Why plus-size women can't pose seductively with food like Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski

Mandy Velez
Contributing Writer

In a recent video shoot for Love magazine, Emily Ratajkowski slathered herself in spaghetti. That same week, Vogue Italia released photos from its “Celebration Issue” featuring Bella Hadid and Lily Aldridge holding up chickens and posing with big feasts.

It’s lauded as “editorial” and “chic,” and people commented, “This is fabulous!” and “My kind of dinner date!”

In other words, people see the food featured alongside the thin models as simply props in a photo shoot, and perhaps something different and “real.” But what would happen if curvy or plus-size women modeled in the same ways? Would readers call them sexy and salivate at the thought of dining in their presence? History, and curvy women, say definitely not.

Plus-size model and mental health advocate Callie Thorpe not only sees the huge double standard, but has lived it. Just a photo of her breakfast once prompted someone to tell her, “You shouldn’t eat that. This is why you are unhealthy.”

“When slim women share images of themselves eating doughnuts and pizza, people think it’s fine (which by the way … there is no issue with women eating food in photos),” she says. “If a plus-size woman/fat woman were to do this, they would be accused of being unhealthy, greedy, gluttonous, and wasteful.”

Not to mention, when a thinner woman posts a photo with or eating food, her health is rarely ever questioned, despite body size being an unreliable indicator of health.

Of course, women, thin or curvy, are shamed for other things when posing with food or not — Piers Morgan called Ratajkowski “stupid” and slut-shamed her for her sexy spaghetti shoot. But there is an inherent aversion to plus-size women with food, period.

Anna Shillinglaw, a former model and founder of MiLK Management (an agency that promotes diversity, representing the top curve and plus-size models and influencers) would know.

“There are still double standards when it comes to women and food in the media, and if a plus-size model slathered themselves in food in a sexy or provocative way, the reaction would absolutely be different, which is wrong,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

And when bigger women do pose with food, it’s often to fight back.

In 2016, Aerie Real’s “role model” Iskra Lawrence posted an Instagram photo of herself in a huge pile of chips. The media went wild, calling her photo a “clapback,” which it was. But the hyped reaction proved the point that curvy women posing with food can’t be just accepted. It can’t stand on its own as just a photo of a girl with some chips — it has to serve a greater purpose.

The most ironic thing is, some of the shoots echo one of the earlier plus-size women-with-food defiers, French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld. She published an editorial of then-plus-size model Crystal Renn gorging on all kinds of dishes for the magazine’s shoot “Festin,” which translates to “Banquet,” seven years before their sister mag’s latest “Celebration” issue came out.

So why does our society equate sexuality to food — and why can’t it just let women of any size pose with whatever they want, food included? Amanda M. Czerniawski, PhD and author of Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling, says food and thin bodies actually have a natural connection.

“Food can have a very sensual quality,” she says. “We’re more likely to accept that kind of imagery, [because] we have this obsession with trying to understand what they do with their bodies.”

She says the problem people have with bigger bodies being able to express themselves with food similarly comes down to people’s own conditioned insecurities.

“We have this perception that larger bodies are undisciplined and lazy,” she explains. “[Coupled with] obesity and fear of obesity — the news will show larger bodies — and the juxtaposition of larger bodies and fast food corroborates the anxiety and fear over that. When we see larger models and food, it intensities that anxiety.”

There is hope though. Both Shillinglaw and Czerniawski have seen positive changes over the years. For instance, thin models were more accepted in less clothing when plus-size women weren’t. Czerniawski says now, they’ve rejected the notion they have to cover their bodies, and the same is slowly happening with food. Until then, it’s about accepting that a model or woman, no matter her body size, has the right to pose with whatever she pleases, even if it’s a loads of chips or spaghetti.

“[Food is] an intimate thing. But when you have a whole class of people who are stigmatized because of eating, it’s highly problematic,” says Czerniawski. “Maybe we should have models of all shapes and sizes eating together.”

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