Seriously, Stop Telling Women How to Act in Public.

CN/TW: Eating disorders, anorexic behaviors

The owner of the Instagram account You Did Not Eat That has a mission. Her mission is to “out” thin, beautiful women who dare post pictures of foods they claim to be eating that are not salad, fat-free-yogurt, or fresh fruit. This person has decided it’s time to put an end to thin women pretending to be eating foods that, in her mind, only fat people eat––donuts, ice cream, cookies––because it’s wrong. They’re liars.

“She’s fed up with the staged photos of  bloggers in bikinis claiming to wolf down gigantic ice cream cones or five-course brunches and so, one regram at a time, set out to play good-natured whistleblower on all those taking photos as though they haven’t denied themselves refined sugar for the last decade,” says approving Allison P. Davis at The Cut, in “Seriously, Stop Pretending You Ate That,” her gushing interview with the Ista-shamer.

“Whistleblower”? Well, thank goodness we women have people like this around to protect our… wait.

What exactly is this protecting?

For the last. Fucking. Time. Policing women’s behavior does not help us. Whether it’s how we dress (“Beyonce and those sexy outfits! What kind of role model is that for the children?”) how much we weigh (“Real women have curves! Marilyn Monroe was a size 14!)––or what we eat––(“No WAY do you actually eat donuts”)––where, exactly, has this shaming gotten us? What do you want––is it to put women who are Not Like You in their place? Is it a seat of honor at the cultural cool table?

YDNET seems to think that thin women are fraudulently taking pictures of food and then throwing it away or perhaps handing it off to some less fortunate person who doesn’t have Instagram or a thigh gap to protect. “It’s fun just to kind of be ‘the royal we,’” she says, gleefully unwilling to take responsibility, knowing she doesn’t have to––she’s the voice of a culture accustomed to calling out and shaming women for what they eat or don’t eat.

This author also has a problem with women wearing certain clothes while eating these foods: “All these girls who wear the most expensive outfit that they have — probably borrowed or gifted. They troll the West Village or Venice, or somewhere, [buying] ‘chic’ lashings from different pastry shops, taking pictures in their Valentino Rockstud Stilettos. Ughhh!” Now, I don’t know about the fashion world––a glance at my closet will tell anyone that––and her complaint of food being used in fashion shoots, she says, comes from her experience working in the beauty industry.

And, indeed, the cultural narrative that women are supposed to be thin and yet also eat whatever they want, because they’re also supposed to be “fun” and “carefree,” is a problem. There is far too much baggage surrounding food, diet, and body image to unpack in a single post, but basically: yes, you should eat whatever you want, in moderation, making healthy choices most of the time. But if you’ve ever had ED issues or body image issues, this is very, very difficult, and if your body type doesn’t fit society’s beauty standard, this is not something you can do publicly without retribution from people who want to tell you you’re Doing It Wrong. Now, apparently, if your body type does fit the beauty standard, that goes for you too.

YDNET’s fashion background doesn’t absolve her; she’s part of the problem she’s trying to address.

“This is not me making some huge social commentary about what size somebody is and what they’re eating,” YDNET insists. No, of course not. She continues, “If you’re a size zero, and you’re frolicking in a tiny bikini on the beach, you probably did not eat the doughnuts that you posed with the sunglasses. It’s just presenting this curated life that’s beautiful and perfect and totally unrealistic. More power to you for rocking that! You look awesome! Don’t lie about how you got there!”

I don’t think I need to make the point that many women are naturally thin. I don’t think I need to point out that women who are very active need more calories to maintain weight than women who aren’t. And I would like to think that most of our readers recognize that a single donut or macaron is not going to change the way someone looks. It is just food. The moral assignment we’ve given these foods as “forbidden” is part of our diet culture and it’s completely preposterous.

It’s more interesting, I think, to follow YDNET’s premise to its logical conclusion. Let’s say these women starve themselves or never eat anything that society considers to be “bad.” Let’s say they eat a few almonds and a piece of fruit for breakfast and a salad for lunch and maybe a filet of fish for dinner––the 1,200-calorie “fashion magazine diet” just about every woman who’s been exposed to women’s magazines knows by heart.

Those behaviors are disordered eating, at the very least, and potentially anorexic. Can we agree on that? Good. Now, as a former anorexic person, I have a question: what does YDNET think happens when you call out an anorexic person for their eating behaviors in a public forum?

If you answered, “It’s triggering,” “It encourages the disordered behavior,” “It outs them unfairly, violating their privacy,” or “It is confusing and hurtful,” ding-ding-ding! You are correct. High five.

Food happens three times a day for most Americans [EDIT: the cultural norm of the three-meal day, not the reality that can vary dramatically based on income, obviously]. It’s going to show up in images of famous people occasionally, and given our fixation with food and diet in this country, it tends to show up a lot more. So what, exactly, do we want to see people eating? Actresses and models can just as easily land on tabloid covers for being too thin or too fat. “EATING DISORDER,” the headlines scream, next week crowing “CELLULITE!” with bright red arrow at another celebrity’s thighs. I don’t know how female celebrities do it; I find tabloids so triggering I don’t even look at them while I’m in the checkout line.

Interviews with female celebs invariably discuss what they’re eating, and, as the NYT observed, they’re pressured to seem like they’re big eaters so as not to appear that they have an eating disorder. This fear is telling: it’s not that our culture is so obsessed with pointing out celebrity EDs because we care. It’s because “anorexic” has become an insult, a term loaded with all the anger at the fashion industry and diet culture and hatred and emotional baggage that accumulates in so many of us. The mental illness with the highest fatality rate is not a diagnosis anymore––it’s an accusation.

If YDNET knew as much about eating disorders as she claims to, she would know that anorexics and people with many other EDs will often pretend to eat foods they consider “bad,” or even prepare such foods for their friends, as a test of their willpower. She would also know that telling an anorexic person they are too thin, that there’s no way they can eat certain foods and stay so “tiny,” only fuels the pathology. But I have the sneaking suspicion that YDNET doesn’t really care. If she was so concerned about protecting women’s body image and fighting eating disorders, perhaps she’d use her influence in the industry to raise awareness about EDs or donate money to an organization that does.

Instead, it seems we can add “pose with donuts if you’re thin” to the ever-growing list of things women aren’t allowed to do in the public sphere. Congratulations, YDNET. You’re most revolutionary. Now fuck off.

Julia Burke

Julia is a wine educator with an interest in labor and politics in the wine industry. She has also written about fitness and exercise science, mental health, beer, and a variety of other topics for Skepchick. She has been known to drink Amaro Montenegro with PB&J.

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  1. I just went on that instagram account and I’m a little bit sick. Whoever runs that account must have some sort of disordered thinking to actually run something like that? If you’re skinny, you can’t eat a donut? Biggest load of body/food shaming BS I’ve ever heard. It’s a shame instgram allows something like this to continue, and even more of a shame how many people are calling it ‘their new favourite’ account.

  2. I like the underlying concept – that women should not feel obligated to hide what they eat – but in practical application this particular effort is incoherent. Women should not feel obligated to hide what they eat, but they do have a right to actually hide what they eat if they want to do so. Consequently, the persons and groups who scrutinize women’s food choices are the correct target for critique, the ones who make women feel like they must conceal their food choices, not the women who are exercising basic human rights to autonomy and personal privacy.

    That leads us to conclude that that very Instagram account is the proper target for that Instagram account, which is incoherent.

    Did I mention that choosing one’s own food and not opening up that choice to commentary by random strangers is a basic human right, one that is violated by this “good-natured” individual? Yeah, there’s also that.

    And finally I was struck by the number of qualifications and assumptions that are being made here. “You can’t possibly have eaten that doughnut, Miss Size Zero!” This assertion is based on what evidence, exactly? This is someone who makes up stories out of whole cloth and then passes them along as Ze Truth.

  3. Your post nails it. I think it’s pretty much from the same school of problems as “Real Women Have Curves.”

  4. I actually saw a reference to this yesterday but didn’t understand the context. Someone on my instagram had posted a picture of herself drinking some green smoothie and someone referenced that tag and thanked her for “being real” about what she ate. And I thought it was really weird, because to me someone who would choose to only show themselves eating “healthy” or “diet” foods is putting on as much a performance and someone who only shows themselves eating sweets. Anything you display online about yourself is to some extent a crafted image of yourself. It’s the parts of your life you want people to see (or are comfortable with having people see) and you hold back the parts you don’t. The idea that people should be shamed for whatever story they want to tell is pretty ugly, because these are regular people, not corporations or fashion magazines. They’re just as much influenced by the pressures of society and media as the people viewing their pictures or blogs, and most of them are painfully aware of it. If you actually read a lot of these bloggers, there is almost always inevitably a post about how their life doesn’t really look the same as what shows up on their blog and some of them go into some really interesting commentary on it. Some of them engage in extended commentary on what it means to put your life on display like that, both for yourself and for your audience and it’s for more interesting and insightful than whatever this “social crusader” is doing. One of my favorite bloggers is: http://www.delightfully-tacky.com. She’s a young lady who mostly blogs about fashion but also engages in a lot of insightful and intelligent commentary on the act of blogging and the experience of being a young woman right now.

  5. Nailed it! That’s one reason I can’t stand tabloids and fashion magazines and such. Notice how many Americans, seeing a piece of chocolate cake, think only of the calories (or the currently-unpopular nutrient) in that cake.

    Of course, most people might know anorexia nervosa is deadly, but they don’t even know the demographics, or what makes it worse.

    How do you feel about the term ‘orthorexia nervosa’, by the way? I mean, if nothing else, chronic dieters (such as YDNET) may or may not be a danger to themselves, but they’re inherently toxic to people with eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder.

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