A group of friends and I were enjoying dinner in the dining halls one night when I reclined in my chair, sighed and rhetorically asked, “Should I get dessert?” My male friend sitting beside me leaned over, draped his arm around my shoulder and replied, “You know what they say … a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” The others at the tables promptly scolded him and called him a jerk for telling a girl that, but I just let the comment roll off my shoulders as I stood up to get a brownie.
I know my friend did not mean the comment in a malicious way but, looking back, I wonder how much my gender did play a role in his audacity. I doubt that he would’ve said that comment to any of our male friends (and if he had, it would not have been in such a condescending tone). This comment is just another example of the distinctions between male and female body image and perceptions. Women are expected to eat small, healthier portions while men enjoy the liberties of eating nearly any food.
Even in advertisements, food commercials depict men guzzling beers, grilling steaks and sinking their teeth into juicy burgers. Women, on the contrary, typically eat yogurt or soup, and these products brag about being great dietary supplements. With these marketing devices, gendering certain foods leads to stigmas warning women away from high-calorie foods and creates an inequality. No wonder the cliché of women ordering salads still holds true.
Looking still at how the media dictates our eating habits, diet commercials narrate how men and women should go about losing weight. Supplements for men target muscle gain and bulking up while ads geared toward women primarily focus on losing weight with a miracle pill. And if fitness is involved, the point is to get toned while still focusing on being skinny. Ads for weight loss programs lean more toward women as well. Major ad campaigns such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem each feature a female celebrity while a male celebrity represents just one program, creating a 3 to 1 ratio.
Granted, eating well and attaining the right amount of exercise is important to balanced living but the idea of diets and counting calories definitely becomes more of a “women’s issue.” On a recent television talk show, a married couple was discussing their overweight children’s tendency toward unhealthy foods. The talk show host looked at the mother and asked, “Well, who buys the food?” The mother wide-eyed replied, “I do.” “Who cooks the food?” The host asked again. More ashamed, the mother replied, “I do.” During that conversation, blame and guilt were placed on the mother while the father got away on national television virtually unscathed.
These preconceived notions trickle down even into the college setting where females are expected to opt out of dessert (let alone all of the other entrées in the buffet style dining halls). Highlighting this inequality is not about permitting women just as much freedom to eat a whole pizza without judgment or calling men gluttons. This takes a more introspective approach about how we view ourselves in regards to food and not being afraid to deviate from expectations.
Photo credit: Lotus Head/Creative Commons
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