Why WWEOT is not nice, not needed and certainly not 'ART'

Tony Burke promises the world that he ‘isn’t a weird deviant’, and that his Facebook page WWEOT (Women Who Eat on Tubes) is in fact ‘art’.

Just in case you have missed this extraordinary phenomenon, Burke has created a Facebook group which encourages members of the public to photograph unsuspecting women on the tube as they eat and then upload their photos to the Facebook group where they are subjected to comment, ridicule and analysis. What alarms me more is the number of members this group has, and the number of people defending it.

I now think twice before eating on the tube, carefully scouting the carriage to see if anyone looks ‘the sort’ to want to take a photo of me eating my lunch (I try never to stereotype people). I don’t much want to be snapped and discussed on a website. Actually, the thought of it makes me feel extraordinarily uncomfortable. So, I’ve had a freedom taken away from me; my right to eat on the tube, without concern for invasion of my privacy.

My freedom being removed is not art.

Burke’s message to the world is not a new one. There has been, for a long time a preoccupation with women and food. WWEOT reinforces a message that has been projected at us our whole lives; women should be in complete control of their bodies, it’s about obedience and adhering to what is deemed by the media as ‘acceptable.’ Burke’s group reinforces this idea that women eating is something different, something to shout about and analyse.

I'd like to share with you a few quotes that have stuck with me from films I grew up with, films targeting young women (see if you can guess any):

“I feel like such a heffer. I had two bowls of Special K, three pieces of turkey bacon, a handful of popcorn, five peanut butter M&Ms and like three pieces of licorice.”

“"My hips are huge. // Oh please, I hate my calves. // At least you can wear halters, I have man shoulders. // My hairline is so weird. // My pores are huge. // My nail beds suck."

“You bet your size 6 ass // [whispers back gleefully] Size... 4. [they high-five each other]”

“What can I get here that has no sugar, no carbs, and is fat free? // Water.”

I already have a whole catalogue of what I 'should' and 'shouldn't' be doing when it comes to eating, now with the additional message from WWEOT that I shouldn't be eating on tubes, because when I do I'm at risk of being subjected to ridicule and comment. It’s an invasion of privacy and a laugh at the expense of others. In short, it’s bullying.

Bullying is not art.

Finally, it’s not just about the photographing and sharing of unwitting individuals, it’s about a message that’s being broadcast across the public domain, which will also wash across the younger generations (because yes, even minors have been photographed and uploaded to this group.) Here are a few statistics for you. Approximately 1.6 million people in the UK are thought to suffer and eating disorder, of which around 89% are female. 10% are thought to be anorexic, 40% bulimic and the remainder are other forms of ED, including binge eating disorder.* These are diagnosed cases. It is thought that only one in ten eating disorders are diagnosed and treated. We have an epidemic. There is a huge disconnection in our society with food, our bodies and our image. It’s something that needs addressing. Burke may only see his group as a bit of harmless fun, but in reality it’s more ammunition added to an already furious fire, one ignited by our existing media and cultural values; the trouble with this one is where as I can refuse to buy the magazines that promote the ‘ideal’ woman, avoid the films that fuel this idea of perfection, I can’t avoid being photographed while eating on the tube. Burke has condoned a pathway in to my life for others to enter and examine me. It’s inconsiderate. It’s nasty. It’s a laugh at the expense of others. It’s a poorly thought through act. It’s mindless. It’s bullying. It’s not needed in a world where great pressures are already placed on women and their bodies. It’s many things. It is NOT art.

To end on a high note, I'd like to share Amy Godfrey's work, because there are some people making positive waves out there regarding these issues. She makes great performance work around female body image, food and self-esteem. Take a look at her webpage and also her brilliant video in response to the WWEOT group.

http://vimeo.com/40353045

http://amygodfrey.com/the-biscuit-chronicles/

*Statistics from BEAT

(The films were: Clueless, Mean Girls, The Devil Wears Prada, A Cinderella Story)

(C) Amie Taylor 2014