In 1990 Henry Jaglom made a movie called Eating: A Very Serious Comedy About Women and Food. I saw the movie when it was released twenty three years ago, and as a result of writing this blog it’s been on my mind lately, so I just watched it again Sunday. Though there is much about it that is dated, and there isn’t much of a story line, the best parts of the movie are the short interviews with individual women talking about their relationships with food, and the part that food plays in their lives. Watching this I was reminded that so many people-especially women; beautiful, confident, thin, accomplished women, struggle with food, and eating; it’s not just me, and it’s not just people who struggle with weight, or people with eating disorders.
The movie centers around a birthday party being thrown by one woman for herself and two friends, she is turning forty, and one friend is turning thirty the other fifty. One of the scenes that really struck a chord with me was when birthday cake is being served; a plate of cake goes around the circle of women (there must be at least twenty five) from one hand to another, arrives back at the start and is passed through again, no one will eat it.
How often do we let the cake pass by? Literally or metaphorically, there will always be cake, and there will always be choices, and if you really want that cake why don’t you have some? There is a young woman in the film (she is the daughter of the woman turning fifty) who can’t seem to stop eating cake, but she hides to eat it; on the stairs, in the bathroom; only once does she eat in front of someone, and by then she’s had several pieces… Does cake have to be an all or nothing proposition? What does our desire for food, a desire beyond need, say about us? Does appetite define character?
Though many of the women in the movie describe themselves as fat not one of them is. Why do women think of themselves as fat when they clearly aren’t, and what does it mean to call yourself fat regardless of whether or not you are? Does fat define character? If you are overweight is that a signal to the world that your character is weak? I think for some people it is, and like so many things we all rush to judgment on, all I can offer is ‘it’s a lot more complicated than that’. A long time ago I saw a TV interview with Rosie O’Donnell, she was talking about a conversation she’d had with her agent about getting more movie roles; the agent said Rosie should think about losing some weight- to which Rosie replied ‘Wow, what a great idea, I can’t believe I never thought of that’ which I’m sure caused every woman watching that interview to laugh almost as hard as I did. It’s all most of us ever think about, no matter how hard we try not to, and most of us don’t try all that hard.
What I want to do through this blog, and through talking to women is to change the subject. How about if we stop talking about how fat we are, and eat a piece of birthday cake. The ceiling will not cave in, and you will not gain an instant 25 pounds even if you swear you will. The less we talk and obsess about it, the less we engage in shaming ourselves and calling ourselves names, the more time and energy we’ll have to truly enjoy our lives, our families and friends, and I bet we’ll all smile a lot more too. Think how much time you’d have to think about your next vacation, plan a party, or taking over the world, if you weren’t obsessing about how many calories you consumed at lunch, and if you really should skip dinner. I dare you to try it for one day- take twenty four hours, and free yourself from your diet, you have so much more to gain, than you do to lose!