It’s Beautiful When You Eat
Regulation of the female appetite can be traced back to the Genesis story of how the world began and was subsequently infected, temporarily ruined: “In the Genesis narrative of the fall, sin and death enter the world when a woman eats.” The story of the fall, “the first story of all human stories,” is a prime example of what Helene Cixous calls “libidinal education.” The term libidinal here refers to all “bodily and sexual experience” and to all basic appetites—whether for food, sex, knowledge, or power. The accompanying term, libidinal education, refers to “the individual’s discovery of the body and the cultural prohibitions surrounding it.” Although both women and men develop eating disorders, women, in a different way than men, have been subjected to libidinal education, and male-dominated societies have long been threatened by the idea—and the reality—of a woman who eats as she pleases.
Naomi Wolf ends her essay on “Hunger” in Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders with a description of how a young girl might experience life if she, like her male peers, were encouraged to eat her fill. She asks rhetorically, “Who knows what she would do? Who knows what it would feel like?” The answer, of course, is that few know what that would feel like. Few women and girls have been so unscathed by society’s concern with stifling their appetites and commodifying their bodies that they haven’t experienced even a glimmer of the freedom Wolf describes. “To be trained in renunciation,” write Gilbert and Gubar in Madwoman in the Attic, “is almost necessarily to be trained to ill health, since the human animal’s first and strongest urge is to his/her own survival, pleasure, assertion.” When a woman eats her fill or eats as she pleases she is rebelling, retraining herself to strive after her own survival, pleasure, and assertion.
In Cixous’ interpretation of the Genesis story, Eve’s consumption of the apple is seen as a “paradigmatic moment of female rebellion against the invisible and negative force of patriarchal law.” In the ancient story, Eve discovers herself, her body, and the whole world through her mouth, showing that “knowledge and taste go together.” In exchange for tasting knowledge, Eve must pay a price, and this story functions as a warning for all women. To Naomi Wolf’s question of what would happen if a young girl—or if any woman—ate as she pleased, Cixous answers: she would know, she would discover the “inside,” and she, like Eve, would be punished. Here are some Lemax halloween figurines as an example.
Thank you for reading this blog post on eating.