Some time ago, I was watching a cute girl anime and there were a number of random scenes where the main character(s) just basically had a mukbang for no reason. Half a rando episode was just dedicated to cute girls eating huge amounts of food. And it seemed a bit odd because it was out of nowhere.
It’s one thing to have a lot of eating montages in a show like Yuru Camp. If the anime is going to be about camping then dedicating some time to the peculiarities of cooking and eating outdoors makes sense. And that idea was present throughout the season. But when it’s a show where food hasn’t even really been mentioned until you have this ridiculous binge episode, I just didn’t get it.
A couple of readers helpfully pointed out that overeating or simply excessive eating is actually something of a CGDCT trope and can be seen in a lot of anime. And since then I have in fact noticed it in a lot of different shows in various genres. An adorable little girl just vacuuming up everything in sight.
For the most part, I’m pretty indifferent to this but I just started this new manga called Mogusa-san and the cute girl eats a lot trope is basically the central plot. And it kind of bothered me so I would like to talk about it a bit.
There are going to be a lot of disclaimers in this post because some anime fans can get touchy about certain subjects. So let me start by saying that cute/pretty girls eating a lot isn’t specific to anime. It’s actually something that has been present in media and general society for a long time and in a lot of cultures.
It’s essentially part of the cool girl trope or before that the not like other girls trope. I’m not like other girls, I don’t just eat salads, I like to chow down on double cheeseburgers with bacon. The cool girl doesn’t have to worry about her diet, she’s too cool for that!
It’s not like I haven’t noticed it in tons of movies and shows. That one girl character that everyone wants to be or be with and she’s the one ordering a second pizza because the first one just didn’t quite hit the spot.
I will say that it’s a little more overt in the anime I have watched. This might be because Japan is not as shy about singling out physical attributes or I might just be the type of humour. But I seem to see it more and more excessively in anime. Then again I watch anime almost exclusively so you shouldn’t take my word on this.
Point is, it’s a common trope that seems to appeal to a lot of cultures.
Like I said, for the most part, I’m indifferent to it. It doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t find it cute or funny but I also don’t find it unpleasant. 99% of the time. However, there is something that irks me about this trope and Mogusa-san brought it out.
My issue here has a little something to do with beauty standards. I think we can agree that beauty standards kind of suck. They’re not scientific absolutes or anything and they change all the time and according to where you are as well. If you go on YouTube and look up beauty standards through history, you’ll see that women in particular would need to go through extensive surgery every 10 to 15 years if they actually wanted to keep up with beauty standards because the changes require impossible shapeshifting. And occasionally, the standard is unnatural, to begin with. And yet despite all of that, the beauty industry build on these standards we all know are silly, is HUGE. And I think a lot of us at some point wish we would look more like the imaginary “ideal”. I’m not losing sleep over such thoughts but I’m certainly not above them either.
To be clear, I don’t think unrealistic beauty standards are anyone’s fault. Maybe society as a whole. In my opinion, there’s no point in trying to find someone (or a group) that is responsible for this distorted view. Moreover, I understand that beauty standards affect men as well, and I think this is becoming more of an issue. However, where I live, it’s still way more prevalent for women to feel the particular pressure to be a specific type of pretty so that’s what I’m going to be talking about here. I also noticed that as far as the anime trope goes, it’s almost always young lady characters that are at the center.
You probably guessed by now what is getting on my nerves. For most of my life, I have gotten this subtle message that I should be able to eat tons and stay thin and very attractive. Actually no, it’s more that if I was a fun cool girl I would eat tons, more than the guys, and stay hot without any effort. And you know what, for most common mortals that’s just not how it works.
Mogusa-san embraces this message full on. It’s a romance manga in which a high school boy who works at his family’s little fried food restaurant falls in love with a girl in his class after seeing her eat this huge plate at his work. As their relationship grows, he continues to cook for her and she continues to eat unreasonably enormous portions. It is clearly stated that she regularly eats enough food in one sitting to make a grown man sick.
And it’s not like her appetite is a quirk, it’s her core attribute. He falls for her because of it. He thought she was a plain girl and hadn’t noticed her at all until he saw her pig out and he thinks the look of her enjoying her food makes her beautiful. Her size is not discussed in detail but since it’s a manga you can just see what the character looks like. She’s a skinny teenage girl in uniform the entire time.
The actual details of this specific story don’t matter. Sure you can argue that teenagers have high metabolisms and some girls can eat more than grown men and stay thin. That’s not the point. If this was an isolated manga with a quirky premise I would probably just think it’s super cute. But 1, this particular trope has been used over and over again in media, and 2, real-world evidence shows us that most people can’t in fact eat everything in sight without consequence for an extended period of time.
So having that specific message drilled into you from a young age can make your relationship with food really strained. One way or another.
To be clear, I’m not saying the cute glutton trope is to be blamed for eating disorders. I’m just saying it probably doesn’t help.
But it’s not just that. There is a bit of audience responsibility for how we interpret and internalize media. And although I think it’s a trope that glamorizes unhealthy behavior, I also don’t think tropes shouldn’t glamorize unhealthy behavior. After all, most of us know that it’s not supposed to be taken literally. It’s fine.
But there’s also another thing that kind of bugs me about it. It makes those characters less human. Like a real person would put on a bit of weight, or they would be naturally active because of all that extra energy, or at the very least, after three days of nonstop binging, they would be a bit nauseous and want to eat light for a meal or two.
Anime characters are already impossible in a lot of ways. They are drawings for one. We accept characters with personalities so idealized they either come off as Stepford robots or are potentially touched in the head a little. So what’s one more impossible characteristic?
And you’re not wrong if you’re asking yourself that. It’s a completely valid question. But for me, if I have to suspend my disbelief over all those things already, it would be great if the main trait of a character wasn’t that, on top of it all, their metabolism is alien.
The last thing that irks me is diet culture. At first glance, this makes no sense. A trope about eating too much is the opposite of diet culture. But you know, there’s this weird obsession with how much people (often girls) eat, exactly what they eat and when. We have all these what I eat in a day videos on social media. They get A LOT of views. In my opinion, food should be fun. It can be one of the joys in life. I also really enjoy cooking. It shouldn’t be a source of shame or stress or a way to one-up people.
You want to show me something you ate cause the presentation was pretty or you want to share a recipe you found delicious. I completely get that. But when we start to deeply care about sranger’s eating habits, it gets a bit invasive.
Putting all of this on a couple of cute girls eating like sumo wrestlers in anime and manga is a bit of a stretch. I’ll admit that. The trope is mostly innocent fun and maybe a bit of fanservice for a certain type of audience. It’s just that seeing it again made me think about all these related issues and I wanted to talk about them a bit. A lot of people around me are trying to lose quarantine weight at the moment and food, eating, body size, and health are recurring topics of conversation. So I wanted to share my thoughts as well and this anime trope came to mind.