I remember being on a date age 16 and being utterly terrified; it was the second time I’d been on a date with a boy and this time we’d gone for Chinese. I hadn’t known this before, if I had I’d probably have tried to move the meeting somewhere else, but I was now sat opposite him, staring at the menu in front of me, internally screaming as I tried to work out what to eat. No, I’m not a picky eater, no I don’t hate Chinese cuisine, I bloody love it, I was simply terrified of eating in front of a potential romantic interest. ‘If I order too much, he might deem it unladylike, or I might get bloated. If I don’t eat that’s just as weird, I can’t be that girl.’ Throughout my relationship with this boy I would often eat extreme portion sizes around him, returning home to either a giant meal or a day of fasting in fear of either my body not looking appealing whilst around him, or for him to think I wasn’t a relaxed girl who could eat pizza, play video games and hang with his mates.
Almost five years later, I found myself yet again on a date, different boy, same situation.
‘Do you want some bar snacks?’
My mind screams ‘there’s no dainty way to eat any of these, you ate seven hours ago, you’ll be fine.’ Thus an hour and two drinks later, my empty belly was unable to cope with a minute amount of alcohol and I had to excuse myself home, despite the fact that we’d spent the whole date discussing how much I love cooking and burgers. My utter fear of eating in front of others won again.
I love food, my mum still tells stories of me demanding fish and chip dinners before I even had the teeth that would enable me to chew; I come from a family where gatherings are based around massive Indian feasts, but growing up female has never allowed my relationship with food to be simple. From pre-pubescence I’ve had the two Cs, calories and carbs, drilled into my head like some sort of perverse green cross code; when choosing lunch I instinctively turn over the packaged goods, check fat, sugar and calorie content whilst mentally planning how the rest of my meals will fit in with this purchase. Crazy and controlling perhaps, but this is a shadow on the deeper issues affecting young women these days.
Over the last few years a number of friends have been diagnosed with eating disorders. Whilst they varied in type, all seem to suffer from one similar fear; how others perceived them eating. None would eat around me for fear of being judged on how much/little they ate or for me thinking them disgusting for enjoying food that was high in calories or fat. One would show me her instagram obsessively, and point out how all the food was rigorously prepared, how healthy all of it was, and how everyone commenting was saying how good it look and how they envied her ability to eat all this food and stay slim. In reality she was barely having a bite of the food, but the feeling that strangers off the internet admired her was enough to keep this destructive behaviour going. I have friends without diagnosed eating disorders who will run for hours before a meal, who will starve themselves for a day before a date, all because they are scared of the public labelling them ‘fat.’
But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a huge pressure for women to eat. The rise of ‘foodie’ culture and ‘curvy’ women had lead to there being an increasing pressure on women to eat large amounts of food and still maintain ‘desirable’ figures. In America the Carl’s Jnr have come under severe criticism for depicting tiny models rolling about in next to nothing, all the while shoving their latest burger creation in her gob. Not a day goes by without some female celebrity declaring how much she hates exercise and loves food. mmmm, you can so realistically have a size 0 body and eat all the fast food you want…right?
With all this in mind, we have the recent Facebook page ‘Women Who Eat On Tubes.’ The owner claims it to be a artistic venture, an avant garde look at something that society usually looks down upon. However a brief survey of the comments shows a vile and aggressive sentiment towards women simply performing a necessary function to stay alive. It fetishises eating, it makes it seem weird that women should enjoy food and publicly do so, because hey, women don’t eat, shit or wake up looking anything but immaculate right? Because we’re still conforming to the Victorian standard of placing femininity on some sort of absurd pedestal, and thus preventing these angelic creatures from mucking about in masculine pursuits such as actively enjoying staying alive.
In response to this, a group of women on twitter have started the hashtag #LadiesWhoLunch. It’s a conscious effort to make women feel at ease with food and more importantly eating publicly. All I would ask is that you share your photos and videos of you enjoying food using the hashtag and just continue to love sustenance. Fetishes are deemed fetishes because they are out of the ordinary; lets make ladies lunching as blasé as it gets.