by Melissa Campbell
Let me tell you a story: I was sitting in my school’s café the other day, dutifully shoveling a Chipotle vegetarian burrito into my face (you gotta get the vegetarian because it comes with free guac!) when I overheard a girl at the end of my table say to her companion, “I think it’s so weird when girls eat at school. Like, aren’t you embarrassed?”
On a bad day I would have heard that comment and shamefully put down my food and finished my work in silence, throwing away the remains of my burrito and kissing goodbye to both the money I spent on it and its mouth-watering deliciousness. On a different kind of bad day, I would have turned to the girl at the end of the table and said something like “I think it’s so weird when people judge other people for eating. Like, aren’t you embarrassed?” But I was having a really good day that day, so I ignored it, finished my lunch, posted about it on my blog with accompanying hilarious.gif, and went about my business feeling full and happy.
Let me tell you another story–and I promise, it’s relevant. Pepsi recently announced their latest marketing move in conjunction with New York Fashion week: the “skinny can,” a “taller, sassier can” that is supposedly “a celebration of beautiful, confident women.” Normally I’d get all serious business feminist analysis about an announcement like this, except this time, Pepsi has done it for me. They aren’t even trying to hide the fact that they are equating a tall, thin build with beauty and confidence. They straight up say that this can is a celebration of tall, thin women! The new skinny can is only for Diet Pepsi and not its original counterpart, reminding us all that confident, beautiful women also don’t consume calories. This is the least interesting, least creative, most transparent advertising campaign since Lysol warned us that our smelly genitals are driving our husbands and boyfriends away.
This new design was announced the same day that the young woman at the end of my table collectively shamed all the other women sitting in the cafeteria for eating lunch in public. These two events are connected by more than just timing–they are the product of a culture that instructs women and girls to constantly restrict, to always eat less, to never indulge (unless it’s a zero-calorie drink), to be thin and beautiful and sassy and confident, which, to their definition, are all the same thing. And if being thin is being confident, then of course eating in public can be felt as a source of shame or embarrassment. How dare you put calories into your body, girl? That is not sassy.
As young women, we are shamed every single moment of our lives: about our bodies, about our food choices, about our clothing and our faces, and whether or not we are acting like “proper” girls. We are shamed for not being tall or thin enough (sometimes for being too tall or too thin!). We get it subtly when Special K tells us that eating a 90 calorie cereal bar is an “indulgence,” less subtly when Pepsi releases a “skinny” can, and least subtly of all when we publicly comment with disdain on one another’s bodies or food practices.
We need to stop this. Don’t buy Pepsi’s stupid “skinny” can. Indulge in something that is actually an indulgence–maybe in something that isn’t even food! Don’t believe the hype that confidence comes standard with a particular kind of beauty, or with any type of beauty at all. And know that beauty does not come from restriction, no matter what advertisers say—or what we tell ourselves. There should be no reason to ever be embarrassed about the desire to eat. Sustaining our bodies should never be a source of shame.