The latest way that media is making women feel inadequate
Actresses are under constant pressure to be skinny and a lot of them severely under-eat in order to meet expectations. Why then are some of them now playing women who eat in ways that are completely out of alignment with how they actually look? It’s just the latest way to make women feel inadequate by telling them that they should both look that thin and still be able to indulge in high-carb/high-calorie foods all the time.
I first started noticing this when my mom was living with us and we watched shows that she liked — ones that we might not have ordinarily picked for ourselves like The Good Witch and Madame Secretary. They appealed to her because there wasn’t too much violence or sex, and the stories were pretty interesting. After she died, we were so invested in Madame Secretary that we just kept watching. My husband and I both really enjoy it still, but we routinely comment on how much pastry, ice cream out of the tub, and other junk food Tea Leoni’s character downs on an ongoing basis. The same was true for The Good Witch actresses, including lead, Catherine Bell.
All the women are super slim and svelt, and yet their characters seem to consume muffins, special candy recipes, and other high calorie treats on a pretty much daily basis. Meanwhile, it’s an open secret in Hollywood that actresses just don’t eat. When they’re filming, they are starving themselves in order to look that thin for the camera. “‘I’ve worked with a lot of big female film stars and the thing that I notice more than anything is that they’re starving. It’s just expected,” Dominic West told The Daily Telegraph in a 2018 interview.
Stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Thompson have spoken out about the pressure they’ve felt and witnessed to be unnaturally thin. Anorexia and other eating disorders are very common in Hollywood.
“It’s evil what’s happening and what’s going on there [in Hollywood], and it’s getting worse,’ Thompson has said.
‘There’s so many kids, girls and boys now, and actresses who are very, very thin into their 30s, who simply don’t eat,’ she continued.
But besides the problem of holding up starving ultra-thin actresses as role models for how women should look, depicting them having pastries for breakfast every morning and Chinese food (the really greasy kind, as Tea Leoni’s character Elizabeth once said) for dinner sends the message that there is something wrong with you if you can’t be both incredibly thin and still eat this way.
The Good Witch and her female friends and relatives were always bonding over indulgent food, making cookies together, or sharing muffin recipes. The male characters rarely had their lives so focused on chocolate and late-night snacks, but the women were supposed to do that (apparently) and then they were supposed to maintain ultra-slim bodies in spite of it.
A couple of years ago a similar unrealistic message was sent to the women of America about their faces — one that said that you shouldn’t wear make-up or at least not look as if you are wearing any, but that you should also look flawless at the same time. According to one article, “Mastering this look is all about the skin — perfecting your base, achieving a healthy glow and natural flush, and also using premium skincare.”
Women who could afford the high-end skincare and make-up to achieve this look were few and far between, but it was sending the same message. As a woman, you should look perfect, but you shouldn’t have to try to achieve it. Any woman who needs make-up to look better or who needs to watch what she eats in order to stay slim is some type of lesser woman.
This type of messaging is not only ridiculous, but it’s also cruel and further teaches young girls to hate themselves for not maintaining a beauty ideal that almost no-one can achieve without lots of money and sacrifice to their health. Telling females how to hate themselves drives a lot of consumer culture because each new product offers the promise of that look you’ve been longing for. But this new messaging on TV, in particular, is just taking things to an absurd extreme without even hawking a specific product. It’s just saying that cool, admirable, women ought to be able to pull this off.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have them depict women eating, and not always depriving themselves, but it’s still a weird message to show them constantly eating foods that probably should be eaten in moderation and still looking incredibly thin. In Season 3 of Madame Secretary, Elizabeth is finally shown doing some exercise, but even so, no one who looks like Tea Leoni eats chocolate croissants every morning no matter how much she works out.
It’s also weird to depict this as a female bonding thing, or a standard way that women cope with stress. As I said before, in neither of these shows do the men obsess about scones or deal with pressure by eating ice cream out of the tub with their friends. I think this is a part of a larger issue with not knowing how to portray women as three-dimensional people. This weird food thing is just another badly conceived short cut trying to make female characters look human, but instead, it just makes them look even less realistic.
The “strong, capable, woman” character is often a female with a lot of male characteristics. I wonder if some of these writers are trying to humanize and feminize their strong women characters by putting a tub of ice cream in their hands? Both the lead female characters in these shows were already a pretty good blend of masculine and feminine traits though, so again, what’s with the food obsession?
Yes, it’s great to show women eating something other than salad, but when you are simultaneously obsessed with female thinness, it’s a strange mixed message to have them always baking and eating cookies too. Tea Leoni’s Elizabeth sometimes has salad and french fries for lunch, but since the actress is herself 54 I’m kinda doubting that one either.
Yes, some people have amazing metabolisms or the genes to remain slim without having to work too hard at it, but most people don’t fit into that category, especially when they are the age where their hormones are changing. And most of the people I know in that category don’t have to be super careful, but they’re also not pigging out on carbs and sugar all the time either.
Holding this up as a normal way to eat while at the same time staying Hollywood thin is just another unattainable goal being held up for women and girls to aspire to. It’s another way to make them feel bad about themselves for being inadequate, and it’s also lazy writing. Can’t we do any better than this?
There’s a lot to like about both of those shows if you take away the food obsessions of the female characters. It really doesn’t add anything to the show and who knows how many other shows are doing the same thing. We usually watch things like Sherlock and The Umbrella Academy so I haven’t had a chance to find out, but since both of these shows that have a large female fan-base had this dynamic so strongly, I do worry about the message that it’s sending to women and girls about who they are supposed to be and providing them with yet another unattainable ideal.
© Copyright Elle Beau 2020
Elle Beau writes on Medium about sex, life, relationships, society, anthropology, spirituality, and love. If this story is appearing anywhere other than Medium.com, it appears without my consent and has been stolen.