Ugh, I hate how much subtext being fat (or is that “living in a fat-phobic world”?) has attached to eating in public. I feel like I’m caught in a dichotomy where no version of eating in public leaves me free to just enjoy the food and/or company I’m in (let alone not eating at all).
I feel like if I eat something decadent in public, there’s an undercurrent of disapproval. Perhaps it’s in my imagination alone, and people are kinder than I give them credit for, and in fact no-one is thinking “oh my word, look at her, no wonder she’s so fat if she eats stuff like that”. And then again, perhaps where there’s smoke (or paranoia), there’s fire (or bigotry). Even if no-one in a given situation thinks that, I still blame society for making me so self-conscious that I still think it.
On the other hand, I also hate eating “healthy” food in public. By that, I mean things that are generally associated with attempted weight loss. Salads. “No dessert for me, thank you”. By ordering that stuff, for whatever reason (weight loss, feeling like it, health etc), I feel like there’s a subtext – an equal but opposite force, if you will, to the one mentioned above. A collective “well, if she’s going to have the indecency to eat in public, at least she’s eating suitably contrite food”. Because I hate for people to even THINK that I feel the need to appease their outrage at my body in public. Or that I feel the need to change who I am. Or that I feel the need to deny the pleasure of food and eating because of how I look. I feel like eating a salad in public is an agreement with the general assessment that I should be striving to lose weight.
If you’ve never experienced this sort of situation, or the messages that lead to this type of thinking, just count yourself lucky rather than discount these mentalities – because I can promise you that the pervasive messages about health, beauty and conformity we are surrounded by, all add up to this sort of mind set. Of course I don’t speak for every fat person out there, or every one with some sort of body or self esteem issue, but I guarantee you it’s not uncommon. I don’t just have a chip on my shoulder (mmm, chips!).
And so eating in public remains a loaded topic for me, although luckily not enough so that it stops me from going out for food with friends. It does however cast a shadow over every menu choice, every order, every bite – and that’s sad. Everyone should be able to enjoy one of the most prolific social experiences in our culture without having to worry what the next table over (or, in fact, people at your own table) are thinking as you shove a chocolate eclair appreciatively down your gob.