Talk about burying your lede. It takes New York Times writer Jeff Gordiner 677 words (during which he waxes poetic and/or quotes poetic waxing about Minka Kelly eating spaghetti, Drew Barrymore eating mac and cheese, and so on) before he gets a source to explain exactly why every Hollywood starlet interview you read has to include the requisite Documented Instance of Public Eating:
“Don’t you feel awfully sorry for actresses?” said Bumble Ward, who spent years as a Hollywood publicist before leaving to write a blog and work on a novel. “They’re so sure that people assume they have an eating disorder that they’re forced to wolf down caveman-like portions of ‘comfort food’ in order to appear normal. And worse, they feel they have to comment on how much they’re enjoying themselves. Gone are the days of the black coffee and 10 Marlboro Reds lunch.”
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Actresses have to work so damn hard to look great (as Jenn Fischer explains in the current issue of Redbook, you have to tell your agent every time you chance pants size). And because beauty is supposed to be effortless, they also have to pretend to have these freakish metabolisms that let them wolf down on cheeseburgers and onion rings whenever they damn well please.
On the one hand, I always hope, when I read those moments in stories (and ummm, when I write them — That T-Mobile 4G Girl can eat ten Cadbury Flake candy bars, justincaseyouwerewonderingboutthat), that maybe said actress was at least happy to get a break from her usual diet of lettuce, diet soda and shame, and enjoy her lunch for a change.
But considering all the good food/bad food doctrines that we non-starlet women ascribe to foods like spaghetti carbonara, eggs Benedict, and fried calamari… I’m willing to bet that actually, getting through those meals is a job of work. When you’ve been banning foods left and right for months, if not years, it’s damn hard to suddenly up and eat them in the name of seeming like just a normal, healthy girl without feeling pretty conflicted.
Not to mention how it’s so entirely unhelpful to any woman or young girl reading the interview. I can still remembering being eleven, reading a YM cover story with Shannen Doherty (so, almost twenty years ago, in the height of her 90210 fame) where she ate an enormous cheeseburger and fries while talking about how she never seemed to gain a pound or a pimple, and thinking, How on earth am I gonna ever do that?
My top choice, obviously, would be for celebrities to get to eat like normal folk (and, all of us to get to eat like normal folk too) where you consume real food containing real calories and nutrients every day and enjoy treats like cheeseburgers once in awhile (whatever “awhile” means to you) because you want to, not because your agent told you everyone thinks you have an eating disorder.
Barring that, I’ll take the Jenna Fischer version, where actresses stop playing with their food and just admit that a serious downside of their job is the way it messes with their freedom to make their own diet decisions.
But we won’t get either one of those scenarios, because, as Gordiner does an excellent job of explaining, no one perpetuating the Hot Chicks Eat Hot Wings stereotype actually gives a damn about its impact on women. This is a trope entirely designed to cater to male fantasies. Which is why I am so sad for Shiri Appleby right now:
Jon Shook, an owner of Animal, the meat- and fat-centric restaurant in Los Angeles, becomes effusive when he talks about coaxing his girlfriend, Shiri Appleby, a television actress and a former vegan, into eating his fried pork chops. “She’s like 110 pounds, maybe, in wet clothes, and when she’s with me, we eat everything and anything,” he said on the phone. “On our first date, I was like, ‘Hey, why’d you stop being a vegan?’ And she was like, ‘What kind of guy’s going to date a vegan?’ And I was like, ‘You’re awesome.’ ”
A lot of the time, I end up feeling like the most oppressive beauty standards are the ones created for women, by women. Because for the most part alert: major gender stereotyping ahead guys don’t look that closely at whether your jeans give you a hint of the ole muffin top, and they remain pro-bikini long after you might think you can no longer wear one. (They’re right about this. You can wear one.)
But this time, I’ve got to say, we would all be a lot better off if men stopped buying into this fantasy and could admit, alongside Jenna Fischer and the rest of us, that being the kind of hot that gets GQ to name you the “Sexiest Woman Alive” takes serious work and discipline and will probably end up sabotaging your mental and physical health. And making women jump through those kinds of hoops and then also lick up raw cake batter or whatever is maybe kind of cruel.
If I get to pick, again, I’m going to choose the option where guys still find girls who eat cake batter sexy, but adjust the rest of that “sexy” definition accordingly to allow said cake batter to be consumed in a mutually enjoyable manner. But since that doesn’t seem very likely, I’ll at least settle for men’s magazines being more honest about the work that goes into manufacturing the fantasies they sell.
[Photo: Non-famous woman eating cake from the amazing gallery of said women over on, you guessed it, Eat The Damn Cake. Where Kate asks us to eat cake because it tastes good, not because we’re trying to perpetuate any kind of male fantasy bullsh*t. Thanks, Kate!]