Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Binge Food Eating: A Modern competitive sport in the USA

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Nathan’s 4th of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest | Source: Jeff via Flickr

Eating food as a professional sport may seem odd to a lot of people, but many such competitions exist today in the USA. While competitive food eating contests have been around for years, it was only in the late nineties that it got the status of a sport. There is even an organisation named “Major League Eating” headquartered in New York which governs all eating competitions worldwide since its foundation in 1997.

It's not just about the participants. The sport has got its fair share of the audience too, particularly in the US.  Some of the most popular contests include Nathan’s 4th of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, the Zombie Fest at Long Beach, California, The World Slugburger Eating Championship, in Corinth, Mississippi, The World Famous St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail Eating Championship, Indianapolis, and many more.

And the insane records that people make at these competitions might just blow your mind away. For instance, Joey Chestnut holds the record for eating 70 hotdogs and buns in 10 mins in 2016 at the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Matt Stonie holds the record for devouring 43 slug burgers in 10 minutes at The World Slugburger Eating Competition in 2014!  Looks insane? Well, it's just one of those things that make America so great! Or does it?

While competitive eating has truly become a huge affair in the United States, many people are particularly skeptical of the same. Many animal rights groups question the morality of such competitions wherein so many animals are consumed in such a short time. Others have the issue of the sport being offensive to people who cannot afford to have enough food in a day. However, the biggest argument against these eating competitions is how they have become a symbol of freedom. The critics say that freedom from unnecessary regulations makes sense in the context of a free democratic and liberal society, it does not mean that we indulge in a gross display of excessive consumption.

The dangers associated with the sport are not limited to morality and freedom. People who participate in the contests have to go through potentially injurious training to stretch their stomach for the sport. These training regimens include consuming more than a gallon of water, eating 200 chicken wings, and the list goes on.

Despite all the dangers associated, the sport continues to grow and thrive. The raging rivalries between participants like Joey Chestnut and Matt Stonie make then Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of the competitive food eating. With the audience base steadily growing over the years, Competitive Eating has truly become a phenomenon in the United States. Riding on the increasing popularity of this sport, Nathan’s saw a monumental increase in their hot dogs’ sales from 250 million to a billion between 2003 and 2014,when the competition was broadcasted on ESPN .

It all boils down to the numbers of the loyal fan following which a sport or sports-person commands. As long as there are people who enjoy watching food being stuffed in insane amounts as a sport, there will always be people ready to make money by contesting and organizing these festivals. After all, that is the beauty of corporate America- whatever sells, will stick around!

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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