I know we talk a lot about shaming of various sorts — slut shaming, fat shaming, ghost shaming, etcetera. In our office, given how often we discuss the idea of shaming, some of us have a long-running joke wherein any time somebody says something we deem critical, we just add “shaming” to the tail end. Examples: posture shaming, nail polish shaming, GIF shaming. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of awful salads via ordering online. Too much dressing, giant blocks of feta, avocado clumps, rubbery chicken — no me gusta, therefore we shame those salads. You know, because that works on inanimate objects just as well as it does on actual human beings (i.e. not remotely).
But now, I would like to discuss a different kind of salad shaming, even though you had not heard of any kind of salad shaming until this very moment. One that does not make me sound quite so much like an absolute crazy person. Or maybe it will, but at least it won’t involve feta. In light of “fat shaming week,” I felt like discussing a very strange side effect of diet culture and its critics.
Some time ago, I went out with a guy to dinner. He was friendly, intelligent, sweet, polite, flattering, and he had reached out to me to have dinner — basically, I had zero reason to believe I was being judged negatively for my eating habits. We got a couple of drinks, I checked out the menu and I recommended a few things. He said they sounded good, but right before we could order, I realized my stomach wasn’t doing wonderfully and that I really wanted a crisp salad. But I didn’t, because I felt like he would judge me and assume I was on a diet, as happens constantly whenever I mention that I want a salad at dinner.
I didn’t want to eat a bunch of crap because my stomach felt uneasy and my acid reflux was going crazy, but I ordered pulled steak tartare, ceviche, mac & cheese, and a couple cocktails for us regardless. Despite the fact that salads can have tons of calories, fat, sugar and all the other content that isn’t necessarily good for us, I still felt that weird obligation to “prove” I wasn’t “one of those girls.”
As you may remember, I am that particular brand of insecure that involves feeling like I literally do not deserve to be in other humans’ presences when I am looking rough, but an interesting and very unintentional effect of having a deep divot in my personality where my confidence should lie is that I am also hyper aware of others’ efforts to not upset me or other women, in general. Case in point: insisting that women eat more.
“You’re not one of those typical girls who, like, orders just a salad for dinner, are you?” I have heard on more than one occasion. (Additionally, there are some people who just assume I am not one of those women because I’m not skinny, then congratulate me on being “confident with my body regardless,” but that is a discussion for another day.) In large groups, there’s one douchebag who will call out the female who eats something other than a full rack of ribs. They’ll call her a “bird” for wanting vegetables, which is rather obnoxious. How are we birds if we want to eat something we are in the mood for? Plus, birds absolutely love animal style fries.
I’m not saying I don’t understand where the efforts come from — I think they are often the result of good intentions. People, particularly men, are often aware of (and even feel guilty about) how women’s figures and food choices are treated by the media and society as a whole. The female body is scrutinized to the nth degree. Case in point: #fatshamingweek and all its supporters. As a result of witnessing this ridiculousness from a predominantly bystander point of view, some men feel motivated to become active participants in fighting that attitude by not only encouraging female comfort around food, but insisting on it.
The problem with this is that some women wind up feeling weird about eating specific foods in front of guys. There’s this constant nervousness in my head of being “that girl” who just orders a salad, even though sometimes I just want a f’ing salad because I’m hungover and grease sounds way too gnar. It’s that incredibly stupid, futile, offensive and arbitrary idea of being a “guy’s girl” who drinks beer and watches sports games and loves wings — all of which are things women actually love regardless of dudes, but have continuously been framed as “typical male activities,” so any woman who doesn’t fit perfectly into cultural norms winds up getting a ton of unnecessary focus on their personal likes and dislikes, both in good and bad ways.
Obviously, salad shaming is not the issue. I mean, it’s not even a real thing, and I realize the term “salad shaming” will never catch on because it is ridiculous, but I genuinely can’t think of any other term that works. And obviously, this is not nearly as damaging as fat shaming overall; it’s just one of those strange byproducts of our society’s perpetually dieting mindset and cultural viewpoint. And now, if you will excuse me, I am going to go order a salad.