You might have seen it before. Girl sits alone at the bar on a Sunday night. Orders a glass of her favorite pinot noir and a salad. The girls across the bar softly whisper about her, while staring directly in her line of sight. The bartender tries to make small talk, thinking she just may be lonely in her own company. Meanwhile, girl with salad is tweeting her whole experience, wondering why humanity cannot fathom a single lady enjoying her own company. Then, she laughs in the midst of it all. Unbeknownst to them, it’s because of their own insecurity in thinking this way.
“Women Laughing Alone with Salad.” Not just a meme. And not just an incredibly raw and zesty play that I just saw (courtesy of Woolly Mammoth Theater). It’s real life.
And I can relate. At the initial preview of the show, the “appetizer” if you will, I was surrounded in the lobby of the Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington DC with a countless number of bordering, and what seemed to me like, AARP-eligible single women. Was this foreshadowing my future? Alluding to what could be, if I didn’t shake things up and stop being that girl, laughing alone, with salad on a Sunday night at the neighboring watering-hole at the mall?
Before I get to that point, a little more background is needed. The play is based on a popular 2011 Tumblr page of, well, women laughing alone with salad. Its purpose is to showcase feminism in a contemporary world – the good and the bad. Interestingly enough, it centers around around a male protagonist who plays the role of observer and judger of women’s habits. One who, struck me dead in my heart when he says in one of his opening lines, “Don’t tell me you’re a salad eater!” A line I hear much too often and not just from the opposite sex.
Let it be. I would gladly be a stand-in for that popular 2011 meme on which the play is based. That way, instead of explaining my story at every dinner intro, I would just hold up a meme. Of me. And a salad. Laughing, of course. With the words in bold across the bottom: “Plant-eater.”
As you may guess, the way women are portrayed in the play is meant to draw out our insecurities, how we self-loathe our bodies and how society defines the way we should actually look. The play makes the point through stereotypes – the powerhouse, dominant woman; the curvy, flirtatious bombshell; and the pencil-thin blonde – all drowning in low self-esteem and stretching for any remedy. (In this case, that happens to be salad.)
Again, I could relate. My self-image fix started with the fat-burning soup craze. Since 1998, I had gotten hooked on losing 10-17 pounds every time I jumped on this semi-annual fad. However, every time I partook in this quick-fix diet, I would gain twice as much as I initially lost. Fed up (and quite shockingly to some), I made the decision to change my dietary lifestyle to one I believed would actually help boost my self-image. Veganism. It was what I needed for a lifestyle change that would leave its mark.
Prior to changing my dietary lifestyle, you would have caught me ordering take-out from Popeye’s, or divulging in half-smoke, all-the-way, Ben’s Chili Bowl Hot Dogs. And yes, plural is how I would order. Thinking about the way I used to eat, I should have been 50 pounds heavier with a greasy face and bad hair. All the while, I pulled off sporting a schmedium shirt while holding a bucket of chicken in one hand, a beer and cigarette in the other. The ideal woman, ladies and gentlemen.
Yes, men SAY they like their women to enjoy themselves when it comes to food. But let’s face it: As much as we hate to admit it, we go on first dates and show men that we only eat like a rabbit. We don’t want to show that we, too, can lose self-control in that department. Entertaining border-line gluttony, really. Rather, we put on a show. We wear Spanx and contour our faces. We wear high-rise jeans to avoid a muffin top. We wear shift dresses to create an illusion. And now, we ask our hairdressers to shape our hair to make our faces appear thinner. Persistent we are in stopping at nothing to create a perception that society can accept. I was on the search for the happy medium.
This isn’t new news. This front we put up stems from that certain idealism when it comes to the way a woman is supposed to look. You see them when you flip the pages of your favorite magazine, or scroll whichever Kardashian-Jenner is now waist-training’s Instagram feed, or whatever you pinned on Pinterest (the platform was made for dreamers). And no matter how much we convince ourselves to not care about what others think, we do care. After all, looking good is tied to feeling good.
So let’s reverse who we’re trying to impress. Stop putting in all that effort for for others — because really, it should be for us. At the end of the day, our self-gratification should be the priority. I’ll spare you the schpiel we have all heard before and sum it up to say: it’s you that matters most.
The reason I think it’s important is because there will always be that day when each of us will run into that someone. An old friend. Or better yet, an ex-boyfriend. And the only thing we want to leave them saying is , “Damn, she looked good.” And not just because of our trendy outfits or shiny hair or flawless skin. Because we exude confidence! There is no better feeling.
So, go ahead: Eat what makes you feel good, indulge when it feels right, and at the end of the day, don’t let others pass their judgement on your diet. This way, even after we’ve all grown old and become one of the older ladies I saw at the preview, we will feel happy and good when we get there.
I want to leave you with this line from an empowering speech performed by one of my peers in her self-introduction about her struggle with self-image: “I may not be perfect physically, but I aim to be flawless everywhere else.” And that, my salad lovers, is a beautiful thing. That kind of powerful self-esteem comes from deep within yourself, regardless of your outside appearance.
Women Laughing Alone with Salad is running until October 4th, 2015. Want to check it out? You may purchase tickets here. Quarterlettes get a special $30 ticket using the code – MEME!
Now in its 36th Season, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company continues to hold its place at the leading edge of American theatre. Acknowledged as “one of the most influential outposts for the best new American plays” (The Washington Post), and “known for its productions of innovative new plays” (The New York Times), Woolly Mammoth is a national leader in the development of new works, and one of the best known and most influential mid-sized theatres in America.
(Photo of author laughing with her salad was taken by Edilberto Argueta)