This post comes after reading the most recent post at a comedy blog that I love called Hyperbole and a Half. The author, Allie Brosh, also posts on The Gloss and her simple MS Paint drawings add a depth of humor to her incredible prose that usually leaves me rolling around with tears of joy streaming down my face in between my guffaws of laughter. Indeed; for fully 90% of this most current post I felt the same giddy sense of joyful amusement. Her insights into some of her own experiences and the world around her are often a fun, and intelligent at times, story to read.
In this post Allie relates an experience from her childhood. I’ll pause to let you read it if you want so I don’t ruin it if you like….read it? Good. Moving on.
Now, unless you have had experiences similar to those of my husband*, you may have also really been amused at the drawings of a younger Allie in her childish antics, trying in vain to get more cake once she had one bite and become bitten by the Allure of the Once Tasted and Thence Forbidden Fruit.
I laughed not only because I could all too easily imagine Allie’s determination but also at how well the simple drawings managed to capture precise moments: that vehement glare when being sent to play, the sullen look while being forced to play with her toys rather than eat cake that wasn’t hers to eat. Also, I laughed at how accurate her depiction of cravings one can experience when denied what you want can be. Her intelligent determination to find a way TO EAT THAT CAKE at all costs was actually rather commendable. She was like a mini cake-craving McGyver.
However, what left me with a sour taste in my mouth was the very end of the comic/post. All through the comic (and indeed through the life of the blog) Allie draws herself as a young, thinnish blond girl in a pink dress. Not for those last two panels. No. Once she has gotten and then EATEN the entire cake; she is drawn as a rolly-polly ball of a thing in a dress, smeared with cake.
Now if she had always drawn herself that round, I’d have no issue with it. Heck, she makes a cute fat girl with that little blond ponytail. No, I take issue with the fact that after all of this post about how this thin, sugar-crazed little girl succeeds against all odds and manages to snag her prize and EAT that gloriously desired cake; she is depicted as fat. Why? Not because eating that cake made her immediately that large (though her self-admitted feelings of over-fullness might have made her FEEL that round). She was drawn as fat because that is who we picture when we think of someone eating a whole cake. Not a thin, sugar-greedy little girl; a fat little piggy incapable of “self-restraint” in the face of cakey goodness. So that’s what we see. Self-fulfilling prophecy much?
I’ll admit that I felt a little let down. It is ENTIRELY possible that Allie meant it as a cute drawing. But that is part of the problem. See, the trope that a person is only Fat because they lack the self-restraint and willpower not to Devour the World is precisely WHY I found the end of her comic so problematic, not so much for itself but as a reminder and indication of just how PERVASIVE these sorts of stereotypes are; right to this damn moment. When someone says they ate an entire cake, of COURSE they will next be drawn as a chubby kid smeared with frosting! I mean, that’s all Fat Kids do, right?
It’s like there’s this disconnect where we almost can’t imagine seeing that last panel as just the same thin girl smeared with pink frosting, looking not the least bit remorseful. In order to BE thin, you can’t do the very thing that this thin girl did, right? It’s not like thin folks ever have bad eating habits, only the fatties! As though, in order to have done that particular over-eating action she HAD to have, for the moment, become a Fat Kid; and not just a normal damn kid determined to eat a whole cake. That’s what has always been rammed down our collective throats: being Thin means you’ve Done Good; being Fat means you’ve Done Bad. That’s what I take an exception to. The perpetuation of the idea that Allie’s action of eating an entire cake is one that can only be associated with Fatness.
So on the one hand I was excited to see someone post an amusing look into the way a child can become obsessed with foods to which they are denied access.
The allure of the forbidden tasty treats is so clearly outlined here and could be a fabulous example of why I don’t think sneak-ventures like Chef Boyardee’s new ads are valid or a good idea at all: (Obviously Delicious, Secretly Nutritious) proudly boasting that they are full of “hidden vegetables” so you can SNEAK them into your kid’s diet as a Secret Weapon (because, you know, lying to your kids is awesome for getting them to do shit, right? Battle those young minds, fight back against their insatiable desire to learn what they want to eat on their own by blindsiding them with VEGGIES hidden in (arguably) tasty foods!)**
But I digress.
On the other hand, after this fascinating and amusing look into the dark side of the forbidden cake hunt, we end with a scene that clearly depicts the fat kid as the end result. It is a message which tells the reader loud and clear and (in a totally expected This is Just How it Happens sort of way): This is what would happen to me had I continued to eat in this manner forever. Because, you know, that’s exactly how every single overweight, obese, morbidly obese, fatty McFatterson has “gotten where they are”. And I call bullshit. Allie’s own story tells the opposite truth. It wasn’t the fat kid at all who ate that cake. It was the thin child (who has grown into a thin woman). And it is these small, tiny, seemingly inconsequential “Just take a joke, will you? It was just a funny drawing!” sorts of moments which; when added all together, make for a culture in which people refuse to believe that people can be fat without having Gotten There via copious self-faulting moments like Allie’s.
It is these exact small jabs, ever-present in day-to-day life, which makes for a world in which assumptions about dietary and exercise habits are par for the course. Fat Body? Well of COURSE that means Fat Habits…and THAT is why every instance of stuff like this needs to be pulled out. Because it DOES matter. I may not be able to point out each and ever single one of the plethora of examples such as this that surround us; that would be a serious undertaking. But every time someone does step up to point out how these little snide things make for a large over-arching belief systems which works to denigrate existence as a fat human being makes perhaps just ONE more person take a step back and reconsider WHY they might have found such portrayals funny…and why that might be not so funny the next time.
So in my open shout-out I say: Allie, you can do better. You were a thin kid at the beginning and, though you might have felt like exploding from sugar and cake overload at the end of your successful mission, you were STILL a thin kid at the end of it. Do not sully your work by falling into the hateful tropes about how Fat automatically equals Overeating Food Zealot without any concept of Self-Control when faced with Forbidden Sugars. Okay? You’re better than sneaking in (perhaps unintentional but still hurtful nonetheless) pot-shots at fatties to make a point. Your image of a frosting-smeared Allie would have been just as good a punch-line had you remained your normal size. Perhaps even better since, as I’ve laid out above, you would be relying on the story of wanton cake eating to tell your story; instead of a clichéd and tired trope about how eating that whole cake means you were somehow magically transformed instantly into a fat child. Tell your stories. They are amazing and well-told. Refrain from making a poke at others’ expense to fuel your humor. In the end your stories will be even better for it.
*Adam D actually grew up with 2 cousins who acted very much like Allie and always ended up ruining any family gathering with cakes or deserts by running fingers through frosting, taking handfuls of whatever they pleased and never feeling remorse. It left him not quite as amused with Allie’s youthful actions as I was; having never had to actually experience such actions from the other end!
**Why not acknowledge instead that making something a Sinful Treat or a “Sometimes Food” makes it all the more desirable for its forbidden nature??? Why not address children as capable of thinking and understanding and try working WITH them? Perhaps that would not have worked with Allie in this case, so smitten with the sugar-bug; but I fail to see how denying a child’s desires as if they can’t know their own body (or LEARN from doing things that make their body feel wretched) helps anyone in the long run! But then again, I’m not a parent no matter how many child-rearing or child-feeding blogs I may read so feel free to chime in with thoughts on this!