The Inventory (1963-2011) The Edible Woman Cake (1983) with Anna Platten The Edible Woman Cake (1983) with Anna Platten

Bronwyn Platten ‘The Inventory’ 1963-2011

The Inventory collates aspects of my practice with related explanatory and critical writing that have informed the approach to Mouths and Meaning. The Inventory currently includes more than thirty distinct works.

For Mouths and Meaning website I have included an excerpt from The Inventory, which will be changed from time to time. Discussed below with images on slide show - is one of the works that I made whilst still at artschool - The Edible Woman Cake (1983) which I created with Anna Platten, my sister who is also an artist.

The Edible Woman Cake (1983)

 

  “Well”, she said, “there are a lot of things I can’t eat; I mean, I haven’t been eating them lately. Meat, for instance, and eggs and certain vegetables.”

Duncan didn’t seem in the least surprised. “Well, okay,” he said, “but Trevor’s very proud of his cooking… he’ll be insulted if you don’t eat at least some of what’s on your plate.” “He’ll be even more insulted if I throw it all up,” she said grimly…

 

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I do it, but I can’t seem to help it.” She was thinking, maybe I can say I’m on a diet. “Oh,” said Duncan, “you’re probably representative of modern youth, rebelling against the system; though it isn’t considered orthodox to begin with the digestive system. But why not?” he mused.

 

Margaret Attwood, The Edible Woman

 

I read The Edible Woman around the age of 12 and was gripped and fascinated. I just reread it some thirty-eight years on as part of my PhD research into eating disorders. I am not entirely sure why I loved it so at the time. I read it prior to the onset of anorexia nervosa and then bulimia. I have some questions. Did I learn about anorexia and bulimia from hints in the story. Or was my desire not to eat from reading a couple of magazine articles that came out about the same time about girls in the UK that were not eating. They appeared in magazine photographs, staring wide eyed, all skin and bone from the glossy pages. I have read that eating conditions are contagious. I certainly got my inspiration to binge/purge from a fellow anorexic friend who became bulimic before me. She told me she had found a way to be able to eat what she wanted without getting fat. This was an all-consuming problem for me seeing that I had got anorexia to begin through a desire to lose my ‘fat stomach’. I have never liked vomiting and suffer from emetophobia. A fear since childhood which would causes me to have panic attacks.

 

I wonder if unconsciously the practices and the focus on the body taking place in The Edible Woman and in the anorexic young people in the Women’s Weekly resonated somewhere deep inside of me. When anorexic, I saw myself as a witch with dark circles under my eyes. (I wasn’t sleeping). However, I hadn’t then been diagnosed with anorexia and was never ‘officially’ diagnosed with the condition by medical specialists. I was called ‘bald eagle’ by boys at school as my hair was falling out and became very fine.

 

After finishing school I started to eat again and then couldn’t stop and found myself bingeing, raiding the cupboards of the kitchen late at night. Eating everything in sight. My body image was not great at this time. My grandmother and father both feared and hated fatness with a vengeance. In fact my grandmother told me she hated being pregnant because she was fat. She used to weigh my sister and I when we went to visit her. While being two years younger than my older sister I weighed more. And this scared me and obviously my grandmother as she said I had to ‘watch it’ – her words. Then she would feed me fabulous food such as homemade Cornish pasties, followed by coffee and walnut cake with icecream. I would often have second helpings – so I think the confusing mixed messages around food really started then. My dad too had (has) weird things about food – only women were meant to eat icecreams. He said that men looked effeminate when they walked around eating an icecream cone. In wanting to be loved and admired by my dad – I gave up eating sugar for a while (he doesn’t eat sugary foods and never has) but couldn’t keep it up. He also said quite blatantly that women were meant to be round and curvey and men thin. I think this statement was crucial in my linking body shape to gender, but also suggesting to me that one gender was better and stronger than the other. I couldn’t at the time, being only a child see this as the really sexist and limiting statement that it is. I think I didn’t want to be round and curvey as then I would end up being weak. I read what my dad says in the following way. Being a man is good and being thin is good. Being effeminate is weak. Eating sugar is weak. Women eat sugar. I loved eating sugar. Being a woman is weak. I was weak. But I wanted to be strong. In fact I had to be strong.

 

In my understanding of culture at the time of developing an eating disorder a fat person is a hungry, needy, weak person who is out of control, disgusting looking and full of shame. But hungry for what?

 

In 1984 having had bulimia for approximately five years following the untreated  anorexia, with my sister Anna, (a then recovering anorexic) we baked a cake in honour of Margaret Atwood’s cake in The Edible Woman. The cake pictured here was exhibited as part of a cake competition at the Women’s Art Gallery, Adelaide, 1983. We baked the cake and decorated it similarly to Atwood’s description in the book with the additional contributions made by me (then a student in the sculpture department) of vaginas cast in chocolate. Anna contributed cupcakes decorated like breasts and pink breast jellies. The figurine of cake accompanied by these sweets was placed on a large mirror complete with edited text from Atwood’s book written in white icing. The chosen extract from the end of The Edible Woman is when the protagonist decides to eat again through the ritually described and symbolically therapeutic act of baking of a cake. The process has something of ceremony to it and also shaped a way for her to cast off a fiancé and vision of married future she was finding constraining. She presents him with the cake and states the following:

‘You’ve been trying to destroy me, haven’t you,’ she said. ‘You’ve been trying to assimilate me. But I’ve made you a substitute, something you’ll like much better. This is what you really wanted all along, isn’t it? I’ll get you a fork…’

Margaret Attwood, The Edible Woman

 

In offering the cake to Peter her fiancé she scares him away and confronts her own refusal to consume the oppressive role as subordinate identity as wife – the stereotypical plan mapped out for her as a woman. Her hunger returns and when he leaves her apartment she starts to consume the cake. Where once, food had repulsed her, she considers the first mouthful. ‘It seemed odd but most pleasant to be actually tasting and chewing and swallowing again. Not bad, she thought critically; needs a touch more lemon though.’

Margaret Attwood, The Edible Woman

 

 

After the exhibition, Anna, a friend Jane and I laid the cake on the floor of the living room of my rented house in St Peters and we lit candles and ate some of the cake. Up until I made the Edible Woman cake I had been bingeing periodically. It was hard even then having gone through this ritual to just eat in little amounts something that I loved as much as cake. OK in public with others, my eating would stay under control but alone I would binge and did later on that evening. The following day I put the remains of the cake on the compost heap at the back of our house after having binged on the remains and having told myself I wouldn’t do this again. The cake had been internally represented by me as a ritualised goodbye to binge eating through the process of re-enacting the ritual penned by Margaret Atwood’s. The final binge on the Edible Woman Cake was my last one.

 

 Bibliography

Attwood, M. The Edible Woman. (first published in 1969 – this publication 1982) London: Virago  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collaborators

 Created with Anna Platten

Shown at the Women's Art Centre, Adelaide

Photographs: Bronwyn Platten