The Myth Of The Eating Actress — And Why It’s Dangerous For Women

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the myth of the eating actress

Garance Doré is a fashion illustrator, and the wife of Sartorialist photographer Scott Schulman. She’ s also a style blogger with a loyal following, loved for her honest and rambling posts about all things fashion. Earlier this week, Dore posted an entry called “The Other Girls,” where she talked about the major disconnect between what actresses look like and what they supposedly eat on TV and in interviews.

The essay was prompted by comments she received after posting a video of her friends eating lunch one day. In the video, Dore and her friends abstain from eating dessert, and some of her readers took that to mean that they were depriving themselves to stay thin, accusing Doré of offering a twisted “image of femininity.”

But, argued Doré, she was only showing what her concept of reality is — the way it is for so many women for whom eating a huge slice of cheesecake or gorging on a basket of fries means hours and hours in the gym.

It’s not a comfortable subject, but the way that women and eating are often portrayed in media is super skewed. So much so, that a 2011 New York Times article coined a term for it: Documented Instance of Public Eating, or DIPE. You’ve no doubt read, at this point, how Jennifer Lawrence loves breakfast foods and never works out, or seen some writer talk about eating spaghetti carbonara and talking about being “naturally thin” with Kerry Washington. These DIPEs are meant to humanize these actresses, to make them seem like “they’re just like you and me.” But is that really an honest portrayal of how famous women eat (and exercise)? And how does it impact our ideas about what we should eat, and how our bodies should look when we do?

“Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi chalks it up to a male fantasy. “I mean, do I eat spaghetti in bed?” she said in a 2011 interview. “Yes, I do. But I probably don’t eat ribs in a negligee at the foot of my bed [as was portrayed in this 2007 GQ spread]. Look, the two things we need to survive in life are food and sex or love. Food for our bodies, and love for our hearts. So what is better than the archetypical image of a woman eating succulent, dripping, greasy, comforting food?” But I think the fantasy is just as important for women — who want to believe that eating tons and tons of food without a care in the world won’t have any consequences.

But that’s simply not true for most of us. “Because for every friend who can eat whatever she wants and still stay thin,” writes Dore, “ten of us have to pay a little more attention to our eating habits, like me –  and I’m not talking about being anorexic or anything, but just using moderation and maybe not eating a giant piece of carrot cake after a big lunch. It’s no small task. And lying about the subject, now that I have a problem with.” Dore thinks it’s dishonest to portray women like those on “Sex and the City” or any other show, gorging on meal after meal or downing Cosmo after Cosmo without gaining an ounce.

Because, as Doré notes, “If the girls on ‘Sex and the City’ … or ‘Bridesmaids,’ or any other movie/TV show/magazine REALLY spent their time eating like they did on the screen, they’d look more like Lena Dunham than Carrie Bradshaw.” Of course, nobody’s accusing “Sex and the City” of at all resembling reality — after all, there is no way that Carrie Bradshaw could afford $600 shoes by writing one sex column a week, let alone New York rent. These shows trade on fantasy, because how fun, really, would it be to watch four women bitch and moan about being on diets all the time? And yet! In a certain way, television shows that present to us false realities — whether it be about food, or fashion, or how much money you have to make to live in a baller apartment in Manhattan (looking at you, “Friends”) only serve to play into our own pathos about where we are, what we look like, and why we don’t live in a fancy duplex in Tribeca. It’s cognitive dissonance; we see lithe, gorgeous, Rose Byrne eat tons of cake in “Bridesmaids,” but we don’t see the 10 hours a week of workouts she puts in, in order to stay slim. And while we might know that there’s a ton of work that goes into being a fit actress, we want to suspend disbelief — to think that eating all the cake won’t make us gain weight, because after, that’s not what happened to Rose.

But back to Doré’s point: The reality of femininity is that it’s multifaceted, complex, and not easily captured in a half-hour television show or a two-hour movie. You might see an actress on screen wolfing down burger after burger and drinking beer after beer. Women eating like men is considered sexy, after all. But you’re not likely to see the flip-side: That same actress spending hours at the gym to get in shape for her big bikini scene, working hard to look effortlessly toned and tanned. Because those are, in many ways, impossible models of femininity. You can’t possibly eat the whole pizza and have the oiled, tight abs — without a lot of work in between. And Dore, like most of us, isn’t interested in those women, anyway.

“I want to show real women, comfortable in their skin, who take care of themselves, work hard for the life they’re dreaming of, whatever background they come from,” she writes. “Not impossible models of femininity. I’m much more passionate about that than fairy tales. What about you? [Garance Doré]

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