Each week in The Female Gaze, Faith Newport engages the trends, events, and issues that affect women—and the men who care about them.
Let’s talk about women and food.
It’s gotten pretty complicated. Let’s use my life as an example for a moment here.
There are the people who give me the funny looks whenever I decline a dessert (rare occasion though that might be), the slight eye roll, and the inevitable exclamation of, “But, you’re so thin!” There are the other funny looks I get from waitresses whenever I say that I do not want a salad with my meal, thank you very much. There are the people who took my years-long venture into vegetarianism somewhat personally. There were the ballet classes I took that came with mandatory group weigh-ins. There are the guys in movies and on TV that say, “I love a girl that can eat!” But then the girl is five-seven and about 110 pounds.
There was the time a guy friend told me, “Your a– is keeping up with the Kardashians!”
It’s easy to feel like everyone gets to have an opinion about my body and what I feed it, except maybe me. The people who won’t take no for an answer when offering me that second helping. The salesgirl who smirks doubtfully about the cute dress I bought to wear on a body that isn’t a size 2 like hers. The magazine headlines.
The person who didn’t believe me when I had an eating disorder, because I didn’t “look” anorexic. The other person who thought I had an eating disorder when I actually didn’t because I have a prominent rib cage.
The list, as they say, goes on.
In the midst of it all is me. A woman, a person, a girl who swore she’d never have hips and thighs like the adult women she saw growing up and is now glad she does. A woman who occasionally diets—and occasionally doesn’t.
Dieting has taught me a lot. I make more educated choices, consume things in balance, and let go of the things that don’t matter, like the tortilla for my burrito at Chipotle or having full-fat milk. I like dieting. I like the satisfaction of knowing that I’m doing well by myself and my body.
Not dieting is also, obviously, glorious.
Dieting comes with worry, and questions. Is that too much? How many calories? How do I look today, compared to yesterday? Not dieting does too, of course. Should I feel guilty? Is that unhealthy? How do I look today, compared to yesterday?
After all this, it finally seems like the best weight-watching plan for me is simply caring about my own opinion first and foremost. Am I hungry? Do I really want that chocolate cake, or do I feel obligated because I’m at a birthday party? It’s harder than I thought it would be. There are no rules. There’s no checklist. Just the challenge of listening to my interior voice rather than all the exterior ones.
And a challenge it is. Our culture does its best to place women in bondage to food, and in bondage to their bodies. To fat days, thin days, and binge days. To yo-yo dieting and cleanses and yoga they’d rather skip. It seems like an achievement to win at the dieting game, or to blow it off entirely. But if that means bondage, you’re still losing. The Bible speaks of the truth setting us free, and the apostle Paul strongly declares that we should not be slaves to anything but Christ.
I think that means being able to say yes and no to food.
It also means the opinion of the One who made me is more important than the well-meaning relative, the careless friend, or the bratty clerk. And that the magazine with fifty headlines about weight is probably best left on the shelf. And it means reaching out just a little to someone else by saying that you think what they eat and how they look is truly just fine.
(To all my girl friends out there: It is, and you do.)
In the end, I like author Anne Lamott’s dieting advice the best: “Do the best you can, MOST of the time. Walk a bit more. Radical self love.”