The other day in my sociology class we were talking about all the ways women’s bodies are commodities. Naturally, a discussion of “thinness” came up. My professor said that everything is thinner and more compact, now. Essentially the obsession with women’s bodies follows the same obsession with technology. Women get thinner as phones and computers and cameras get thinner.
My professor showed us different commercials that show how women relate eating with guilt or “the past” when people were uneducated neanderthals. He said the current belief that the less you eat correlates to how intelligent you are and how desirable you are. He showed that food commercials targeting men focused on quantity of food; how much they could physically fit into their bodies, because to be a man is to be full. To be a woman, you should be empty.
He asked us to give commentary about women and eating and how that relates to societal impacts and everyone went back and forth about the same fucking argument: women feel the pressure to be thin because of “the man” blah blah blah.
That’s fine, I’m sure it’s true to a certain extent, but I raised my hand and I said, “I don’t think you’re correct.” And he said, “Why?”
So here’s what I said and here’s my reasoning:
When commercials attempt to make food appeal to women they either do it on an indulgence level or a health conscious level. Food is either seen as a special treat (Dove chocolate) or a fuel for the body (100 calorie packs). This makes several things true about our society:
1) Women are more likely than men to view food as comfort.
2) Women are more likely than men to view food as “the enemy.”
3) Women inflict these standards on themselves.
4) It is only okay to eat when you feel upset.
Hunger is a feeling. It is experienced by both men and women, but when you ask men and women to describe how it feels, the results are dramatically different. Men describe hunger in terms of the stomach (“it feels like a hole in my stomach, my stomach hurts, etc.”), women describe hunger in terms of the head (“I feel irritable, I get angry, I hear myself being short with other people.”).
Hunger, to women in our society, is an emotion.
I don’t think that the societal pressure to become thinner is necessarily wrong. I wish it wasn’t there, but I don’t have much to say about it. What I think is wrong is making any physical feeling into an emotion. It’s like saying if you’re tired, you’re emotionally vulnerable.
Commercials that appeal to women on an indulgence level focus on women’s periods. When Dove chocolate commercials play, you know that it’s okay for that woman to be eating chocolate because more than likely she is on her period. Advertising doesn’t need to state it for it to be true. Culture completely relates women eating chocolate and ice cream and comfort foods to menstruation.
I raised my hand in class and I said, “I think it’s really awful that this physical thing my body does of its own accord plays into how people treat me or what people think of me for a week, twelve times a year. It’s okay for me to eat chocolate, but only if I’m sad. And when I’m sad, it’s because of this physical thing my body is doing, not because I have actual emotions congruent to reason. And when I eat this chocolate because I am on my period I am then viewed as vulnerable because to eat is to be out of my own control. This is why there are anorexics. It’s not because of the pressure to be thinner, it’s because whenever we eat, people think we’re out of control!”
And my professor just stared at me for a second, so I added: “Also, I’m sorry to talk about being on my period in class.”
And then I paused. And then I said, “Actually, I’m not because for five days every month I have to bleed and writhe in pain and pretend like nothing is wrong because if I don’t I’m unfit to be reasonable so that’s pretty shitty.”
Never in my life have I received a slow clap, but in that instance I did.
But in a purely academic way, isn’t it pretty interesting how food relates to vulnerability? It is one of the few things that literally means exact opposites for the two sexes. To men, food is power. To women, food is vulnerability. Control vs. lack of control. It’s insane to think about how that must have developed over time!
I hate social justice blogging, I really do. This is in no way a PSA or a “WE NEED TO CHANGE” post, this is a: “look at this thing that has naturally become a part of society over time” post.
Consider me an academic, not a campaign.