What those 'I Heart Junk Food' memes really say about us

It's become fashionable for women to declare our love for 'bad' food - but what are we really saying?, asks Natalie Reilly.

It's become fashionable for women to declare our love for 'bad' food - but what are we really saying?, asks Natalie Reilly.

I don't know if you've noticed it but there's something a little weird going on with women and food. Ha! Ya think so? Ok. Wait, this is a new, slightly more modern spin on an old theme. It seems it's become fashionable to declare your love for "bad" food. 

Young women heart donuts, they adore pizza. And if the memes are to be believed, chocolate is every naughty girl's new bae. 

There's something disturbing and sexist going on when women are sold the idea that it's wicked and subversive to, uh, love to eat. 

I understand that consumption of pizza and chocolate are among the greatest pleasures on earth. But the subtext of all these memes and slogans and postcard declarations - that eating junk food is the latest mode of rebellion - gives me a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

How did this happen? My theory is that proclaiming that you HEART SOME FORM OF JUNK FOOD on your sweatshirt or necklace or Instagram account began as a backlash against all those green smoothies and photos of acai berry bowls and general detox bragging. In this sense, it is a small act of rebellion, an anti-brag if you will. 


But then we have to look at the bigger picture here - just how and why healthful eating became synonymous with a certain type of feminine righteousness in the first place. It's because we inhabit a culture that makes women feel bad for craving anything other than a low carb diet plan, the same culture that dictates how women should look. You can yell about "body acceptance" until you're blue in the face, but our wonderfully patriarchal, capitalistic, commercially-driven, media-saturated culture will only yell back: Stay small. Compact. "Keep it tight" by any means necessary. Reduce. Minimise. Want power? Then take up less space.

There's another strand to the I HEART BAD FOOD trend that chills me to my dimpled thighs. The idea that junk food takes the place of a partner, as if Food Ladies are the new Cat Ladies.

On the surface, it's kind of hilarious. I mean, why subject yourself to potential heartbreak when a cheesecake can offer its own type of sweet satisfaction? But the greater implication is that if you're not constantly dating, or preening so you can date, you're a sad lady person! Can't get a date? Well, it's obviously your fault so climb into your ugly pj's and get out the cookie dough, girl. It's over. All you have to look forward to now is dulce de leche.

There's something disturbing and sexist (or disturbingly sexist) going on when women are sold the idea that it's wicked and subversive to, uh, love to eat. It's a fact that chocolate has been sold to women as a sex replacement since, like, forever. I remember well twenty years ago when that model bit into a Magnum ice-cream with all the ferocity of a lover. Who could forget Tina Fey's skit about making passionate love to her husband, made entirely of brownie?

And yet. Does it have to be either/or? Why can't a woman dabble in chocolate and also enjoy someone's company? Is it because the wider culture tells us that the only time women can enjoy such food is if we're going to medicate with it? Or make passionate love to it?

Guys, I'm worried. I'm worried the inference is that the only time a woman can really let loose and actually, you know, eat whatever the hell she wants, is when she's alone. When you're under the doona with a block of Lindt nobody can hear you eat. And they shouldn't either! Because good ladies watch what they eat - that's what patriarchal culture demands of us. It's how you obtain hetero-normative love.

Hmm. Imagine a world in which men wore accessories saying 'I HEART PIZZA'. (Yes, a great many male humans love to post about bacon, but that's not done with the same naughty sense of rebellious abandon.) It would seem strange, no? Why would men need to declare it? We assume men love pizza. They are only human.

We obviously don't assume the same of women, or the novelty of these memes and clothes and jewellery and comic strips would not be there. I know women are stereotypically known for eating their feelings. But in news that might have you reaching for the frozen whip, did you know we are not the only gender to do so? We are, however, the only gender that is punished by culture for it.