Award-winning British author Caitlin Moran writes about the stigma attached to women with food addiction in an excellent recent essay called “I Know Why the Fat Lady Sings“. When she visits a female friend participating in an intensive addictions recovery program, Moran learns something and then makes an interesting observation:
As my friend told me, sitting on the end of her bed chain-smoking, an institution full of emotionally troubled substance abusers turns out to be no fun at all.
‘There’s a pecking order,’ she sighed, shredding her cuticles with her opposing thumbnail. ‘The heroin addicts look down on the coke addicts. The coke addicts look down on the alcoholics. And everyone thinks the people with eating disorders—fat or thin—are scum.’
And there’s your pecking order of unhappiness, in a nutshell. Of all the overwhelming compulsions you can be ruined by, all of them have some potential for some perverted, self-destructive fascination—except eating…
Specifically, overeating and/or food addiction is neither sexy nor crazily dramatic. It actually looks kind of functional, ordinary. Caitlin Moran delves deeper into how moms, for example, can have their food-as-a-drug and have a life too:
...(B)y choosing food as your drug—sugar highs, or the deep, soporific calm of carbs—you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, stop in on your parents and then stay up all night with an ill 5-year-old—something that is not an option if you’re regularly climbing into the cupboard under the stairs and knocking back quarts of scotch.
Overeating is the addiction of choice of ‘carers,’ and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of screwing yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the ‘luxury’ of their addiction, making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that is why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.
I sometimes wonder if the only way we’ll ever get around to properly considering overeating is if it does come to take on the same perverse, rock ‘n’ roll cool of other addictions. Perhaps it’s time for women to finally stop being secretive about their vices and instead start treating them like all other addicts treat their habits. Coming into the office looking frazzled, sighing, ‘Man, I was on the pot roast last night like you wouldn’t believe. I had, like, POTATOES in my EYEBROWS by 10 p.m.’
Caitlin Moran also happens to be the author of the new-ish book How to Be a Woman, which covers feminist topics in addition to food addiction. Holloway McCandless, Shelf Awareness, compares it favorably to other recently popular books by female authors: “As funny and careerist as Tina Fey’s Bossypants, as divulging as Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother and as earthy as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.”