chapter  12
Consuming Gaga
WithMELANIE L. MARSHALL
Pages 14

Marian McAlpin, the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s fi rst novel The Edible Woman, has a university degree, a job making market research questionnaires intelligible to the general public, and a boyfriend who fancies himself a bit of a catch. Following her engagement to Peter, Marian feels consumed by her fi ancé and his magazine-perfect desires. She sympathizes with objects of consumption, and becomes unable to eat formerly living organisms, fi rst cutting out meats, then vegetables, and eventually she begins to wonder what is ground up to become vitamin pills. She becomes unable to think of herself in the fi rst person; she loses her sense of self, her ‘I’. Even before Marian became anorexic, she often thought of herself in relation to food, particularly cake and ice cream. Marian considered herself and her women colleagues to be the ‘gooey layer in the middle’ of an ice-cream sandwich.4 The ‘upper crust’ is the executives and psychologists upstairs, all men, and the mimeo and IBM machines downstairs form the

bottom crust. It is only through baking (becoming a producer) that Marian regains her self and then her appetite for food. She bakes a light, white sponge cake, fl avored with vanilla and lemon, arranges it into the shape of a woman, and decorates it with buttercream icing: a pink dress with fl oral pattern in silver balls, chocolate icing hair, and green eyes. Marian o ers it to Peter as a substitute for her self, saying that he has been trying to destroy her, to assimilate her. In fact, Peter doesn’t eat the cake at all. Marian eats some of it-‘the cake, after all, was only a cake’—and her lover, Duncan, fi nishes it o , making for an uneasy ending. Through baking and eating the cake, Marian recovers her voice and re-enters consumer society.