Nigella Lawson is a joyful and triumphant salve at all times of year, but the food writer’s recipes and attitude to food are ripe for a Christmas binge. ’Tis the season, after all, of increased emotional labour for women and the absurd instruction, which is body-shaming trussed up as tradition, to consume thousands of calories in one dinner but diet frantically while beating oneself with kale for the rest of winter.
Fighting against all this self-denying nonsense is a cook who two decades ago announced herself to the world with the thrilling words: “I have nothing to declare but my greed.” Now Lawson has joined the airbrushing debate after Jameela Jamil’s call for the practice to be put “in the bin”. “I’ve had to tell American TV stations not to airbrush my sticking out stomach,” Lawson tweeted back to Jamil. “The hatred of fat, and assumption that we’d all be grateful to be airbrushed thinner, is pernicious.”
Hallelujah for her eternal wisdom! In 2013, when she presented that dire US show The Taste (demonstrating her own maxim that none of us are flawless), she spoke about refusing to let billboard images of her stomach be airbrushed. This proves that a) Lawson has always been a feminist goddess, but we are usually too busy laughing at her recipe for avocado toast and devotion to alliteration to notice and b) that we have long had an unhealthy obsession with her stomach. It is just a stomach, like those sported by male chefs the world over without the need for introductions such as: “TV cook, 58, well known for her voluptuous figure.”
Airbrushing is erasure. It is the deliberate retouching of an image, usually of a woman and without her express permission, to make it appear more desirable to, well, whom exactly? Men? Other women? The beauty industry? Tabloids? Are we seriously still having a discussion about whether this is reasonable? Also, it is becoming more insidious, as airbrushing has made the leap from magazines to social media. We are all at it now, with our filters and cropping tools. Who needs Vanity Fair to give us a third leg?
Just because a message is served with a side order of black cabs to north London delis and too many tea candles doesn’t mean it is not subversive. As the food writer Bee Wilson noted of Lawson’s unique influence, hers has always been “the voice of a woman who did not feel the need to hide or disguise her own appetite, as so many of us are taught to do”. Lawson’s contribution to the way we view our bodies and the food that nourishes them is nothing short of radical. She teaches us that guilt need not accompany pleasure, that life is for living and stomachs are for filling.