“I just asked you if you wanted fries. Come on, stop. No, these are mine. Are you kidding me? Why didn’t you just order your own?”
We’re on a date and you ask me what I want. You say you’re paying tonight, that I can order whatever I want. You’re being kind.
Nothing. I’ll always say nothing. It doesn’t matter what I’ve eaten that day, or if I’m hungry or if the smell of salt and grease is calling me over like a siren’s song. I’ll order a starter, or a salad, or a water. I don’t want to tell you that behind coyness I crave with with something that feels red hot. Wanting something, announcing that I want something, consuming something, growing from it. Taking up space, demanding to be satiated. Demanding fulfillment of primal needs I’m not supposed to let you know I have. I’ve been taught these are off limits to me. At least if I want you to look at me without disgust. I want you to like me because I really, really like you.
I’m eight years old. It’s track and field day. I’m a full foot taller than any of my peers; my dad was tall and I look just like him. I’m so young yet pushing through growth spurts left right and center. They think puberty will hit me soon, and it does. I’m not used to the new length of my limbs but im running as hard as I can. I was never good at sports but today I feel like I can do anything. I beat the fastest boys in my class. I don’t stop there, I run the 1200 meter, 800 meter, 600 meter, 200 meter, 100 meter dash, shot put, triple jump, and standing long jump. I want to try everything, I push myself twice as hard as anyone around me, just to prove that I can. I’m exhausted but exhilarated. I reach for one of the snacks on the table like the boys around me are doing. They’re casually racking up wrappers, peels, and straws, handfuls to each.
“You don’t need that.” My teacher gently chides and pushes my hand away, “You don’t want to look like a piggy.” I want to tell her I’m thirsty and tired, that the oranges on the table look sweet and refreshing. The words get caught in my throat.
I’m 17 years old. Someone I love passed away and mourning sits heavy in my stomach like a stone. Eating doesn’t cross my mind, filling up seems sacrilegious, as if by filling one void erases the one he left. It’s been days since i’ve put food into my mouth. Eventually my body fights back hard enough against starvation. I sit down at the table and suddenly my hunger demands to be felt. I eat a portion of pasta, it’s seasoned by my bitter bile and salt. A dollop of sauce hits my mourning black attire. I go back for more.
“Is she really getting seconds? She ate so much already.”
A distant relative at the table remarks, just loudly enough. I go to the kitchen and scrape my plate into the garbage. She’s right, I think, eating at a time like this is disgusting. I wash my mouth of the evidence. I wash the stain out of my dress.
My friend tells me that she didn’t eat lunch today. She didn’t have enough money for the $8 salad at the $3 burger joint. “Just order your own fries” her boyfriend complains. She doesn’t know why, but she feels strongly like she just…can’t. When the server asks her what she wants, that extra second of”…and some fries” becomes an extra second for those around her to process that she is demanding more than they expect her to…and they don’t like it. She worries she’ll seem greedy, demanding, boorish. Trusting her boyfriend she thinks, people wont judge him for this, he’ll be alright to share just one or two. She’s hungry, the fries look so good, he really wont mind and he’ll be glad she saved him the money or the embarrassment. He won’t look at her like she just asked for the world.
Guys berate girls for tasting their food and not ordering our own as if we don’t teach girls to hide their appetites lest we seem ‘piggish’. Having a fear of eating in front of people is so common for girls, we are taught that our need to eat is second to appearing dainty for men, for others. “I don’t eat in public” is a commonplace statement, and girls nod in understanding when they hear it. Eating is an aggressively political act, its safer not to go there. There’s no winning. “Order your own” becomes “uh… Do you really need that? You eat a lot” almost instantly. We’ve been taught that eating is corruptive consumption, self serving, dangerous. Admission of “unfeminine” and “unflattering” primal human need.
And we just want you to like us, because we really, really like you.
So we’re sorry we took a bite of yours, maybe we were just hungry or maybe you can learn to share a bit of that nonchalance towards food your masculinity has afforded you.