“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one”. - Naomi Wolf
I went to a friend’s house last weekend and her eight-year old daughter asked me if I could read the tarot cards for her. I explained to her that you can’t open the tarot to a child and asked her what she wanted to know. “Ask if I will manage to be thin one day”, she said. I go to the Secretariat for Human Rights for a meeting with the Secretary where two of the coordinators talk for half an hour about the Dukan diet. I get to know the number of proteins that each one eats and how many pounds they have lost in the past months. They are all happy with the diet, but specially with their self-control.
Each time my neighbour sees the Brazilian president on TV, she says: “Dilma is as fat as a cow” or “She has lost weight”. I know many women that complaint of the fact that men don’t look at them and that they feel invisible. Almost all of them, when they meet and before asking how they are doing, say things like “OMG, you have lost weight! Look at you!”. Women’s view at the world and to themselves is constantly the look of a person who is taking measurements.
The mother of a friend of mine, a 78-year-old lady, told me the other day: “I’ve lost 7 kilos in the last few months without dieting”. And at that moment, for the first time, I became aware of the phenomenon, trying to understand the meaning of that happy smile of accomplishment. Her look was of a person who had received a divine blessing and was also the look of a well-behaved little girl or yet of a young lady who had done her homework. At this point I saw what had always been in front of my eyes, and only now I can understand and name it: the way women deal with food and their own measurements. We can call it utter madness, as simple as that.
My friend’s daughter, the eight-year-old girl, was always very photographed by her mother when she was a little girl. The mother is an excellent photographer and throughout life one could see that the pictures showed their complicity when posing. She felt safe in her mother’s lenses. This summer, the girl went with her to the beach on vacation to Salvador and when I asked to see the photos they had taken, I could see a shy and withdrawn girl. Each picture she showed me, she said: “I don’t look good in this one, I look fat”. Eight years old and already crazy and sick. The spontaneity she had when posing for her mom had been undermined while growing and learning the sad legacy we teach our girls that says that our bodies worth nothing.
For the psychologists Rosalyn M. Meadow and Lillie Weiss, who wrote Good girls don’t eat dessert, the association between food and sexuality is fundamental in women’s life, not only for the ones who are mother but to all women. For them, eating disorders are symptoms of a very simple phenomenon: today, for women, food is what sexuality was in the past decades. We can say that there are parallels between eating problems women face today and the sexual conflicts afflicting women in past decades.
If before the control over women’s bodies was done through norms and rules of the patriarchal society aiming at their sexuality, today, the same control is done through food. The old doubt, whether to have or not sex with their boyfriends, can be replaced today by “to eat or not to eat”. The same phobias related to the difficulties of having an orgasm, the pain of penetration, the shame of being touched by the boyfriend or the embarrassment of being naked in front of others, are the same phobias and thoughts that take women’s minds today. The anxiety is the same; the difference is that today it reveals itself through the horror of gaining weight and measurements.
The authors made a comparative chart between the measurements and medicines for the sins of masturbation of the past and today’s restrictions for overweight. They made a list of the measures against the abuse of sex (cauterization, clitoridectomy, infibulation, surgical aspiration of sexual liquid, chastity belts, hot and cold showers, straightjackets, medication, exercising and dieting) and their correspondent measures of food abuse (gastric reduction surgery, gastroplasty, obesity surgery, liposuction, to wire the jaws close, steam baths, cold showers, medication, exercising and dieting).
Women dissatisfaction with their measurements and their own image is permanent, the feeling of inadequacy is established in their lives making it impossible for them to feel at ease with their own bodies and imagining that they will never achieve the ideal beauty. Endless time and energy is wasted in diets, measurements, clothes, dietetics and cosmetics.
What do women that don’t eat, eat? They eat their hunger. They are hungry for their most secret desires, their deepest need for affection, and their most secretive dreams. A hunger that canʼt be satiated and that makes them hungrier. The ones that eat too much, and the ones that eat too little, deny the hunger of their emotions. Women are hungry, distant from their bodies and desires, exiled from their bodies ‒ the only ones that could provide them with pleasure and joy. Because women nourish the world in many different ways, affective, real or symbolic, with their food and affections, their capacity for dancing, for laughter and partying with their men, their children and girlfriends, are sad, they don’t recognize themselves in their bodies and in their natural movements. Women today, are hungry of themselves. They are hungry for everything they could be, feel and make.
Even dominating sophisticated technologies and having accessed positions of power never dreamed of by their mothers and grandmothers, they are still trapped by a mental corset that neglects and disqualifies their self-image creating feeling of inadequacy that make them insecure and unhappy.
In many of her texts, Marcela Lagarde says that today women are acting like medieval creatures longing for a romantic love impossible to be found and with no critical reflection on their self-respect. This undermines and weakens them, as nobody with these feelings can develop their own potential.
The question remains and goes beyond: what are we teaching our girls? Who takes care of our girls?
Text by Lelia Almeida
Translation by Maria Cecília Reyes Livieres