Women laughing alone (and on TV and in the movies) with salad

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. 

8 thoughts on “Women laughing alone (and on TV and in the movies) with salad

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  1. I’m not sure if you watched all of the Invention of Lying, but it’s a comedy. It’s a joke that he tells her not to get the chicken, because thatISridiculous. The movie is mocking someone so shallow and paternalistic as to tell a woman what to eat. He is a jerk. Why is she on a date with him? It’s explained in the movie, a few times. It’s part of the overarching point of the movie in the end.

    I agree with you on the weird enforcement of women eating salads (Why don’t men eat more salads? How did it become a “girlie” food, anyway?) but spending half of this post on a misunderstanding of a scene in a movie takes from the point.

  2. To be fair, most of the women that appear on TV are unrealistically thin. So to have a scene where one of the aforementioned waif starts tucking into a burger and fries, it would look just as ridiculous. So I suspect the problem of the stereotype goes deeper than her dinner. It’s as deep as the fact that actors need to have perfect (or thinner) bodies to get the job in the first place.

    Still, it is funny to see how many pics you find when you do a Google Image search for woman + salad + laughing.

  3. I somewhat agree with David Fanning’s post but think that in general, it misses the point. Even if a character is supposed to be healthy, there are other healthy options beyond salads. I have almost never seen a thin friend order a salad. Thin people enjoy nutritional variety. As far as skinny chick eating a burger, check out Mindy Kaling’s hilarious post entitled “Flick Chicks” in which she explores female characters that rarely exist anywhere beyond romantic comedies…

    “The Skinny Woman Who Is Beautiful and Toned but Also Gluttonous and Disgusting

    “Again, I am more than willing to suspend my disbelief for good set decoration alone. One pristine kitchen from a Nancy Meyers movie like “It’s Complicated” compensates for five scenes of Diane Keaton being caught half naked in a topiary. But I can’t suspend disbelief enough, for instance, if the gorgeous and skinny heroine is also a ravenous pig when it comes to food. And everyone in the movie—her parents, her friends, her boss—are all complicit in this huge lie. They constantly tell her to stop eating. And this actress, this poor skinny actress who obviously lost weight to play the likable lead character, has to say things like “Shut up, you guys! I love cheesecake! If I want to eat an entire cheesecake, I will!” If you look closely, you can see this woman’s ribs through the dress she’s wearing—that’s how skinny she is, this cheesecake-loving cow.”

    Read more http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2011/10/03/111003sh_shouts_kaling#ixzz1cNCR6Sn4

  4. Hey, thanks for your feedback. My problem with that scene was that Lowe’s character was based in a certain stereotype of a jerk—a stereotype we’ve all seen before—and it startled me to see that this stereotypical man was now supposed to be against CHICKEN. If he’d suggested the salad as opposed to, say, a burger, I wouldn’t have paid it any notice, because he is supposed to be a jerk, after all. But to say that she couldn’t even add chicken to her lettuce was alarming, because it was lower than I’d expect even from a cardboard stereotype—even diet mags aren’t so restrictive. I wasn’t objecting to the character’s behavior, but to the idea that “chicken will make you fat” is an opinion that a shallow man might have. To me, it just illustrated that “acceptable” women’s choices are becoming increasingly limited. I hope that helps clarify my point.

  5. Oh man, thank you for linking that article. It’s BRILLIANT and had me laughing out loud! Love Mindy Kaling!

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