Letter to the Editor: Response to ‘Eating Like a Girl’
I was upset by the Mar. 4 article “Eating Like a Girl: food issues in HBO’s ‘Girls‘” because its message perpetuates negative and oppressive attitudes toward and expectations of women. Molly Mirhashem, in her assessment of the food culture and food issues on HBO’s ‘Girls,’ claims that there is “something unsettling about the way the ‘Girls’ girls eat.” This assertion, however, is in the same vein as the reviewers Mirhashem decries who criticize Lena Dunham for exhibiting her naked body on the show. What Mirahashem criticizes about them is that these critics are (rudely, as Mirhashem herself remarks) implying that Dunham should be ashamed to display her “imperfect” figure to the world. Mirhashem, though, in her own unpacking of Hannah, holds a double standard to Dunham: while she praises her for flaunting her body and satiating her sexual desires, she negatively characterizes her desire for food as “gluttonous.” I would claim that rather than “confusing” viewers by having Hannah eat and talk about food on the show, Dunham provides them with a cohesive and powerful message. What Dunham accomplishes in her depictions of Hannah eating parallels what she achieves in her scenes of nudity and sex: she takes ownership of female desire.
Female lust and sexual desire are typically portrayed in society and the media as shameful, and, as is female food desire and consumption, stigmatized. Calorie-dense foods are couched in sexual and shame-evoking terms such as “orgasmic” and “sinful,” thereby connoting their connection to sexual desire as well the underlying suggestion that desire and hunger for them deserves to be hidden, curbed, or repressed. Moreover, this is in contrast to healthful foods, which are described as “guilt-free,” and imply that one, but particularly women, should feel guilty for choosing a richer option. Mirhashem doesn’t question Josh’s (a man’s) choice to partake in a rich steak meal and satisfy his physical hunger as well as his desire for pleasure, yet she lambasts Hannah (a woman) for the exact same action. Furthermore, she critiques her by suggesting that since two incredibly thin girls would be uncomfortable engaging in such an activity, Hannah, as a woman who is not a size zero, all the more so should be ashamed to do so. This shame is precisely what Dunham, through Hannah, is fighting by exposing a real woman’s body and her willingness to feed all of her inherent, natural desires. Rather than viewing this type of (normal) behavior as “unsettling,” we should consider it liberating and laud Dunham for her perspective and confidence.