There is an advertisement that I pass when biking to work.
It’s of a gorgeous man, with brown hair and blue eyes, a rugged 5 o’clock shadow, his arms slightly raised, about to pop the collar of his denim jacket. His lips are parted slightly, his gaze steady. He is ready to meet whatever lies before him on the horizon.
And in bold, in red, in all capital letters is the line: BE HUNGRY.
Each day I passed the sign I would think to myself: I cannot wait to see a woman beneath that slogan about to pop her collar.
Though at the time, I had no idea what this advertisement was trying to “sell,” as in an actual product, I later learned it’s a Gap ad. In an email to a Dallas news channel, the Gap, in an effort to smooth over the faux pas of placing this advertisement out front of a food pantry that feeds the homeless, wrote: “Our intended meaning of the phrase ‘be hungry’ is about having passion, curiosity, and a desire for knowledge.”
I’m hungry. I have a big appetite. In all senses of the word. I am blessed to know many women who fit this bill. And though we may live our own, personal lives in a liberated style—to pursue what we crave, to nourish our minds and our bodies— society tells us otherwise. And what do I mean when I say “society”? The zeitgeist, the common philosophy that rears its head in obvious ways, like on billboards and magazines, but also the inklings and attitudes that burrow their way into women’s psyche, a virus that is contracted and passed from one woman to the next.
Last night I was shopping at Trader Joe’s. It was a quick grocery run to get the basics and an inexpensive dinner. As I waited in the check out line that snaked through the aisles, I broke open a bag of stone ground, organic corn chips. I munched away, happy as a clam, nudging my backpack and grocery crate with my foot as I moved forward in the line.
And then, out of the blue, the woman in front of me, turned around and said:
“You’re just as bad as me.”
Bad? Bad? As you? Who the hell are you?
But I didn’t say this. Rather, my chewing ground to a halt. I looked at her, then away, then shrugged and kept on eating, slowly now, no longer with the same zest as before. But I felt . . . I felt guilt rising. Guilt! The irony is, I knew exactly what was going on. I was inside of the moment and outside of it at the same time. I struggled then, in that moment. What I wanted to say was: “Lady, I’m hungry. Hungry! It’s 9:45pm. I haven’t eaten in eight hours. I’ve worked a full day, had a rehearsal, biked throughout this city, and just had a three-hour podcast tutorial at the Apple Store. I am not being bad. I am fulfilling a basic need!” I didn’t say this, but I kept telling myself: “Say it. Just say it!” But I didn’t. And then too much time passed. And if you say something after too much time passes, regardless of what you say, you just look foolish. Why didn’t I say something immediately? Perhaps I didn’t want her to feel bad? Perhaps there was a part of me that wondered if I was, indeed, being bad? She didn’t even look into the rest of my crate! If she had, she would have found yogurt and almonds, hummus and mesclun mix, carrots, onions, celery, brown rice sushi, apples. As the kids say, WTF?
And then I realized, I had forgotten an item. I saw it as we neared the checkout line. I wanted it. Badly. And I knew going for it would just open up this can of worms even farther. I went for it. Reaching over her, (yes, I had to reach over her), I grabbed my favorite Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bar—the one that comes three to a package.
And then she said, “That’s my guilty pleasure too.”
I looked at her. I wondered for a moment if I would become this woman someday, this woman who was 25 years my senior, plump, with bleached blond hair, and obvious eyeliner. She was trying to identify with me, pull me into her neuroses. That’s sabotage. Women sabotaging women. We are different. Work on your own shit, lady; don’t try and swallow me up inside of it.
Would she have said this to a man? Would a man say this to a man? I wish . . . I wish . . .
I wish had laid a hand on her arm and said:
“Why can’t we be larger than life? Why can’t we be hungry?”
Stop trying to make us smaller, world! Stop trying to strip us of our appetite.
I am inspired by Julia Bluhm, the 14-year-old who drafted a petition to portray girls truthfully (without Photoshop or air-brushing), secured 84,000 signatures, and hand delivered this appeal to the Editor-in-chief of Seventeen Magazine. Unbelievably, the entire editorial staff pledged to “never change girls’ body or face shapes” when retouching images. What a victory! Julia, a ballet dancer, who hears from her dance mates such lines as “I ate well today, but I still feel fat,” is an example of a girl, who is hungry to make a difference, inspiring others to recognize an authentic body, thus treating it kindly, feeding it when hungry.
We eat for oh-so-many reasons. Because of an absent father; an overbearing mother; never being loved; loving too much; sexual frustration; creative, mental, and emotional blocks. Yes, sometimes we eat because we are physically hungry, and sometimes we eat (I know I do) because the passion, the curiosity, the hunger of the spirit as represented in the Gap ad, goes unsatisfied.
It’s time the world encourages us to be hungry. It’s time women start talking about food, and hunger, in all of its forms, for real. Not what we think we should say, but what’s really going on. How are you today? How are you feeling? I’m hungry. You're hungry? Me too!
This post is the first in a series on "Jewesses with Attitude"-- Passion, Power, and Pulp Friction
How to cite this page
Orcha, Gabrielle. "Be Hungry." 17 July 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 4, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/be-hungry>.