There’s a YouTube video I’m fond of that shows a baby named Madison being given cake for the first time. The maniacal shine in her eyes when she first tastes chocolate icing is transcendent, a combination of “where has this been all my life” and “how dare you keep this from me?” Jaw still dropped in shock, she slowly tips the cake up towards her face and plunges in mouth-first. Periodically, as she comes up for air, she shoots the camera a look that is almost anguished. Can you believe this exists? her face says. Why can’t I get it all in my mouth at once?
This video makes me laugh uproariously, but it’s that throat-full-of-needles laugh that, on a more hormonal day, might be a sob. The raw, unashamed carnality of this baby going to town on a cake is like a glimpse into a better, hungrier world. This may be one of the last times Madison is allowed to express that kind of appetite, that kind of greed. She’s still young enough for it to be cute.
This is Madison’s first birthday. By the time she’s 10, there’s an 80 percent chance she’ll have been on a diet. By high school, she’s likely to have shied away from expressing public opinions; she’ll speak up less in class, bite back objections and frustrations, shrug more, stay silent, look at the ground. She’ll worry about seeming “good”—which means not too pushy, not too demanding, not too loud. (Only bitches want better. Only sluts want more.) Boys will treat her shoddily, and she will find ways to shrink herself into the cracks they leave for her. She will learn to assert less, to demand less, to desire less. She won’t grab for anything with both hands; she won’t tip anything towards her face and plunge in. And that transcendent anguish, that stark gluttony … well, at least we’ll have it caught on video.
Imagine being Madison, grown up but undimmed. Imagine being the woman who is unabashed about needing food to survive and pleasure to be fulfilled and care to be happy. Imagine prying open the Pandora’s box where you hide your voraciousness, and letting it consume indiscriminately, and realizing that the world is not destroyed. Imagine saddling up the seven-headed beast of your hunger and riding it to Babylon.
What would it take to feel safe being voracious? What would it take to realize that your desires are not monstrous, but human?
– Jess Zimmermann, Hunger Makes Me