Recently, a close friend angrily forwarded along a New York Times blog article to me, titled “Food and the Single Girl.” The post, through a series of problematic premises and carbo-phobic rhetoric, lands at the writer’s self-congratulation for her ability to do things like; “grab some yogurt and call it a night,” rather than enjoy a proper meal.
The author attributes her self-discipline partially to her lifestyle choices as a single woman living alone. She says that it prevents her from being tempted to “let the scent of a toasting bagel lure me away from what I need to eat to reach my health goals.”
When my friend sent me this piece, she included a righteous response to load of crap that the piece as a whole is built upon. She said to me:
“My new years resolution is to love myself no matter what, eat whatever the f*** I want, and be healthy in my head.”
Yes. That’s more like it.
Reading the New York Times piece made me sad, and mad, and exasperated. It put on display an ultimately flawed sense of accomplishment that this poor woman had reached through alienating herself from “temptations” and “pressures” and eliminating foods that have been arbitrarily deemed scary or bad.
Somebody sequestering themselves in their apartment so that they can make “healthier” decisions about food should not be viewed as a victory. Rather, we should interrogate the mechanisms that caused her to feel this type of behavior was necessary to begin with.
Confusing messages about food, femininity, and health are broadcast all the time. I was listening to the radio the other day and a cocky DJ asked a caller who had requested a song whether she was the type of girl who would “order a salad” or “order a steak.” “Definitely steak.” the woman responded proudly, to the praise of an absolute stranger, whose unfounded test of her “chill girl” index she had apparently passed with flying colors.
There’s nothing inherently wrong or right with eating a salad, same goes for eating a steak. And the simple act of doing either should not be accompanied by the label of being a certain “kind of girl.”
The gendering of food is a shameful practice, and as a society we should insist upon a comprehensive cease and desist. Foods aren’t “girly” or “masculine” (concepts which, init of themselves, are socially constructed, and utter bullshit.) Furthermore, these distinctions, outside of being absurd and offensive, are dangerous.
Unfortunately in our society today, women’s bodies are monitored on just about every level. And our habits and choices are considered to be fair game for just about anybody to comment on or judge as they see fit.
Our bodies and the things we put in them are, quite frankly, nobody’s else’s goddamn business. And qualifying foods as good or evil, or as appropriate only for women or men, contributes to fallacious thinking which can lead down hazardous paths.
What I mean by this is that too many women I know have had eating disorders.
When most people consider eating disorders, more extreme cases of anorexia and bulimia tend to be what comes to mind. However, the truth of these commonplace occurrences is much more insidious. It’s refusing to eat a potato because it has too many calories. It’s painstakingly picking out croutons to avoid extra carbs. That’s not always what we label this behavior, but that’s what is.
When food choices or the act of eating cause an experience of extreme stress, guilt, or self-hatred, that’s a disorder too. And its one that has infiltrated the experience of not just individuals, but arguably our culture as a whole.
The tenants of a healthy relationship to food have just about nothing to do with banning or meticulously monitoring certain items in your diet. Instead, we should all strive to find a way to love what we eat, and respect ourselves and our surroundings while we’re at it. By reframing a relationship to food from one that is restrictive to one that is celebratory we approach food with a mentality that brings us joy, rather than fear.
Sure, avoid over-processed poison passing as food, but besides that, screw all the other yummy-shaming rules. Instead, let’s just eat happy.