If you think that what you put in your mouth is your business, think again.
You cannot ingest a morsel these days without someone, somewhere, having an opinion on it. An opinion they feel the need to share with millions of other internet users. An opinion they’ll illustrate with a nefariously taken photograph and an unsubstantiated comment. And it’s all your fault.
Firstly, you started to live your life as a public broadcast. You document, caption, photograph, and annotate your every animal experience: food, feelings, family, the lot. Secondly, you allowed technology to come between you and the rest of human existence. You placed your phone, feed, and 3G connection between everything you hold dear and everyone you’ve never met.
As a result, you allowed invasive, cynical accounts like YouDidNotEatThat to exist. By following them, contributing to them, and, ultimately, submitting to them, you have allowed a culture of food-shaming blogs to spore up like mold on a peach.
YouDidNotEatThat is a relatively new, anonymous Instagram account that scours and regrams photos of slim people eating un-slimming food. Sounds unremarkable, but, by describing itself as “Speaking the truth in this mixed up world of too many macarons and ice cream cones,” YouDidNotEatThat does something far more unsavory. It accuses strangers, primarily women—who outnumber men on the feed by at least ten to one—of lying. Of perpetuating a negative stereotype, of indulging in indefensible narcissism, and of gloating at our expense. The subtext, as so often with these things, is that food is bad, that thin people are shallow, and that it’s our inherent right to call them out on it.
Except, of course, it’s not. In an anonymous interview, the woman behind the account (which has over 107,000 followers) argued, “This is not me making some huge social commentary about what size somebody is and what they’re eating.”
But when you caption a photo of a woman eating fish and chips with the comment, “What isn’t shown is that this box of gluten-free vegan fish and chips tumbled to the ground after this ferocious bite. Also, side bar, she looks like a blow up doll,” you are doing precisely that. You are calling her a liar, commenting on what she’s eating, and criticizing how she looks.
As a food-loving woman, I know very well the discomfort and tenacious self-loathing that all too often accompanies eating. As a young girl I was warned against eating Greggs in the street. I used to feel a hot wave of shame when comparing my overstuffed lunchbox to the snack-sized portions of my colleagues. I pretended to skip meals and downplayed my voracious hunger. Because, ultimately, I feared that I was being judged.
So, the idea that someone is trawling people’s personal Instagram feeds to make fun of their eating habits produces a wave of bile in me that could flood a pint glass. It is invasive, misanthropic, and wildly unhelpful. Rather than ‘speaking the truth’ about women and food, it simply plays into the age-old cliche that a woman’s body, a woman’s appetite, and, by extension, a woman’s life are public property.
To caption a photograph of someone eating crisps with, “On Tuesdays we pretend to eat Cheetos,” is a snide, cheese-dusted attack. Firstly, it claims—without any real means of recourse—that these women consistently lie about what they eat. Secondly, it intimates that only fat people eat crisps. Bullshit. If crisp-makers only sold to fat people, the UK crisp market wouldn’t be worth £927.5m. I didn’t get thinner by eating fewer crisps, but by exercising more. A lot more. I run, cycle, swim, and sweat like the protagonist in a late-80s action montage. Which, of course, means that I eat like a bodybuilder.
Which is why it frustrates me when media outlets like YouDidNotEatThat overlook or deny completely the role of exercise. When the account founder says that “a pink frosted doughnut in front of an eight-inch thigh gap is really, really hard to stomach,” I find it hard not to clench. To quote @EliottWestVillage, a man who featured on YouDidNotEatThat (and whose Twitter bio is ‘I came, I saw, I ate’), “I did eat that and I run my ass off so that I can.”
When model Crystal Renn was photographed by Terry Richardson for Vogue in 2010, it was as a steak-chewing, sauce-smearing, squid-sucking glutton. As viewers we were invited to marvel, yet also cringe, at the female appetite. Her lipstick-smeared mouth became a vagina-by-proxy, an orifice into which all manner of veined, slippery articles could be pushed. But accusing Kim Kardashian of dumping an ice cream into her cleavage to avoid eating it ticks the same hackneyed boxes. It equates food with sex, ingestion with intercourse—only this time the women in question doesn’t get to enjoy either.
The juxtaposition of bare breast and bulging burger may seem like grounds for spiteful humor, but to call the person cupping both a liar isn’t just mean-spirited, it’s too simplistic. A lot of the shots on YouDidNotEatThat come from professional modeling shoots. The women in these photos are given the props, given the poses, and paid to do as they’re told. They might eat them, they might not, but to attack the female figure in the frame—rather than the industry, society, and culture that at once fetishizes and damns food—misses a trick.
If we need food-shaming blogs (let’s be honest—we don’t) there are far more worthwhile things that we could be pointing out: battery-farmed meat, genetically-modified rice, commercial crops that deny farmers the means to feed themselves, and additive-stuffed high-sugar snacks marketed as diet foods, to name but a few. But instead we simply roll into the boring puff pastry of sex, slimness, and deceit, calling people hypocrites and sniping at a “Pretty little liar not eating that cone.”
The endless gaze that squats above our daily lives is something that, perhaps, you only appreciate once you’ve thumbed it in the eye. I will happily now discuss my three breakfasts, my arsenal of snacks, and my wolf-like hunger because I have largely shrugged off any anxiety about what I eat. But when someone who rummages through the internet with the express intention of calling eating people liars and tells a magazine that, “I don’t want it to ever feel like there’s a big, nasty finger pointing at someone,” I still want to raise a rather large, rather nasty finger in their direction.
And then celebrate with a biscuit.