Wednesday, April 11, 2007

She Eats Like a Horse Who Eats Chocolate

Let me stick it all in my mouth, babyA few days ago I finished reading a book with a primary female character who had the strangely common and rather annoying characteristic of being able to eat gargantuan quantities of food while maintaining a perfectly slender wisp of a figure. The first time I really noticed this phenomenon was as a teenager reading Martha Grimes’ fun but utterly static Richard Jury mystery series, in which the ever-brooding Richard Jury is regularly being heavily come on to by his ravishingly sexy young (but fully adult) neighbor who always seems to appear with a plate of brownies or a gallon of ice cream or some other implausibly large sweet that she consumes in its entirety.

At the time, I thought this was just a defining feature of that particular character – a way for the author to display that her physical “appetites” are voracious and thereby frightening to the melancholy, pensive, and passive (though intelligent, ultra-handsome, and completely single) Richard Jury, who somehow manages to never sleep with this woman (or any other) despite having every opportunity. (It occurs to me that Jury is similar to Angel from Buffy & the Vampire Slayer in many ways, except Jury can go out and walk the lonely rainy streets of the city during the day, and having sex is not going to literally turn him into an evil monster, although you couldn’t tell that by his inexplicably monkish behavior. My best guess is that Grimes recognizes that a certain kind of loyal female fan believes deeply that if only she were to appear in Jury’s life… etc., and Grimes thus keeps him unattached to prevent these women from becoming jealous and sending her hate mail. Or it could just be that Grimes is totally incapable of developing a character in any way whatsoever.) But since then, I have encountered it so many times that I have come to recognize it as a standard fantasy. I’ve seen it in books written by both men and women, though I think it is slightly more common in ones that are targeted to a disproportionately female audience. However, I’ve been surprised at the number of thrillers written by men with male protagonists and a generally male sensibility that feature a woman with this characteristic in the role of “hot woman the hero will soon start fucking.”

Although this character does not rise to the level of Wacky Neighbor, Token Religious Black Woman (about which more later), Amazingly Resourceful Friend (you know, how characters in fiction so frequently happen to have a friend who can with almost zero notice arrange, e.g., a wedding ceremony or a set of false identity papers), or Really Stupid Guy, Skinny Woman Who Eats All the Time has made it on my personal list of fictional stereotypes.

I am now mentally prepared that one day I am going to be reading a book in which after a walk on the beach in the tiniest possible bikini, the Skinny Woman Who Eats will go up to the snack bar with Her Man, and she will say “Two cheeseburgers, two large fries, and two chocolate milkshakes… and whatever he is having.”


mom said...

Wouldn't it be refreshing to read a book where the male and female protaganists who, even though they work together to solve whatever, don't end up "falling in love" with all attendant behaviors. Also refreshing would be the female that eats everything she wants and guess what? she has to pay for it with weight gain!! Ah well, that would be too much like real life and we don't want to read about real life or we would be reading the newspaper.

Tam said...

I wonder if it's a thing similar to The Girl Who Watches Sports - like, wow, a girl who looks like a girl but eats like a guy! So you get all the fun of hanging out and eating together without scolding/nagging/whining, plus all the attraction of a skinny chick.

Of course, being able to eat a lot and stay thin is also a marker for youth, which is valued in our culture, especially for women.

Aside from the ubiquitous and well-known Magical Black Friend, I haven't gotten very far with fiction stereotypes. (And I'm not sure if MBF's appear in literature as much as they do in movies, TV, etc.)

Sally said...

Mom, obviously you and I are reading too much crappy genre fiction!

Tam, I think there's a lot to both of your points. The Girl Who Watches Sports is a close cousin to The Girl Who Drinks a Lot of Beer. I'd like to see a blog post on the Magical Black Friend of TV/Movieland.

Debbie said...

One of my favorite characters is the lady in "Fargo" who eats like a horse but it's because she's pregnant. And she is always having to sit down, so she is at least partly paying for her weight gain.

I hate the way in movies if one character starts to kiss another character, the other character always kisses back, no matter how inappropriate, wrong, or stupid.

Sally said...

Debbie, the out-of-the-blue totally inappropriate kissing thing struck me and the other women I was watching with really hard during "The Lake House" movie a few weeks ago. Even though we were all prepared for it to have its cheesy romantic chick-flick moments, that one caused this major WTF? reaction in all of us.

On a related note is the bizarreness of how frequently movie first kisses look like one character is about to eat the lips off of the other. I know actors have to follow strict diet regimens to keep in movie star shape, but surely they are not so desperate as to want to chew somebody's lips like a piece of juicy fruit gum.

Tam said...

Wait, isn't that how everyone kisses? (just kidding)

Tam said...

By the way, I find the picture on this post extremely disturbing. I can't stand to look at it, yet I also can't look away.