Thursday, 7 June 2007

Are you allowed to eat?

A while ago, I was tucking into a particularly delicious slice of cheesecake at my desk. It was proper cheesecake, none of this low-fat, low-carb, no-taste malarky, caramel flavour with chocolate sprinkles on top. A colleague came up to me and swooned, "Ooooh, you're so lucky, you're so thin, you can eat anything."

On another occasion a couple of years ago, a friend came and sat with me whilst I happened to be making light work of a Snickers bar. I broke off a piece for her - as you do - and she looked at me in a knowing manner and said, "Ah, sharing the guilt, are we?" No, actually I was sharing my chocolate. If you ascribe guilt to food that's your problem - don't try and drag me into your way of thinking, or assume that I feel the same way.

Only thin women have permission to eat. If your clothes size is in double figures, you might be allowed to eat, but only if you feel very guilty about it before, during and after.

I don't eat what I want when I want because I have "permission". I would like to think that if I were - shock horror! - a size 12 rather than a size 8, I would still have been eating that cheesecake. I would like to think that whether or not to eat it would not have been a painful, emotionally charged decision, aided by other girls telling me that of course I was thin enough to eat cheesecake whilst secretly hoping that it might make me fatter than them. I would like to think that it wouldn't have caused me so much guilt that for the rest of the afternoon I was too busy imagining a plague of cellulite settling on my hips to concentrate on my work.

The phenomenon of fat people, particularly fat women, eating only salad in public and eating fattening food only in private where they are not open to ridicule, is well-documented. I often find myself doing the opposite - stuffing my face with chip butties to prove that I am naturally slim and not one of these stupid girls who diets. If I'm eating out, I'll have a tendency to pick lardy options and get my salad fix at home. This might seem silly, frankly it is extremely silly and now I've admitted to it in writing I'm rather ashamed of myself, but I no more want to be associated with Diet Coke Girls than a naturally fat girl would want to be associated with chunkmonsters who spend their evenings stuffing their faces with nachos in front of Ricki Lake whilst cultivating interesting fungi in their sweaty flab rolls. The point is, a woman's figure dictates what it is socially acceptable for her to eat.

Something I noticed when I started secondary school was the physical manner in which girls used to eat. If a boy was eating, say, a big phat chocolate muffin with big phat chocolate chips, he would take bites out of it, or break off large chunks. If you wanted some of his chocolate muffin, you'd have to ask, because he wouldn't automatically offer it to you. If a girl was consuming the same delicious oversized chocolate cake, she would daintily pick tiny bits off it at several second intervals, popping them into her mouth in a bored, vacant manner which suggested that she wasn't really interested in it at all. She would shove the muffin into her friends' faces, trying to share as much of it as possible. A cake that would take a boy approximately two minutes to devour would take a girl at least twenty minutes to dissect. As I pointed out at the time to anybody who would listen (which admittedly was very few people at my dodgy London comprehensive) it was as if by the physical manner in which girls ate cake they were simultaneously apologising for eating cake.

Where on earth did it come from, this idea that women are not supposed to eat? That picking at your food is somehow dainty and ladylike, and not just a symptom of a raging eating disorder? Has anybody ever read the diet pages of a magazine and wondered how on earth anybody could possibly live on such little food, and then realised that they were reading about what the "victim" purports to have lived on BEFORE they went on the diet?

Okay. In the absence of any rational female attitude towards food, any high-profile champion of food-slash-gender-based politics or indeed anybody who seems to talk any sense about it at all, I am hereby giving you permission to eat. Yes, you. Whether you're a size 6 or a size 36, you are allowed to eat. Eat what you feel like eating when you're hungry, stop eating when you're full. It's not love, or guilt, or your best friend or your worst enemy. It's just food.


Anonymous said...

Well, it's not all self-imposed.

A little while ago at work, the boss bought us a big box of chocolates to eat. Assuming that the idea was to eat them, I duely did so - but whenever I went to get one, the men in the office sucked their teeth like old grannies, clucked and shook their heads at me.

Lovely, huh?

The Urban Feminist said...

What, really? Sounds as if they might have been passing comment on dieting culture, rather than actually insinuating that you shouldn't be eating chocolate...

Eleanor Turner said...

It's all so true!

An overweight woman at my workplace would sit eating salads, soups, low-fat sandwiches, etc in the staffroom and tell everyone who ate anything else that if they ought to be eating sushi or something like her, because she was on a diet. Then, she gave me a lift somewhere unexpectedly and what did I see in her car? Bags and bags of old McDonalds, empty sweet wrappers, bottles of pop and all manner of other 'sinful' goodies. She clearly felt she couldn't eat in public, so developed a dangerous over-eating disorder in secret. Which, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely WHY she was overweight!

So, yes, urbanfeminist, I wholeheartedly agree. I am unashamedly seen eating large quantities of fatty, sugery foods in public and I don't care a dot. I am happy, healthy and don't have an eating disorder. Gosh.

Anonymous said...

I agree!
I do hate this "I'm not allowed to eat x" mindset. Who says? Who is the mysterious granter of permission? It's just a way of passing off responsibility for our eating choices.
I've been really skinny and I've been pretty tubby and generally hover somewhere round a "yeah, that'll do" size.
I have lost weight through changing my eating habits because I felt unfit and when I was super skinny I gained weight deliberately - again because I felt unfit being that thin.
Eating lots of unhealthy stuff = extra weight and poor health.
I do wish we could all stop saying "Ooh, I would but I'm not allowed" and start saying "yeah, that looks nice but I don't want one right now" and be a bit more honest with ourselves.
Sometimes I wonder if there are times we do the whole guilt routine just to help our friends feel better? I know in the past I've been in the situation of eating something sweet & gooey that I don't actually want because I know my friend doesn't want to feel like a pig and we both witter on about how "we shouldn't" and "aren't we naughty". Other (more reasoned) times I've just thought "mmm, eclairs!" and then watched my friend drool into her salad while beating herself up just for even thinking about joining me in the cake fest.
Sometimes in my life I am fatter and sometimes in my life I am thinner and if I go too far either way for my liking then I'll do something about it but I hope never to be sucked into the pound-by-pound micro management of my weight that so many of my friends subscribe to. Life is way too short for all that!

Nathalie said...

Word. I'm going for a farkin' burger.

Geum-ja said...

I never shared my chocolate muffins and I always wolfed them down. I'm a girl. So we're not all like that.