT?? Who cares?

I now work in a women’s organisation, and I must say, I often hear my colleagues talking about “Oh, I’ve been so good today” and “I was so bad yesterday, I had a pizza”… WTF??? Eat what you want to eat, seriously. I had a cheese salad yesterday for my lunch, and they were amazed at how “good” I was being. I wasn’t trying to be “good”, I just fancied a cheese salad.

The thing is, I see no reason to please anybody other than myself, so I don’t restrict what I eat. I am not unhealthy, I don’t constantly eat cake and chocolate, but I don’t worry about putting on a stone if I do.

I love my food, and I am known in the workplace for having a thing for biscuits. I’m not about to worry what people think when it comes to food, fuck that. I determine what I eat, no guilt trips or whatever are involved.

So, I will have my cake and eat it. All this talk of cake has made me hungry…

Laura // Posted 29 May 2008 at 1:32 pm

We had a delightful Victoria sponge at our shef fems meeting last night. Love cake, LOVE it!

Anna // Posted 29 May 2008 at 2:03 pm

This happened to me today, I’m now working in the kitchens of a local nursing home and there was some apple pie left over which we [the pretty much all female] staff shared. Not a single one of them didn’t comment on how “naughty” they were being, so I asked if they imagined men had these conversations. They didn’t, but they saw nothing wrong in their associating cake with guilt and men not.. Bah.

Mortality // Posted 29 May 2008 at 4:49 pm

My English teacher brought cake to school today since it was our last lesson. It was very yummy! And I’m happy to say none of the girls commented on how guilty they were :) Sweden is slightly less sexist than the UK I think…

Danielle // Posted 29 May 2008 at 6:38 pm

I have one male friend who is always telling me “You’ll get fat” if I dare to eat so much as a biscuit. As if that’s going to stop me!

Even when I was a size eight gymnast, I remember being told (by another woman this time, and quite a large woman at that) after getting a small hot chocolate from a drinks machine, “You’ll get fat if you drink too many of those!” As if it would be the worst thing in the world, for a teenage girl at least.

Actually, now that I think about it, I used to get such helpful “warnings” all the time, before and after I put on weight… Pity I used to listen to them.

Roxsie // Posted 29 May 2008 at 8:48 pm

*tucks into a kfc bucket*

It amazed my male friends the first time they saw me eat. I ordered a 14oz steak with chips etc and ate the whole lot. The only thing left on my plate was a few peas. Then i got comments about how unusual it was to see a girl eat properly.

Later on in the conversation they started talking about how they wished all girls ate properly and that they hated taking girls to restautrants as they’d just pick at what they’d order and make comments about how they shouldn’t. It’s food, it’s there to enjoy, putting on weight doesn’t matter unless it’s unhealthy.

I don’t weigh or measure myself as i know i’d then get paranoid about having to lose weight. As it is i’m a pretty content 14/16 sized girl

Philomela // Posted 30 May 2008 at 3:09 am

I have a real issue when you say

We’ll only stop this madness if we refuse to join in.

we can’t all refuse too join in, lots of women have very real and very complicated phycological issues with food, I feel like you are being really dismisive of women who have eating disorders/disorderd eating.

Saying 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. totaly invalidates the experiences of women with bulimia and other simmilar eating issues

Mary // Posted 30 May 2008 at 9:13 am

Philomena, I don’t think anyone on here would really belittle eating disorders. You’re right that LOTS of women have real problems with food and it’s a serious issue. But I’d imagine that anyone with a serious eating disorder would be more likely to avoid food and hide their problem, rather than stand around whingeing about calories and going to the gym. I don’t think this topic is about serious disorders. I think we’re complaining more about the problem of women with healthy, balanced diets not feeling able to indulge themselves without justifying it. That it’s seen as wrong and ‘sinful’ for women to just enjoy food in public.

But perhaps it’s from the seeds of this ridiculous attitude that serious eating disorders are born…in which case we do need to take it seriously. And the best way to avoid an eating disorder, to “stop the madness” IS to refuse to join in, to have a healthy relationship with food that allows it to just be food that you need, that isn’t sinful or wrong, it’s just food.

On which note, I’m going to turn to my morning croissant. Mmmm.

Adam // Posted 30 May 2008 at 2:32 pm

As a man if I try the gambit of “I should not be eating this” generally the answer will be “don’t then”. Many of the comments above it seems to create a whole conversation more like men talking about football. I mean that a woman who does not join in the conversation about food and diets is made to feel odd in the way that a man that does not like football is.

I agree that any man who comments on your weight at a biscuit is out of order, like most men these days I would not even say that to my wife, but I wonder how much this is an inept attempt at small talk and where as 30 years ago he might have started with a comment like “Nice tits” he now recognises that is unacceptable and instead picks on something that the women in the office say, am I being far too positive to suggest this migh tbe progress?

Anna // Posted 30 May 2008 at 3:04 pm

“And I don’t understand what it is with having to say ‘oh it doesn’t count’ or something ‘cancels’ something out. It’s food, it’s got calories in it, either eat it or don’t eat it but get over it!! Sheesh.”

I know this thread isn’t about eating disorders but I constantly verge on anorexia/bulimia and often that’s the only way I can eat something – by reassuring myself that my run or my not eating for the last week has indeed cancelled it out – and it isn’t something I find myself able to get over.

Charlotte // Posted 30 May 2008 at 4:57 pm

“I have a real issue when you say

We’ll only stop this madness if we refuse to join in.

we can’t all refuse too join in, lots of women have very real and very complicated phycological issues with food, I feel like you are being really dismisive of women who have eating disorders/disorderd eating.”

I agree with this, that not everyone can make the kinds of (feminist) choices about food that we would perhaps like to, and there is a danger of being dismissive about eating disorders in feminist discussions- I know personally, when I go through disordered eating the feminist in me is disgusted, I feel like a terrible feminist and I feel alienated from some feminist discussion as a result because, in some ways, I feel my eating disorder goes against a lot of feminist beliefs, at least a lot of those I choose to identify with. So yes, there is a problem that feminism and eating disorders can somewhat jar, and that feminist discussion can (unintentionally) exclude those who don’t have the ability to take control of their own bodies as we would ideally like.

But, there’s an important distinction to be made with what the original post is talking about. The attitudes of women that the post is discussing are those who *talk openly* about their latest diets and exercise- and talking openly is quite a crucial thing to note, because how many people with actual eating disorders go on and on about being “good”/”bad” or calories “cancelling out” in a joking fashion? By and large, real eating disorders are private, secretive, and when we think things such as Anna said, we are thinking them seriously, with a lot of other issues bound up with it. The attitudes that the original poster is condemning are those who regard this kind of thing as a joke, as something to laugh about and “bond” with other women over. To me, these attitudes need to be condemned because these kinds of attitudes trivialise the perceptions of eating disorders, and thereby give it the bad name of “dieters disease” and so on. The attitudes of women like this are VERY different to those of women with real, serious, mental health problems. It’s that triviality that the original post(I assume) is getting at, and in my mind, as someone recovered from an eating disorder, it’s entirely right that these kinds of attitudes are pulled down not only to get rid of the trivial perception of eating disorders, but also as I said in my earlier comment, because they are damaging to those who do seriously struggle with food (especially in this kind of social situation) and who need the help and support of other women rather than feeling like food is something bad for women.

Jennifer // Posted 30 May 2008 at 6:42 pm

I sincerely believe that the guilt is real, and that the process of complaining is really more about penance than it is about social bonding. I may be remembering incorrectly, but I read an article by Susan Bordo once, that connected appearance with morality, in the sense that appearance is conceptualized as a moral issue and/or a reflection of one’s morality, and that’s helped to shape much of my thinking here. I think fat is largely viewed as immoral/sinful, and the person who is fat, the same. And, at the very least in this arena, but I think also in many others, women’s morality is policed more frequently, and perhaps regarded as a public issue in a different way than men’s.

I, too, have been on the receiving end of men telling me what not to eat; in my case former friends and colleagues, in two distinct periods of my life, and in different cities. I don’t recall ever being on the receiving end of such comments from women, though during the height of my bulimia, I was continuously praised by the women that I worked with about my weight loss. I’ve also had both males and females complain about my not eating ‘enough’.

And I have to agree with Philomela here. I think the original post does minimize my own experiences with food. I often felt guilty for eating as I was eating, and sometimes the purging was an attempt to assuage that guilt. And I think that many, many women do feel guilty for eating. I didn’t just create the guilt, and it wasn’t just a front – it was a very painful and real thing for me. I felt like I should have been good enough to resist, and I think when my female co-workers praised me for my weight loss, they were praising me for what they (unconsciously perhaps) viewed as my moral superiority in resisting. Even when I didn’t feel guilty, other people were telling me I should and it can be very hard not to internalize that. And when they weren’t telling me that I should, they were telling themselves that they should, which is also hard to be around without internalizing. And it can be everywhere. My mother, my sister, my best friend, my workplaces, my recreation, my school, acquaintances, strangers, commercials, tv programs, etc. I don’t know that the guilty eaters want to make others feel guilty. I think they just don’t understand how you don’t feel guilty. To some extent, the original post reads to me like a defensive reaction against the internalization that you began to experience as a result of being surrounded by guilty-eaters (this isn’t meant as any sort of slight, I think a defence is necessary/good here, but I do think you underestimate the amount of very real suffering that many people go through and how intimately food issues are linked with any number of other issues. Many women ARE fighting battles against their bodies, and helping to end that battle will help to end every other battle of oppression. But I don’t think minimization helps to end that battle. I think it heaps guilt on top of guilt, and sometimes the result might be that someone gets buried and can’t find their way out).

I also think that self-loathing, suffering, jealousy, competition, and a feeling that one doesn’t deserve food and whatever that food might mean – life, pleasure, etc. – are all bound up with this too (along with many other elements), though I currently lack the ability to articulate my thoughts in that direction.

Jess // Posted 31 May 2008 at 12:02 pm

“if a person really did suffer such horrendous guilt for eating cake, then they probably wouldn’t eat cake.”

I disagree. I’ve experienced this – it doesn’t make any logical sense, and I can see how it would be difficult to understand for someone who has always had a healthy relationship with food and a healthy self-image.

But although I’ve never had an eating disorder, I have experienced this, and a big dose of self loathing alongside it.

I also don’t know how useful it is to say “get over it”; I just try and not engage in those conversations, or reinforce those conversations when they happen around me.

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