I’m a fat woman. I don’t say this to inspire pity or a chorus of “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful.” I’m just stating the facts.
As a fat woman, I navigate so many uncomfortable social situations daily because of my weight. Never being able to find my size at a “straight size” clothing store. Being fetishized by certain men — yes, they exist; yes, I’ve been propositioned by them — simply because of my plumpness. Feeling like I should be ashamed to enjoy food.
Eating in public has always been a double-edged sword for me.
Eat too much? “Well, that’s why she’s fat. She has no control over her appetite. She has an addiction.”
Eat too little? “Okay, she’s dieting. Finally! But it’s going to take more than a salad to drop that weight.”
Any plus-sized woman who has eaten in public can confirm this experience, but it’s not the struggle of fat women alone.
Whether it’s the pressure to order a salad at lunch or the childhood advice from your mother to always leave something on your plate, every woman has felt some sort of social anxiety when it comes to eating.
This is a phenomenon that PepsiCo didn’t seem to understand when CEO Indra Nooyi suggested a new type of crunch-less Doritos designed especially for women during an interview this week.
Doritos has since issued a statement squashing the idea of gender-specific snacks, tweeting, “We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos…” Maybe Nooyi’s idea was meant to be a solution to curb the anxiety associated with loud eating, but her words just reinforce the existing ideology that women mustn’t ever call attention to themselves while eating. And the fear of eating in public can be very harmful, contributing to social anxiety disorders, eating disorders, poor body image, and over dieting.
Researchers have found that social anxiety disorders and eating disorders are very closely related: 34% of people with anxiety disorders suffer from anorexia while 17% battle bulimia. Individuals with these issues often report that their anxiety centers around fear of criticism or fear of being humiliated in front of others. In addition to contributing to eating disorders, social anxiety also impacts a person’s willingness to seek help or treatment because of the perceived shame and stigma attached to these illnesses.
Poor body image and yo-yo dieting are also problems caused by social anxiety. The physical consequences inflicted by these disorders may be more visible than the resulting mental anguish, but both carry heavy repercussions for people who suffer from them.
Muscle loss, hair loss, kidney failure due to dehydration, ulcers, tears in the esophagus, and heart failure are all major physical consequences of eating disorders. And in some of the most tragic cases, death is the ultimate outcome.
While the beauty and fashion industries begin heading in a more inclusive direction, we have to recognize that constantly hearing unsolicited comments about our weight and diet massively impacts our self-image. It’s time to teach society to stop pushing these archaic expectations (especially about an activity as natural as eating) onto women.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m tired of being policed by society. And when they come for my snacks, it’s time to fight back.