Welcome to the fourth instalment of a series of blog posts going more in-depth into the thoughts and ideas behind each of the paintings in the Earthly Delights series. The series is based on my experience navigating health and diet culture as a long term participant. You can read the full background by following the link to that blog post below:
Titles titles titles, maybe Fame & Fortune or Food is the final title for this piece and maybe not. Some titles come quickly and others take a while to feel settled. I’ve played with a number of titles for this piece but I don’t think this one is settled yet.
The economic pressure to get thin, and then to remain thin, is experienced at different intensity levels across society. There is an economic price in many occupations for not maintaining the current socially acceptable level of thinness. Thinner employees are often hired and promoted ahead of and valued higher than their heavier counterparts. This is supported in both research and anecdote. Having been larger and smaller, I have seen the difference in treatment from both sides in the workplace.
Where there is a competitive advantage in thinness, any one who feels the pressure of getting and keeping a regular pay check will also feel the pressure to present the image of the perfect (thin) employee. We then have two basic needs competing against each other, the need to eat and the need to be able to afford to eat. While size discrimination is prevalent across occupations it is most directly evident in the performing arts. To explore this conundrum created by diet culture I tapped the experience of Dawn van de Schoot whom I met through the Kitchen Feminism project. As an actress her experience was that, although she knew the harms of diet culture, everything just went so much more smoothly if she were thinner. Roles for thin actresses were/are more plentiful than for mid to large actresses.
In that context the pressure to ‘keep food on the table’ means that one feels one can never actually eat the food that one is now able to afford. To regularly eat to satiety, to enjoy the rewards of success, risks losing all that one has achieved, and all the rewards that are accorded to that achievement.
Further to that, I would like to add that not only do the performing arts disproportionately suffer from the toxic influence of diet culture, but by virtue of its role in creating the stories of our society, it also projects that influence outward across industries in which appearances and thinness should have little to no bearing on job performance:
Did I ever suffer or benefit from thin privilege or fat phobia in the workplace? Yes, both. However mainstream media entertainment leads us to be terrified of even the tiniest deviation from the thin ideal. The mythology says women (and increasingly men) risk loneliness and unemployment if I we get any bigger than a single digit dress size. Spouses will leave, no one will hire us and people in the streets will make fun of us. You know what? None of those things came true in my life despite having been anywhere from a size 6 to a size 22. But I can imagine that an actor or actress in Hollywood might not find work, that spouses also invested in image as status might leave, and random people on the internet might make fun of larger celebrities in what is effectively the street of our current online culture. In short, the dysfunctions of one particular section of society, by virtue of its role as the mirror of society, can magnify that dysfunction to all parts of society.