The Processed Woman : How the Gilmore Girls Made it Cool to Love Junk Food
I’m a (marginally) fat girl who loves junk food.
Years ago, I would have never said this aloud. I would have felt too much guilt.
Last night, I picked a rogue Cheeto out of my bra, after falling asleep to the Gilmore Girls and tweeted about it. It felt good.
I think the reason that I can both admit to enjoying junk food publicly and not face the judgement that I would have at the apex of the anti-obesity movement, is (in part) thanks to the Gilmore Girls. Thank you guys.
No. Thank you, really.
Let’s take a minute to appreciate how subversive The Gilmore Girls is. It champions female protagonists on screen and features a downwardly mobile but spirited single mother* ( This is no way excuses some of the ways in which the Gilmore Girls is far from progressive. Cue in eye roll in the new season, when the mayor considers “borrowing the gays” from a neighbouring town to have a parade.) But one of the things I’ve found particularly subversive about the Gilmore Girls is how it showcased female relationships with food. How the Gilmore Girls eat. Really eat with gusto, and not necessarily the things they’re supposed to be eating to be “healthy”.
Lorelei and Rory celebrate eating together. They vocalize their cravings and bring them to life. There is excitement in anticipating eating, joy and bonding in the act of eating, and never any guilt in having eaten. What they eat is important too. Junk food; tacos, donuts, pizza and pop tarts grace the Gilmore table and palate. The Gilmore girls,in their downward mobility, represent a liberating alternative to the nutrition obsessed time they lived in.The antithesis of this being Ms. Kim, who is always putting herself and her daughter on a restrictive diet to maximize their health and minimize their waistlines. In a way, they represent the inhibiting ethos of the time, in their desire for upward mobility. The Gilmore Girl’s final season was in 2007, at the peak of the anti-obesity movement which vilified all junk food and inactivity by casting it as downwardly mobile. The film “Supersize Me” had reached acclaim three years prior, and ushered in the era of caliper- wielding gym teachers and nutrition pyramid classes in public schools. I was twelve at the time, developing my first feelings of guilt for liking the fries at McDonald’s, and becoming aware that I didn’t have the type of body that was permitted to be seen eating white bread. I became aware of how my body was perceived and how people judged me based on what I ate during this time. What ensued was a coming of age fuelled by black coffee, arugula with lemon juice and countless google searches on whether omega-3’s made you fat or not.
It is significant that the foods Lorelei and Rory are seen eating are convenient foods, synonymous with childhood. In sharing these foods, Lorelei is able to extend her childhood, cut short by an early pregnancy, and Rory is able to maximize the experience of a childhood marked by emotional responsibility for her mother.Coffee is the only food that bears the gravity of the adult world. Lorelei depends on it to fuel her adult activities and her youthful energy, while Rory, who is transitioning into adulthood early in some ways, develops a premature affinity for the beverage. They are able to relish the tenuous developmental space between childhood and adulthood together, in private, without ever having to worry what judgement the outside world may bear upon them or their bodies.
Years later, in the new season, not much has changed food-wise. Mother and daughter are able to sink into the idyllic world of extended childhood, free of responsibility, by enjoying tacos and sugared donuts together. Given, these foods are savoured in the private realm of the home, and seldom in public space, making the act of indulgence a private and shared bonding experience again, years later. I am still waiting for the show where women are seen publicly gorging themselves. I’m sure it’s coming soon. For now, what I celebrate about the Gilmore Girls, is that they really do love to eat, shamelessly. In the new season, Luke, who has just prepared a three course meal, tries to stop them from eating donuts and tacos before dinner, but the girls protest, insisting that their appetites are insatiable.
An evaluation of the Gilmore Girls and female relationships with food would be incomplete without mentioning Sookie. Sookie was the first female chef I could remember seeing on tv. Elsewhere, women weren’t chefs; they were cooks. The early aughts were fraught with Martha Stewart types whose food communicated comfort and perfection, but never left the inner realm of the home. Sookie’s food was public. She was ruthless in her quest for culinary perfection, prying suppliers for their best haul. Her food was served to the wealthiest and most powerful of the community.Her food was edgy, not comforting. She was constantly working on something new that needed to be tested. She was vivacious and spirited, and weight was never a trope or a hindrance to her enjoying food. We need more of that. I want more of that. I haven’t seen it since Sookie.
Bodies, and standards of attractiveness play an important role in making the Gilmore Girl’s relationship with food acceptable, even lauded. Lorelei and Rory, the women seen indulging, are still slender and attractive by normative standards. I think that their “desirable” bodies made their indulgence more acceptable, if not celebrated. They presented an alternative to the self-deprivation of the Atkins era. You could be thin, and still indulge, and not care. That made you cooler than if you cared. That made you the ultimate; effortlessly attractive and laid back. Arguably, the Gilmore Girls also ushered in the era of the “chill girl”; the girl who lives free of social mores, is unbothered by the expectations of others, and is effortlessly attractive, if not, magnetic. The chill girl trope, and the celebration of the chill girl is doubly demanding for women. Not only does a woman have to be conventionally attractive, but it is more desirable that she hide the labour that goes into creating her public attractiveness, by feigning non-chalance and uninhibited indulgence. Women now face judgement for doing all the things that people expect them to do to be conventionally attractive.While the Gilmore Girls offered an alternative to the waist-trimming obsession of the time, it also set the stage for other problematic expectations of women.
So, when did indulging in heavily processed foods for pleasure’s sake become acceptable, much less celebrated on the back alleys of tumblr? It seems almost overnight, the internet became obsessed with Cheetos and pizza and pop-tarts, and all the packaged indulgences we loved as kids find their way into the gluttony of our adulthood and into Buzzfeed articles. When did the shame of eating Chinese takeout in my bathtub melt away and harden into an emblem of pride? I’m not sure. I’m looking to re-trace the steps exactly, but i think that a generation of girls eating gummy bears and watching the Gilmore Girls with their moms had something to do with it. While I figure the details out, I’ll be munching on a bag of Cheetos. Shamelessly.