eating food in front of boys

I remember being about thirteen and puzzling over two conflicting pieces of dating advice when it came to eating: “Order a salad” and “I like to see a girl eat a steak.” I had culled this advice from years of reading self worth-diminishing beauty tips and questionable sex advice from ladymags, watching TV shows that depicted the dating lives of people much older than me, and listening to teenage family members tell me about their high school intrigues. I was more of sandwich girl and a salad or a steak fan, and I didn’t know where this left me. I also knew that what I ate was hugely important both in social settings and in dating situations, and I didn’t want to get it wrong. On more than one of my parent chaperoned, preteen dates, I ate nothing at all, saying I had eaten a big breakfast. Between eating too much or too little, I figured nothing at all was safest. Did I seem alluring, yet?

On this week’s Girls, a particular line stuck with me. Here’s your spoilers: Marine and Ray had been sleeping together for a bit when she busted down his door with a box of pizza. Ray decides to end things with Marnie who always felt that she was slumming it, and so she loudly makes it clear that he doesn’t matter to her one bit. Her tour de force is to say “I wouldn’t be eating pizza in front of you if I liked you.” Because girls don’t eat pizza in front of the men they care about.

While I doubt the Girls crew was trying to make any huge statement, that resonated with me in a way that I’m not used to from Girls. Normally, Girls is a little too cartoony to actually be relatable, but this rang true. When I think back to the tired dating advice I heard, I distinctly remember being told that pizza isn’t sexy. Girls order salads. Maybe a soup. Not pizza.

Women don’t get the benefit of eating without there being some sort of statement attached, which is really just an extension of the fact that women’s bodies exist publicly and are available for public scrutiny. From a very young age, I knew that eating meant something different to me than it did to my male friends, who could eat all the pizza they wanted. I knew that desirability was linked to not only my body but to the types of food that I ate, and that the popular girls ate veggie sticks at lunch and sandwiches in the bathroom. You didn’t eat in front of boys. They don’t want to see it.

I am hardly qualified to give any type of life advice, but if I had to confront 13-year-old Julia, I’d say order the damn pizza. Anyone who cares isn’t worth it, and a society that creates the issue in the first place isn’t worth being a part of. To quote Michael Scott:

I just wish someone had said that to me earlier, instead of spending most of my life thinking that I couldn’t eat in front of people who mattered to me. Instead of thinking that my worth would take a hit if I did something so simple as to feed myself.

February 23 to March 1 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. To read our special coverage on ED topics, click here.

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