While The Women Were Watching, They Weren’t Eating: Gendered Portrayals of Eating on Screen
By Amy El-Shafei
In film and television, eating is a gendered activity where, men eat for subsistence and pleasure, whereas women’s consumption of food is portrayed negatively. As this suggests, women’s representational relationship to food is problematic, because it affirms white patriarchal standards of beauty regarding an idealized form. The act of eating becomes even more complex if one takes into account the often gendered politics of the gaze. Such politics, first identified by Laura Mulvey in her seminal psychoanalytic essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” are constructed through a patriarchal structure of looking, in which men look and women are the object of a controlling gaze that often reduces them to nothing more than an erotic spectacle. If women are thus anchored in their bodies, and their bodies are objectified, then how does eating play into this objectification?
This project consists of two parts, a theoretical and critical essay and short film. In the written component of my thesis, I provide an overview of eating on screen along with a discussion of feminist film theory as it relates to the visual consumption of the female body on screen. From this theoretical foundation, I analyze three films, Girl Interrupted (1999), Starving In Suburbia (2014) and To The Bone (2017), to demonstrate that even when film attempts to highlight disordered eating in women, they continue to be told through the male gaze. This section also explores the topic of eating disorders in relationship to women, food, and cinematic bodies. The second half of my thesis consists of a short film, Good Things, which is about a woman’s relationship to food and sex. Through experimentation with point of view and cinematography, my film engages with gaze theory and my own observations about eating on screen.