Dear women of the Western world, please have some cake. That’s right, get up right now, and go get yourself something frosted and gooey and decorated to within an inch of its life. I implore you to treat yourself, just because it’s a crappy, cold, grey Monday.
However, if you go have cake, there are rules. First, no hiding the cake. No sneaking it back to your desk, or hiding in a closet while you devour it. Eat that baby out in the open, and to hell with what anyone else thinks! Second, you must eat the cake and then forget about it. No making yourself feel guilty, no calculating how many extra crunches you need to do to work it off. Third, no remorse, after the fact, when a skinny girl walks past you on the street, and you start thinking about how much closer you’d be to that “ideal” figure if only you’d not eaten that stupid delicious bit of pastry and frosting.
Okay, so I’m not really encouraging all women to go out and eat cake – although you can and should if you want to – certainly, healthy eating and moderation is still important. But in the past few days, I’ve come across two different articles that emphasis what a really, truly, horrible relationship most women have with both food and their own bodies.
In the first, A UK study shows that a resounding percentage of women lie about their weight, snack in secret, and lie about how much they actually eat. The study is funded by Atkins, which obviously has its own bias and vested interest in people’s diets, but it still reveals a really messed up relationship with food.
As a kid, I can remember my mother hiding in the kitchen, scarfing down cookies, fearful that my father would discover her and flip out at her for breaking her diet. I always swore I’d never do such a thing, but I have, on occasion, found myself shoving the last bits of a cookie or an handful of chips into my facehole before my partner walked into the room. I couldn’t even explain why – my husband of 14 years certainly wouldn’t ever flip out at me for breaking my non-existent diet, which means it’s some sort of instinctual reaction based on years of watching my mother live in guilt and fear.
The second study seems to show that literature aimed at women (aka. Chick Lit) can also play a role in the reader’s self-esteem. Women who read passages about thin protagonists did not feel fatter but did feel less sexy. When the protagonist was heavier (or thought she was) the result was different.
On the other hand, those who read a version of a story in which the central character expressed negative thoughts about her body “were significantly more concerned about their weight than participants in the control condition,” the researchers report.
So all that moaning Bridget Jones did about being “fat” at 130 pounds made a lot of female readers/movie viewers feel self-conscious about their own size. I remember watching the movie and thinking, “but 130 pounds is a perfectly reasonable weight…” and then feeling like crap because I was far above that number on the scale.
The moral of this story? Well, for one, stop reading stupid Chick Lit that makes you feel so bad about yourself so that you become the kind of person who hides behind the fridge to snarf a cupcake.
But more importantly, I think we all need to start questioning our reasons for doing what we do when it comes to food and body image. Why hide that bag of chips? What will happen if someone finds it? Who are we afraid of? And if there is a real person who would get angry at the sight of their friend/spouse/daughter/co-worker eating a piece of cake, why does that person have so much control of that individual’s life? (No, seriously – this is a biiiiig issue in and of itself.)
Why read books and magazines that make us feel bad about ourselves? Why let the opinions of others determine how (or whether) we love ourselves?
Obviously, that’s really not an invitation to run rampant in a cake shop, but it makes me really sad to see so many women (myself included) feel so bad about our bodies that we have to sneak and lie to enjoy a treat.