Eating when everyone is watching
Hugo has an interesting post about how food is such a source of anxiety for women, who are under tons of pressure to stay thin, of course, but also because sensual enjoyment in women is still a big, fat taboo. I can think of, right off the top of my head, hundreds of instances of women I know making comments about how they like to eat in private, as do I. Of course, there are many reasons for this, but one of the big ones is eating in private affords one the opportunity to do it without explanation or apology or anxiety. That and you don't have to display elaborate manners or keep a conversation going. As a number of people on the blog point out, women just can't seem to eat without having to apologize for it. Holly illustrates this with a common incident in many people's lives.
I've attended early morning meetings with groups of women and early morning meetings with groups of men and the different attitudes towards the inevitable plate of breakfast pastries is always striking. The plate of danishes at the women's meetings is always approached with palpable anxiety by the group. Someone *has* to make a "joke" that the pastries are fat-free or that she will start a diet tomorrow before a pastry can be touched. Then everyone laughs nervously and looks anywhere but at the plate. If someone else takes a pastry, she also has to make a joke about being a pig or being bad that day.
Men do complain, I've noticed, about fattening food but usually not in the presence of so many other men and certainly not automatically as women do. Women often feel required to complain even if they don't mean it.
But this is a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, too. I've noticed a parallel situation that is discomfiting, too, and I have no idea how to handle it. If you go into a room with the pastries and everyone else has one but you don't, this is also a situation where your weight and eating habits are now up for discussion. I try to avoid the sweets, because they are empty calories, and I don't even like sweets. But telling people I don't want one opens up the guilt trip. By simply saying, no thank you, sometimes other women get offended like I'm sitting in judgement on them and they claim that I can get away with it because I'm thin, blah blah. And I don't want to say, "Jesus, I hardly starve myself. I'm probably going to go home and tear into some cheese and wine, and I just like to eat that better." Instead, I just usually say I don't like sweets, which is true but is received like it's a polite lie masking the inner anorexic.
I think that the insistence that one has to take the pastry is just more of the same fear of the sensual. Cheap office pastries aren't that tasty, so it's sort of a sinning isn't as bad if you didn't like it situation. When I turn my nose up to the pastries, I almost feel like people are imagining what kind of perverse pleasures I indulge in when they aren't looking. After all, we are familiar with the wicked indulgences that are far beyond eating stale sweets at the office--is the young woman going home after dodging Friday birthday cake to hit some smoky bar in a slinky red dress with a cigarette in one hand, a martini in the other and a rogue with a devilish twinkle in his eye beside her? (I wish.)
Okay, so I have an overactive imagination, but I think that there is something to the dance of the fattening foods that women do, and it's more complex than eating is bad, starving is good. By eating the treats laid in front of us while doing our mea culpas between bites, we communicate that yes, we have too much appetite, but at least it's right there in front and not really all that decadent. There is a ritual to eating and apologizing for it at the same time, an indication to others that we are sinners who are repenting for our appetites. By not playing, either by eating without apology or not eating even when others ask you to, you leave yourself open to speculation that lurking inside your heart is a passion for pleasures that are beyond apology.