I bet you think this post is going to wax political. I bet you think I’m about to talk about body image or feminism or the way in which Stateside Capitalist culture idealizes skinniness. WRONG. More people than I can count already have those bases covered. I’m here to talk much more superficially about how watching models eat totally grosses me out and I can’t figure out why.
Back in 2009, Fly 16×9 co-founder Stephen Blaise created “Cake,” a film of models confronting a variety of cakes. To the left is some model whose name I don’t know contemplating her future with an impeccably designed chocolate dome of some sort. The film is alternately hilarious, disconcerting, troubling, and, well, gross.
Here’s the 11 minute saga for your viewing pleasure:
Ever since its debut and subsequent installation in MoMA (Cake was just a short segment of a whopping 4 hour and 58 minute film of women trying to eat entire cakes in one sitting–something I don’t have a problem with, but they seem to), I’ve been both mildly obsessed with and completely grossed out by images of models eating. I thought at first that my revulsion arose from some combination of me being a jerk about model stereotypes (they never eat, they only eat very small carrots, eating disorders, etc.) and my general aversion to food photography–nothing makes a burger less appetizing than its image captured on film. But after nearly two years of visual exploration, I think what troubles me is the way in which models’ relationship to food is communicated in photos (both candid and staged).
Pictures of models with food makes me wonder if food is as awesome as I think it is. Models seem to have a fraught relationship to all sorts of nummy-num-nums that I think are the best; foods that inspire Disneyland-esque excitement on my face. Somehow though, beautiful models make beautiful food seem like the worst thing that nature has ever invented. All animals everywhere should stop eating food. It’s disgusting.
I particularly love/hate candid shots from various “backstage” scenarios in which a model seems to be contemplating her food with some level of disdain, sadness, or disappointment.
And then there are the images in which the model(s) in question appear(s) to be filled with fear, loathing, and/or dread when presented with solid sustenance.
The genre of “models with food” photography that I find the most off-putting though, are those in which a mysterious palpable rage or bizarre violence is present.
You know who did models and food right, albeit still kind of creepy? The Japanese! In 2005, Japanese McDonald’s tried to revamp its image in an effort to whitewash its reputation for spawning rampant obesity in children by launching this bizarre ad campaign:
Ironically, they weren’t able to connect with a fashionable adult demographic, but teen girls began flocking to the fast food chain, which sort of defeats the whole “no more childhood obesity” thing. At any rate, that pairing of a model with food worked just fine because she just calmly showed us the saturated fat death on a bun, she didn’t eat it.
To be honest, I’m not sure what’s supposed to be accomplished by ads that feature models eating. I suppose on some level the images are grotesque precisely because of our associations with eating disorders and fashion models, which I guess creates a sort of sad and troubling dichotomy, an attention-getting visual shock value.
Jeremy Scott knows about this dichotomy. He even made a whole line based on it in 2006.
Since watching the parade of beautiful women in Cake gag through, attack, and daintily eat a variety of cakes, I’ve been on the search for just ONE picture of a model eating that doesn’t make me want to vomit. So far, I haven’t found one. The ones that don’t look mad or sad or disgusted simply look wan, with dead eyes and slack faces, like they’ve given up or something. It’s like witnessing someone’s demoralization. GOD! Just let them hate eating in peace!