When I worked at Food Network Magazine, I really, really, really missed coming up with ideas for women’s magazines. There’s just something about writing a thoughtful article on a pervasive trend or cultural phenomenon that I find rewarding (and as fun as it was to write about people who defeat crazy eating challenges or the origins of chicken-fried steak, it wasn’t quite the same). So sometimes, I would pitch stories to other magazines. I’ve been kicking around one idea in particular for three years (I know because I just checked my Gmail account and saw the first message I sent to a Self editor with the pitch!). The topic that’s been on my mind all this time? Food shaming.
I’m happy to say that I finally (finally!) wrote an article about it on WomensHealthMag.com. I’ve heard lots of women criticize their own eating choices—as well as those of other women they know. Here’s a particularly memorable experience I had with food shaming that I share in my story:
I’ll never forget the time that a co-worker at a former job invited me to go to our office cafeteria with her one afternoon to get an ice cream sandwich (it was the featured snack for the day, and the kitchen staff were making each sandwich by hand). Left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a peanut butter-and-jelly ice cream sandwich at 3:30 p.m. on a weekday. But I was also fairly new to the job and wanted to play nice with my colleagues—so a group of three of us ended up going to the café.
Since the express purpose of our little outing was to get dessert, I ordered my ice cream sandwich right away. But as the other women saw the giant scoops of vanilla ice cream being heaped onto my sandwich, something shifted. Suddenly, they couldn’t stop talking about how “massive” it was. And while I offered to split my sandwich with one or both of them, some intangible jury had already ruled that the ice cream sandwiches were now gross. So after all of that, I was the only one who went back to the office with an ice cream sandwich. And rather than bonding with my co-workers, I now felt more isolated from them.
The experts I interviewed for this piece shared a lot of interesting information, and this quote from Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D., co-author of Intuitive Eating, really struck a chord with me: “It’s not your responsibility to make [others] happy or sad based on your own eating for your own body.” (You can read the whole article, which includes several tips on how to re-frame your relationship with food, on WomensHealthMag.com.) Of course, if you’ve been following my blog, you know that this topic is very closely related to the issue of classifying certain foods as guilt-free.
It’s interesting—even though I’ve seen food shaming happen several times and I’ve heard women complain that they feel their eating choices are being judged by others, I couldn’t find anyone who was willing to be interviewed for my article about their experiences (with the exception of my good friend Amy, but unfortunately her anecdote about being accused of not eating enough by her uncle, who lives in Japan, didn’t seem quite right for an article written for an American audience). But now that the story’s been published, several women have told me they appreciated it; one even said she really wants to order Domino’s pizza but doesn’t because she’s afraid her roommate would judge her for it (been there—I used to live with a nurse and a nutritionist in a three-bedroom apartment!). Clearly, this is a topic that’s affecting lots of women—so let’s start talking about it! If you’re willing, please share your story in the comments so we can continue this dialogue.