More rhetorical violence, aka diet advice.

In my never-ending quest to become more smug than Owen Jones, I have discovered the epitome of the middle class problem. I’ve found rhetorical violence in the Waitrose magazine.

To be precise, my housemate, who is a more skilled close reader than I am, found it. She was reading their loosely-disguised ‘women, hate your bodies’ piece on dieting, and found this gem. Under the rubric ‘curb your cravings’, the author writes:

“If you’re in the midst of a craving, remove yourself from the situation. Take a short walk, call a friend or try to distract yourself somehow. Remember that the urgency will pass.”

As my housemate points out, this sort of language and advice is a direct echo of warnings to people about to self-harm. This isn’t particularly funny (we both know people who actually need that serious advice). And it is possible to interpret serious diet malfunctions as a form of self harm, which is something Caitlin Moran (among others) has talked about pretty persuasively. But. It is also manifestly a piece of advice targeted, not at a small group of people in need of serious help, but at a general readership who are feeling faintly guilty about not buying a box of out of season raspberries for £2.50. And, lest you doubt, this general readership are mostly women. Funny, that.

It seems to me that this is related, in a deeply trivial but, also, pretty telling way to other conversations I’ve been hearing about rhetorical violence. By treating not actually reaching for another biscuit as if it required a twelve-step plan and a Crisis team, we’re reducing the communicative capacities of language. If the patriarchy were personified, as he is in my mental cartoons, he’d be the sort of bloke who props up the bar explaining away these women problems: “this male violence they complain about, it’s just hysterical nonsense. Look at the way they talk about reaching for a biscuit”.

It’s a problem, but it’s also a problem because this cosy little snippet in the most middle-class magazine on the planet is normalizing the kind of ‘violence’ women supposedly do to themselves by not feeling sufficiently ashamed of what they eat. It should not sound normal to spend time and energy fighting off a craving for a bag of crisps as if it were something you’d started injecting between your toes. It should sound normal to read this ‘advice’ and snigger in disbelief.

We’re going to make the cake on page 72 now.

One thought on “More rhetorical violence, aka diet advice.

  1. I attended a women’s theatre conference several years ago (pre transmania, when trans people were rare and we were all trying to negotiate interactions). A group of us met for breakfast, and a transwoman orderd oatmeal. When the waiter asked “With skim milk or heavy cream?” the transwoman did not hesitate to choose heavy cream. Later when a friend and I were discussing the are transwomen women question, Laura said that the heavy cream incident was proof positive that at least this particular transwoman had not been socialized as female. No American woman in 1987 could order heavy cream without expressing guilt, shame, and a sincere promise never to do so again. Hours of physical expiation in the gym would also be part of a minimum requirement to pay for the transgression.

    And so it continues, and indeed may be worse 30 years later, that women must allow themselves to eat no more than the absolute minimum needed to sustain life. Said eating must be fraught and joyless, subject to rude comments and abject humiliation. And all that grotesque effort on food shaming (like slut shaming but with more calories) means time and energy wasted when real danger, real pain, real evil threaten women in patriarchy.

    Hmm. Your fine essay seems to struck a chord. Thank you.

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