A piece in this week’s New York Times Dining Section examines and picks apart the reporting on and reaction to actresses’ dietary indulgences . Hollywood Publicist Jeremy Walker has even coined an acronym, DIPE, which stands for “documented instance of public eating.”
The author of the article, Jeff Gordinier, quotes mostly from men’s magazines such as Esquire and GQ, but women’s magazines are also peppered with mentions of celebrities digging into pasta, baskets of fried foods, or macaroni and cheese. Countless profiles of famous actresses, models, and musicians end up zeroing in on what they eat at the interview.
In a news media arena where an actress like Keira Knightley is taken to task for her bony angularity while Ms. Hendricks of “Mad Men” is fetishized for her throwback curves, it is clear that the topic of how beautiful women eat has become something of a chronic national obsession. Any individual DIPE may not shed much light on the inner life of the latest actress, but collectively, their frequency seems to tell us something about societal standards, judgments and yearnings.
Top Chef host and cookbook author Padma Lakshmi chalks the obsession up to a male fantasy. “Look,” she says, “the two things we need to survive in life are food and sex or love. Food for our bodies, and love for our hearts. So what is better than the archetypical image of a woman eating succulent, dripping, greasy, comforting food?”
Chef Bobby Flay goes on to praise his wife’s (actress Stephanie March) appetite for Texan fare and Jon Shook, an owner of Animal, the meat- and fat-centric restaurant in Los Angeles, speaks proudly about dating a former vegan, actress Shiri Appleby. “She’s like 110 pounds, maybe, in wet clothes, and when she’s with me, we eat everything and anything,” he said on the phone. “On our first date, I was like, ‘Hey, why’d you stop being a vegan?’ And she was like, ‘What kind of guy’s going to date a vegan?’ And I was like, ‘You’re awesome.’ ”
I just had to had to bold and italicize that particular section because it made me want to vomit up my breakfast. That is not “awesome.” I’m sure this guy was just trying to be funny or brag about how good his fried pork chops are or something, but it made me so mad to see that in print. Is that really why she decided not to be a vegan anymore? If that’s true, that’s a sad, dangerous message to put out there. That’s like saying, “Women’s eating habits are dictated by what men want to see them eating.” The article as a whole does not shy away from this, but it’s something I would love to see dissected further in a longer piece.
Gordinier concludes, “Ultimately, the DIPE is meant to convey the impression that a starlet is relaxed, approachable and game, but it’s hard to tell whether the strategy really works anymore.” It is easy to become cynical, wondering who’s pulling the strings backstage and how food is being used to shape the public’s (or the male public’s) view of a particular celebrity.
Anna Holmes, a founding (and former) editor of Jezebel, is one such cynical observer, but she does share what she would like to see instead: “We would all appreciate it if you had an interview with an actress who says: ‘You know what? It’s my job to be a certain size, and it takes a lot of work for me to do so. I tend to eat very healthy, small portions, but once in a while I splurge,’ I would like to hear that. That it’s not easy.”
Um yeah, me too.