Not too long ago, I was happily eating a cookie when a man informed me that I was allowed to eat cookies only because I went to the gym often. I immediately went in for a second cookie simply out of spite. Although our exchange was both short and final, it made me think about how body-shaming is sometimes perceived as acceptable. Despite the rise of eating disorders in men, body-shaming is still largely a female phenomenon. For hundreds of years, society has been indoctrinated on how women should look and has been taught to see women as objects. If a woman is perceived as an object, she can be scrutinized and told how she has been found lacking at any moment.
The underlying meaning of the cookie comment was evident: “If you don’t go to the gym but continue to eat a single cookie on occasion, you will become gargantuan and will therefore be considered hideous.” I believe that being healthy is an important goal for which to strive, but his comment was not about being healthy at all – it was about being small enough to be accepted. That he felt comfortable passing judgment on my eating choices and consequently, my body, is concerning to say the least.
It seems as if we have come so far in terms of gender equality but then we get these glaring reminders that we still must constantly assert our “human-ness”. The only way in which body-shaming a woman in public becomes acceptable is when that woman is – or women in general are – considered objects. Some consider the male gaze / female object dichotomy antiquated and best suited for academic discussions centered on 19th-century studies. However, this dichotomy unfortunately continues to be the norm. There are rare cases where these roles are reversed and the affect is often either shocking or humorous – both being reactions that highlight the undeniability of the female-as-object. I would not hesitate to make a comment about whether a table or a chair is well-designed. In that same way, much of society has no qualms notifying a woman about whether she is well-designed and when flawed, how she must go about fixing herself.
Do we continue to make progress on this front or have people become complacent? I believe that there is a long way to go before this issue is solved and I do not see if being addressed as often as it should be. The media is supersaturated with images of women-as-objects and the media is a source – either consciously or unconsciously – that educates people. We are bombarded on a daily basis with images of objectified women and with verbal constructions that place women at a disadvantage. Through the media, we see ourselves as objects and being treated as such. It is no wonder that so many are resigned to this role and have given up trying to seek change.*
I do not think anyone should be made to feel guilty or self-conscious when they eat. I am outraged when I am made to feel that way and disappointed in myself for succumbing to that pressure and that gaze.
I would like to end this post with this video about women in 2013:
Have we really gotten that far?
* I admit that I place myself in a tricky position when addressing this topic. As a representational artist, I have been trained to see people as objects and therefore, often find myself studying humans as I would a piece of furniture or a flower-arrangement. However, I am aware of this objectification and am trying to address it in my artwork. I mention this as full-disclosure so I do not seem the hypocrite.