Yesterday I wrote about Nancy Upton, whose photo entries for American Apparel’s plus-size model search satirized the idea that bigger women only eat junk food, can’t control their eating, etc. Later that day, I found myself searching for stock photos of women and cheeseburgers (to illustrate a post on the brain’s response to images of fatty food) and what immediately struck me was how well these photos seemed to illustrate Upton’s point—i.e., how different said cheeseburger photos were based on the body size and relative attractiveness of the woman pictured (attractiveness of the cheeseburger did not seem to matter).
There are an abundance of women—of all body types—holding a cheeseburger in one hand, an apple in the other, and looking mighty confused or distressed; apparently, the cheeseburger v. apple conundrum is a major one for all of us. But once skinny women decide to eat that cheeseburger—why, they feel downright joyous about it! They laugh, they smile, or at least exhibit an otherwise ‘I’m-eating-a-cheeseburger’-appropriate face. Occasionally, a very thin women sits in the corner crying while multiple (real or imagined) cheeseburgers taunt her, but this is the exception, not the rule.
But when larger women and/or older women eat cheeseburgers? There is no happy here. Some are really bummed out. Some look crazily ravenous. Some hold the cheeseburger in front of their crotches. The titles of these photos are telling, too: A photograph of a thin woman eating a burger might be titled ‘Picnic’ or ‘Happy woman eating a burger,’ while photos of overweight women with burgers are titled things like ‘unhealthy meal’ and ‘gluttony.’
I understand stock photo collections are designed to convey basic concepts—like ‘obesity’ or ‘dieting sucks’ or ‘don’t smoke while pregnant‘—via easily recognizable tropes and signifiers; as such, they often also have to portray emotions, states or actions in an exaggerated way (hence all the ’3-months-pregnant’ women with giant bellies). But all of this is what makes them the great sociological treasure trove of our time! What these cheeseburger photos make clear is how we view women’s relationships to food differently based on their body types (and that the paradoxes are many). Thin women eating fatty foods are normal and healthy; probably just living a little, just enjoying themselves. Chubby women eating burgers are despicable, crazed, weak-willed, pathetic. Don’t they know they should never enjoy a single ‘bad’ food item until they fit into a size 2? Only then can they eat a burger—in which case, they should, and enjoy it, too; no one likes a thin woman who doesn’t also enjoy eating, who lets anyone see the effort she puts into dieting, or who insists on only eating healthy foods.
Anyway, without further ado—and in the great tradition of women laughing alone with salads—I present you with stock images of thin and chubby women’s different reactions to cheeseburgers.