Saturday, 23 July 2016


One phrase I have noticed myself shouting at friends, family or even general members of the public is “LET’S NOT BODY SHAME OUR WOMEN” which out of context seems a slightly bizarre instruction. However, hopefully after reading this series of slight rants of it will hopefully become clear why I am becoming so frustrated on how we place the contradictory relationship between women and food. I could rage about this forever so I think I will split this between body shape, female culinary illusions and the use of food to demonise women. 

Body Shapes and poetic origins:

If you were to Google (other search engines available) the phrase “body shape” you immediately get placed clearly within the constructed feminine sphere: ’12 body shapes from Trinny and Susannah’, ‘3 female body types’, ‘female body shapes: which are you?’. Some of the immediate results are obviously focused on men, but the overall focus is predominantly on women. Now this isn’t exactly a hard fact to base my claims on, but looking a little deeper as to how we describe these body shapes is where it becomes a bit more disturbing. 

Apple, pear and even banana are but a few of the more common ‘body shapes’ out there. On its face value this seems logical, as the generic outline of that fruit can match a body shape. Logical, but slightly ridiculous practice. However, the connotations of this allusion places women as something to be grown, helplessly nurtured, selected, traded and consequently consumed for economic, pleasurable or nutritious gains. That sounds like a bit of an exaggeration in today’s society… but looking back at the role of women in many cultures for centuries it sounds all too familiar.

The image below exemplifies this, as you have a general outline of a range of female bodies with a picture of the respective fruit literally overlayed on top. Viewers are invited to directly correlate the body with food. 

Are we supposed to make a timely smoothie with 50% of the population? 
Note how the artist hasn't included any defining characteristics other than the fruit and the incredibly crude category of what shape they fit into. Though I have no objection to people fitting into general trend of body shape/size and breaking things down in such a way may be helpful in certain situations (though after 10mins of thinking I've yet to think of something other than clothes... which doesn't exactly counter my main point!).

I can't help but think of Elizabethan sonnets where the female body is deconstructed and essentially dissected to fit within a societal norm of beauty. Alabaster skin, ruby red lips, globes for breasts, golden locks are common imagery in the literary genre. However, in a sense makes these poor beloved subjects of these poems sound like a B&Q or a treasure trove for pirates. 

The Ditchley Portrait of Elizabeth I (circa 1592) 
The Ditchley Portrait - which portrays Elizabeth I exemplifies this even further. She is so extravagantly adorned with the huge dress, tiny synched waist,  hair emblazoned with jewels and even the background by extension as she stands on an atlas demonstrating her dominance over the the country. The only parts of Elizabeth's actual body on show is her face and hands. You could make a joke about how even her ankles are covered to distinctly remove any sense of sexuality but joke would sadly be correct - Elizabeth was known as the 'virgin queen'. The female body has clearly been manipulated to fit within a societal structure that has been crafted by a patriarchal society.

Thankfully, some playfully exploited this  Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 for example, who manages to parody these techniques to great comic effect:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare. 

Shakespeare's subject is not as beautiful as nature: yet nonetheless the speaker is in love. That seems like an incredibly reductive and simple literary analysis - and it is. At every comparison to nature, astronomy or beauty - the subject is often the opposite. By Elizabethan sonnet standards, she is an absolute failure - but yet she still has the speaker in love. While the physical body shape of the subject is not revealed, her facial features are still emblazoned into separate parts for the readers to weave into a complete image. 

This dejection of literary convention not only plays with the form of the sonnet but also can be seen as a comic commentary on how enforcing these nonsensical rules of how we should and shouldn't look are plain whimsy. Yet despite all of this, the presentation on how we approach the bodies of women still appears to be very similar - if not the same. 

Sonnet 130 accessed from accessed on 23/7/16
The Ditchley portrait accessed from 16/7/16

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