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is it okay: for a woman to order large?

A few weeks ago I went out for lunch with a friend. It was noodle soup. I’d been there before and he hadn’t. We ordered different sizes. When the waiter approached our table holding the large, he looked at my friend and said, ‘I assume this is for you.’ Naturally this resulted in everyone feeling awesome. Fortunately I had just enough noodle soup to eat my feelings.

Women are supposed to eat smaller helpings. If there is an odd number of sausages or potatoes, the person who gets more is usually going to be a man. It makes sense I guess. They’re growing. They lift heavy things. Food should be proportional to size. Despite this, seeing this happen has always made me feel irritated, even as a small child. I like to think that it was because ten year old me wanted to fight against this division of gender roles, but I suspect that in reality it was because I had a stomach of steel and wanted to nom all the things.

As I got older, life started to include more and more dinner parties. No longer was I allowed to hide in my parents’ bedroom with a glass of milk and a VHS full of taped episodes of Xena, I slowly had to spend more and more time at the adult table. I started to hear things like ‘only a little bit of rice please’ and ‘I’m on a diet’.

When the plates were cleared and cake came out husbands would have what looked to me like a normal slice, while wives would say things like ‘no, no! Half that size!’. It was here I learnt the word “sliver”*. It seemed entirely foreign to me to see grown women turning down food, when at school, Friday meant lunch order day and was the highlight of everyone’s weeks purely because they could eat party pies and spend fifty minutes chipping their way through a frozen chocolate milk.

Somewhere between then and now we all learnt that we are fat. Or soon to be fat. And that cake is to your butt like a pump is to an air mattress. Or spinach is to Popeye’s arms. My school group went from party pie Friday to formal diets.

I’m not saying that we should all dash to McDonalds and chow down a Big Mac with the same relish as a bra burning. Firstly because buying a Big Mac is like putting a down payment on your future heart disease, and secondly because bras are actually really expensive and burning them is financially irresponsible and if you relish financial irresponsibility then you should be running Facebook. Also it is probably bad for the environment.

What I’m actually saying is that eating a hearty meal is masculine and good, whilst picking at a salad is feminine and dainty. And that is stupid. We should all be eating healthily and we should also stop dividing food along gender lines. It goes both ways. My ordering a large soup gets an awkward pause. A man asking for a sliver of cake gets laughed at and then given a normal sized piece anyway.

There is a valid argument in the fact that in general men are bigger, they can eat more food and they probably need more energy. But how much of the difference in appetite lies in actually genetics and physiology and how much of it lies in what we’re conditioned to think we want in terms of food from a young age? I don’t think it’s enough to form a chasm of difference between cake size preferences.

*Why even bother? You’d get more cake by licking it than you would through eating a “sliver”.

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5 thoughts on “is it okay: for a woman to order large?

  1. Once at a restaraunt attached to a Melbourne shopping complex I observed two slender blonde women order and receive large hamburgers in generous buns with a side serving of chips and salad.

    The two proceeded to pull the burgers out of the buns, dissect them with their forks, and leave the rest.

    I have no further comment about that.

  2. I agree with what you are saying in terms of society supporting certain views of women + food, but just be careful with generalising or taking it too far- I order the smaller meal not because I think I should be concerned about weight (I love food!!) but because I know if I ordered the larger one there’s no way I’d fit it in, and I don’t like wasting food. I ask for a ‘sliver’ of cake because after a big dinner anything larger would probably result in imminent spewing of said cake, but I don’t want to be rude to the host and decline the cake altogether. Just putting the other side out there, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    Wouldn’t you say that judging women for eating too little is just as bad as judging them for eating too much?

  3. Growing up I’ve seen the same thing around the dinner table – the women asking for a ‘sliver’ while the men have second helpings. Unlike you though Elizabeth I think this has been a positive influence and I’m thankful for it. My dad is a lot larger than my mum and it is because he has never had a person setting the right example. When his metabolism was younger and faster it was fine but because he’s never had to develop healthy habits, it’s really tough for him as he gets older. Personally I don’t have much sympathy because I get so sick of hearing him say how unfair it is he is genetically programmed to think about food more than mum, when I know mum thinks about eating just as much but she actually controls herself and makes sacrifices to stay healthy. So I am thankful that I will not be like my dad but instead like my mum, learning healthy habits from a young age. That said I HATE when I am expected to sacrifice food for my brothers. I couldn’t care less whether they need it more, I want it just as much! Especially meat in our house – there is no way I’d get to finish the last piece.

  4. I think what Elizabeth is getting at is the assumption. She is not judging women for eating too little, she is judging society for their expectations of how much men and women eat.

    I experienced this when I was at a restaurant with my boyfriend. He ordered the warm chicken salad while I ordered a chicken burger with fries. The waiter practically set the warm chicken salad in front of me before annoucning the dish. My boyfriend claimed it, and the waiter realised his mistake.

  5. Society most definitely expects us to stay in the little niche they’ve placed us in. Now my partner and I eat the same size meals and I’ve had plenty of jokes from people and staff asking if it’ll even be possible for me to finish that. I’m skinny, but I have a fast metabolism and I lift weights, you bet your ass I’m finishing a large meal. My favourite though, is the rare occasions my partner and I go get a drink. I’ll order a scotch on the rocks whilst he’ll have a malibu and pineapple juice, guess which ones the waiters think is mine?

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