What’s the last thing you saw a woman eating on television? Once you start looking for it, it seems women eating salad are everywhere–and not a whole lot else.
But sometimes even salad isn’t “lady” enough: A scene from the 2009 film The Invention of Lying limits women’s options even more. Jennifer Garner’s character (“the girl”) orders a salad with chicken, but Rob Lowe’s “the jerk” (who she is for some reason on a date with?) advises her not to get the chicken because she needs to maintain her weight.
I always thought that salad with chicken was acceptable “girl food”: lettuce plus a lean meat. Apparently we’ve been downgraded to just lettuce. What kind of message is this sending? That women shouldn’t even have protein?
What bothers me the most is not just the fact that salad is certified “diet food”, implying that women should be thinking at all times about their waistlines. It’s also that having women on TV eat salad is just plain lazy writing.
There’s a writer’s cliché that goes like this: Never have your character eat an apple when they could eat a fried pickled doughnut. Alright, I may be wrong on that second food–but the point is that every moment you show a character is another opportunity to demonstrate to your audience something about them. Never pick the most common option when you could be setting your character apart.
So what does it say when a female character on TV eats salad? It says that the writers aren’t assessing her as a person, but only by her gender. Instead of figuring out what that woman would eat based on her personality and preferences, they’re simply giving her the “girl food”. You know, the one that all women love to eat. Delicious salad.
It’s fall TV premiere season, so when you’re checking out the new shows, pay attention to the writing choices. Are the women acting like people, or stereotypes? And if you see a woman laughing while eating salad alone, that TV show probably isn’t worth watching.
–Magdalena Newhouse is a a junior at Oberlin College, where she teaches a class on Body Positivity and Fat Acceptance.