Monday, July 21, 2008
Sometimes, there’s just way too much subtext, way too much inferred or implied, or both. Sometimes, a piece of cake is just a piece of cake, except when it’s not.
Picture a pretty-average office in the suburbs of Washington DC. Someone has brought cupcakes in to share with everyone. To me, there are two and ONLY TWO reasonable and polite responses to the question “Would you like a cupcake?” They are:
1. Wow! Awesome! I would love one! Thank you so much, it was so nice of you to bring them in!
2. No thank you!
There’s no number 3. And that’s because there’s no third option. “Oh my God, are you trying to kill me?” is not an answer to “Would you like a cupcake?” (With one possible exception: If you are a despotic dictator, and you have survived numerous poisoning attempts, you are permitted to say “Oh my God, are you trying to kill me?” if you’re served a cupcake that smells suspicious. And then, being a despot, I guess you put your pastry chef in front of a firing squad.) Nor is “Sorry, I’m cutting down on sugar/carbohydrates/fats”. Not that it’s not OK to cut down on sugar, carbohydrates, or fats, or conversely, to eat as much of any of them as you want to. I just don’t want to hear about it.
So the cupcakes are making the rounds. The cupcake offerer offers me a cupcake. I have a rare attack of cake-related self-control and I say “No thank you!”
Coworker A says “Oh my God! Are you trying to kill me?” I happen to know that she is not a despotic dictator, nor have any attempts been made on her life under any other circumstances, so this was the wrong answer.
Coworker B says “Sorry, I’m cutting down on sugar and fat”. Cupcake offerer smiles politely, far too kind to say what I think she was thinking and what I know I was thinking: Eat one or don’t eat one, who effing cares?
Here’s where it becomes interesting, and here’s where the subtext comes in. Coworker C says “Oh, they look so good. But I’m really watching what I eat. I’ll have a teeny piece of one”. Coworker C is very thin. Coworker D says “You don’t need to have a PIECE of one. You can eat a whole one. It won’t hurt you”. Coworker D is not at all thin.
Icily polite discussion commences. It seems very important to both C and D to make their points. C’s point is “yes, I AM thin. And this is due to steely self-discipline. Suck it, fat lady”. D’s point is “Look at you! You clearly have an eating disorder! You have fallen prey to the unrealistic ideal of thinness which is being forced upon women! Free yourself by eating a cupcake, you emaciated bitch!”
Overinterpretation? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Without revealing detail, I know all of these people well, having spent entire days with them for several years. And really, if this wasn’t the point of this conversation, each of them could have had as much or as little cupcake as they wanted without editorial comment. C could have just said “Wow! Awesome! I would love one! Thank you so much, it was so nice of you to bring them in!”, and then just quietly eaten a small piece. D could ALSO have just said “Wow! Awesome! I would love one! Thank you so much, it was so nice of you to bring them in!” and then quietly eaten the entire thing, and gone back for seconds if she wanted to. (There were a lot of cupcakes.) So why the announcement, and then the interpretations of the announcement, and then the counter-argument?
Between the supposed “obesity epidemic”, which has given news organizations a legitimate excuse to run endless dehumanizing footage of headless chubby torsos lumbering down city streets, and the almost as prevalent discussion of body image issues and eating disorders, I know far too many people who are WAY too interested in what and when and how much other people eat or don’t eat. To me, there are two, and ONLY TWO situations in which you are permitted to pass judgment, overtly or otherwise, on other people’s food intake:
1. You are a doctor, nurse, or nutritionist offering your professional opinion to a patient or client who has asked for it
2. You have given birth to the people whose eating habits you are judging. (And even this applies only when they’re children)
So to Coworkers A, B, C, and D, I say have your cake and eat it, too. Or eat just a bite. Or eat your cake and your friend’s cake when she’s not looking. Or don’t eat any cake ever under any circumstances. Just don’t tell me about it
(PS—none of this applies to blogging, naturally. You can write about every single bite you eat or don’t eat, at length and in detail. It’s your blog. And for some strange reason, although it drives me crazy to hear people discuss their eating habits, I absolutely LOVE to read blog posts about food and eating. What do you think?)