Women, society, and food: getting rid of the social stigma

BY ELANA DESANTIS

I hate going out to eat with teenage girls. I fully recognize and take ownership of the fact that I am a member of that demographic, and because of this, I feel it is important that I address the growing issue between young women and restaurants. What starts as a way to get a meal with a friend can, and does, quickly turn into a ninety minute game-show style competition which roughly represents a mash-up between “The Biggest Loser” and “The Hunger Games” (no pun intended.) How do you win this, you ask? The directions aren’t clear, but after years of on-field research I’ve concluded that the person who eats the least while simultaneously acting like they don’t care about how little they’re eating comes out on top. Even with its often ambiguous guidelines, by the end of the meal everyone recognizes who emerged victorious and that individual becomes the object of mutual resentment of the entire table.

I’ve always seen eating out as an economic and caloric luxury. If I’m going to go out and spend money on food, I hope I spend the rest of the evening feeling like a slightly oven-filled water balloon. As a young kid, going out to eat in my family was something we did very rarely, and it was an unspoken rule that if you could make it at home, you don’t order it in a restaurant. It was also established that if you’re trying to eat healthy, you should probably be making your own food. This idea, along with Teva sandals, was one of those things that my family did that I assumed every family did until I entered the real world. Other families ate out a few times a month, so it wasn’t necessary for those kids to steal the pre-meal bread under their shirts on the way out because they knew pretty reliably that they’d see it again. Eating out, I discovered, changes depending on the mentality of the group. With boys my age, it’s about how much you can eat, with girls, it’s about how little.

Because I am seventeen years old, I’m blaming society for this discrepancy in eating expectations. Conventional beauty standards state that along with having the arms of Michelle Obama and the legs of Beyonce Knowles, girls should also be pretty skinny. As a teenage girl, being the heaviest person in your friend group is the social equivalent of a nuclear holocaust. It’s also perpetuated that girls should eat how the world expects them to do everything: neat and perfectly. Only in the occasional romantic comedy do we see that one wild and quirky girl, despite being incredibly mouse-like, wolf down an entire rack of ribs in front of a man who just realized he needs a girl who can be fun and crazy enough to eat in front of him. It’s no wonder, then, that when a group of women go out to eat, they carry the weight of societal expectations with them.

Like so many other women’s issues, girls fall victim to the stereotype and ultimately end up contributing to the problem. This brings me back to my initial point, because so much of the judgement that comes from eating comes from other girls. I have some serious doubts about the fact that women and men have significantly different tastes for food. Rarely, though, would you see a group of teenage boys sitting at a table, subconsciously peer-pressuring each other into getting Cobb salads.

I don’t know if there is an easy solution to this. Society, as it turns out, isn’t always easy to change. What I do know is that a lot of other girls feel the same way about eating out, uncomfortable and judged, neither of which are enjoyable. So, next time you’re out to dinner with your friends and that one bitch whips out the “skinnylicious” menu because she is a patron saint of womanhood, you go ahead and order an extra side of onion rings because you, my friend, are worth it. If legislation, education, and communication aren’t working to battle predisposed gender roles in our society, maybe a plate of fried food will.

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