Artist Challenges How Women Are Shamed About Eating

Growing up in America, we learn that sweets and junk food are “guilty pleasures.” Women, especially, are supposed to refrain from such indulgences. And, if they cannot—if they, for example, desire more than that modest slice of cake served to each birthday guest—then they should feel not only guilt, but shame. For overindulging is grotesque and it, accordingly, should be hidden and kept secret.

This is the cultural background to Lee Price’s realist paintings of women (mostly her) eating sweets and junk food. She draws two contrasts. First, she makes very public something we are supposed to do only in private. Not only do the paintings literally display the transgression, the birds eye view and frequent nudity exaggerates the sheer display of the indulgence. And, second, she takes something that is supposedly disgusting and shameful and presents it in a medium associated with (high) art, challenging the association of indulgence with poor character and a lack of refinement. Fascinating.

Warning: Some images below contain nude women and may be considered NSFW (although we don’t find women’s bodies–or their enjoyment of food–taboo here at the Ms. offices!)

Jelly Doughnuts:

Refuge:

Strawberry Swirl:

Grilled Cheese II:

Lisa in Tub with Chocolate Cake:

Photographs courtesy of the artist. You can find more artwork by Lee Price here, via Boing Boing.

Reprinted from Sociological Images.

Comments

  1. MidSouth Mouth says:

    This seems to have the potential to subvert and all, but it also can be received and pathologized as a glamorization of binge eating– especially that painting near the toilet.

  2. yoteech2002 says:

    Chilling! A picture of the link between women and eating disorders.

  3. runningoutofplaceandtime says:

    These images are powerful. I feel exposed and also validated.

  4. thebibliophile says:

    About the last picture, the artist captured the movement of water in extraordinary detail. Also the point of view and the model's sitting position made her appear chubby even though we already know she isn't. There's a lot to be said there.
    @ MidSouth Mouth. I agree with you. That toilet bowl made me nervous.

  5. I wouldn't call it a glamourization of binge eating, but neither would I characterize this as "shameful indulgences." Most of the women are indeed pictured binge eating. A slice, maybe two, what the hell!, of chocolate cake is an indulgence, but half a cake is a binge, you know? I am really grooving on the art but I don't think that characterizing it as a portrait of the shame women feel around eating is really helpful. I mean, binge eating disorder is connected with shame about food, no question–but that link isn't being made clear here.

    • Exactly.

      Thankfully, I’ve never had issues with food, and maybe that’s the reason I cannot identify with these at all. Actually, the first thing I noticed was that the plate from which she’s eating grilled cheese sandwiches is Fiesta Peacock blue. I love Fiesta!

      If I want cake, I eat cake. Or a doughnut. Or the entire combination plate at the local Tex-Mex joint, refritos and all. I don’t feel guilty about it. Sorry, but whatever the commentary at the top of the page says, eating Doritos on your bathroom floor is not “enjoyment”; it’s desperation.

      If it were clearer that this was a personal picture of disordered eating and not a generalized statement about women and food, I’d get it. I’m assuming they’re all self-portraits, since they’re all skinny white girls?

  6. The pictures are great, but I'd also like to the ones where women are proud of eating e.g. showing women eating in public would be really amazing. Personally, I'm proud of the fact that I adore tasty food and I never hide it.

  7. Happy Woman says:

    Hmm.. the analysis is weird. These are photographs, not paintings. Not a medium of "high" art, rather, something every American does with their phone.. Very sad, esp. the one with the potato chips, eating beside a toilet. But there's a huge leap between "women" used generally and the 5% of women who have eating disorders. They are NOT typical. A few lock themselves in bathrooms with piles of junk food and they have my great sympathy, but I don't like all women being lumped in with the mentally ill. I don't have all this "shame" when I realize that my belt is squeezing me and I've eaten more than I needed. I just think, "that's uncomfortable; better take it easy next time."

    • Stefanie says:

      Actually, these are paintings, not photographs. They are so realistically done that they look like photos, but they are oil paint on linen canvas (see the artist's website for details).

      Also, photography is very much a high art at this point in the history of art; it certainly has not always been that way, but photographs are considered part of the fine art canon at this point in time.

    • As a woman with a mental illness I take offense to your comment’Í don’t like all women being lumped in the mentally ill’. What is wrong with having a mental illness? it is no worse than having diabetes or cancer.

  8. Amanda Montei says:

    These are fabulous. Thanks for turning as all onto Price's work, Lisa!! This is my favorite sort of work– images that question our immediate reaction and relationship to the image. Brava!

  9. Awesome work, although the premise that overindulging is shameful seems to me a bit outdated. There is obviously not much of a social stigma about overeating in a society where every third woman is either obese or overweight…

  10. I feel extremely exposed when I first saw the paintings. The feelings I get after a binge session was overwhelming when I saw the paintings…
    I honestly love Price’s works.

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