I’m a big fan of the ABC Family show Pretty Little Liars. It’s an endurance piece about four millennial girls under constant surveillance, trapped in a feedback loop of dramatic glances and threatening text messages in an endlessly autumnal studio back lot approximation of an American small town. A faceless, omnipotent cyber-bully named “A,” who may or may not be the girls’ (dead) best frenemy, Allison DeLaurentis, fucks with them on the daily. No secret is safe and no moment is ever private from “A.”
Much of Pretty Little Liars makes little to no sense, but it always manages to reel me in with its hypnotic, fugue-like tone. I’ve been thoroughly entertained by its 70 episodes to date, so I’m being a friend when I say this, Pretty Little Liars: y’all got some fucked up food politics.
In Food Horror, I set out to examine the many moments in Pretty Little Liars’ first three seasons that stigmatize food, whether it’s presented with a feeling of unease, danger, or overt rejection. Aside from the 16 minutes of “food horror” I’ve compiled above, there are a countless dining scenes where food is conspicuously absent—often supplanted by the girls’ favorite diuretic, coffee. Sometimes they simply sit in front of a plate of prop salad and ignore it.
The show’s narrative touches on eating disorders in season one, when it’s revealed via flashback that Ashley Benson’s character, “Hefty” Hannah Marin, is a recovering bulimic. Her food issues were at the crux of her relationship with friend-slash-tormentor Allison, who once counseled Hannah on how to throw up: “I can show you how to get rid of it.” This small effort to work bulimia into the show’s discourse feels like a hollow gesture, since much of Pretty Little Liars reads like a how-to guide on making it through a meal without taking a bite.
It’s important to consider cultural messaging about health, body image and beauty embedded within entertainment targeting young girls. In 2012, Internet outrage lead social networks like Tumblr and Pinterest to adopt policies censoring individuals with eating disorders from sharing “thinspiration” tips. Silencing these organic online communities is an easy way to feel like we’re addressing eating disorders, but it does nothing to fix the systemic problems that allow body shame to permeate for-profit entertainment products aimed at women.
Shout out to Ashley Benson for killing it in the Spring Breakers part Emma Roberts reportedly left because she refused to gain 15 pounds for the role. Shout outs to Christian Marclay, Rainer Werner Fassbiner, gainers, Netflix, Rich Juzwiak and YouTube (the form, not the actual service).