I was reading through Ravneet Gill’s latest recipe book, ‘Sugar, I Love You‘, when I came across an anecdote that made my brow furrow deep into my skull. She tells a fleeting story of how a man gently pulled her hand away from a slice of cake and whispered the words that would make my blood instantly hit boiling point: ‘It’ll go straight to your hips.’ She then continues on to say that a friend’s former partner had forbidden her to eat a doughnut after she’d already had some apple crumble. I shared a photo of the page on Instagram Stories and was horrified that 20+ women responded to tell me similar stories of their own, or their friends.
It is 2021 and women are still being shamed for enjoying food. In fact, not just enjoying, but consuming food in the first place. It’s not just what we eat, but how often, and in what way – a strange, meaningless set of rules imposed on 50% of the population that stem from an assumption that a woman’s physical appearance should be more important than enjoying one of the base pleasures in life: delicious food.
I look back on my life and feel grateful that I’ve never had any issues with food. A certain relative would constantly comment that I was ‘too skinny’ as a child, comparing me to her own daughter who was apparently ‘just right’. We were children, and our brothers were certainly never compared – it was my first view into how people seemed to judge physical appearance over actual character traits. It’s a miracle that I didn’t end up having a complex about how much and how often I eat, considering that those comments are still so prominent in my childhood memories.
Lord knows, I am in the minority though. I, like many women, have seen multiple wonderful friends suffer from various levels of disordered eating. Teenage years of seeing peers wolfing down vending machine chocolate bars in the school toilets so others wouldn’t see them eating; as a student watching bemused and confused by housemates sharing a kiwi for breakfast, and as an adult being witness to frantic pre-wedding diets, addictions to exercise, and the constant insistence that if they just lose a few pounds then their life will be better. When I was (incorrectly) diagnosed with polycystic ovaries, the only advice I was given to help my fertility was to cut out carbs from my diet (at a time when I was still a smoker), and frankly, the time that I indulged in that loss was one of the most miserable weeks of my life. I’ve had more comments than I can count about my appearance since being pregnant, all related to whether I’ve gained weight in other areas, and commenting on getting back into my old clothes. It’s all been with good intentions, as though to reassure me that I don’t look any different, but suggests that my focus, while growing an entire human being from scratch, is to worry if I look good while doing it, or that I will have that as a core priority once my son is born.
But I revel in being the last person to stop eating at an all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurant under the incredulous gaze of her in-laws (I also grabbed a waffle from a dessert stand nearby afterwards). I love that everyone else feels happy to order a dessert because they know I will absolutely go in for one too. I will have second helpings, raid the fridge for leftovers, actually enjoy lining my stomach before a night drinking, and think it’s hilarious how my body has damn well DEMANDED multiple mini Cathedral City cheeses at midnight while pregnant. I am not the size I was at 21, I probably won’t be my pre-pregnancy size ever again either. Will that stop me from ordering an extra portion of curry sauce with my fish and chips? Absolutely bloody not.
Let me make this clear, food is joy. Whether it’s a hangover-curing McDonald’s breakfast, a full Sunday roast with all the trimmings, or a couple of Hobnobs for a sugar fix before your 15th Zoom meeting of the day – it fulfils more than a physical need. It should never elicit shame, it’s never ‘cheeky’ or a ‘guilty pleasure’, and it’s only naughty if you’re smothering it on the naked body of another consenting adult. And there is nobody, NOBODY, who should tell you what you should or should not be eating, least of all a man who thinks that a woman’s place is in front of a salad.