Last month, The New York Times published an inconsequential article under the Dining & Wine section regarding the “high-end junk-food purveyors that have popped up around Capitol Hill recently.” What struck me was not the tale of prospering burger joints, but rather the accompanying photo of a mousy, center-part brunette chowing down on a triad of comfort food. After all, this “Elizabeth Bartels” bore an astonishing resemblance to a certain political writer at The Huffington Post whom I’d met during a brown bag seminar at my summer internship in Washington, D.C. I remembered this writer well, for she had answered our eager questions while openly chewing her complimentary Au Bon Pain sandwich. Shining like slugs, the roasted vegetables would swirl around her gaping mouth before disappearing down her gullet. Moreover, if there was a particularly lengthy sliver in her vegetarian wrap - let’s say, a strip of red pepper - she would drag it out of its tortilla cocoon with her teeth. I became fixated on her spirited manner of eating, excitedly pointing it out to my co-interns on Gchat later: “Did you guys see that?!?!” Alas, the girl with the pearl necklace in the above New York Times photo was identified as “Elizabeth Bartels,” thereby confirming that she was not that animalistic HuffPo writer. And so I went on with my life.
Let’s fast-forward approximately seven weeks afterward, to January 31, 2011.
Today I clicked on The New York Times’ 10th most e-mailed story of the day - which was included under the Business Day section - as I was intrigued by its snarky title. Like Ani DiFranco’s goldfish who forgets the plastic castle every time, I stared at the photo with my eyes narrowed, wondering if that was the chick from The Huffington Post. It looked exactly like her. “Wait, I vaguely recall my brain going through this exact thought process not so long ago,” I thought to myself. “Oh my god, it’s the same person from the article about junk-food in Washington, D.C. It’s Elizabeth!” Okay, so what the fuck, New York Times? You guys are complete assholes for turning this poor lady into an inadvertent poster child for Americans who eat badly. I really doubt that you called up Elizabeth Bartels to politely ask her if you could reuse her image to go along with another article about how to avoid gaining weight. Actually, the photos are ever so slightly different— in the second instance, she is looking downward into her frothing milkshake, as opposed to glancing at her mysterious lunch companion. Regardless, what the fuck? Here’s my hypothesis: The New York Times has a bulging folder in their database labeled “Stock photos of people eating fatty food,” which is meant to be utilized whenever yet another weight-related article requires a visual aid. The layout artist saw this photo lying around, inserted it into a story, and voilà! First of all, couldn’t you guys have waited a tiny bit longer before making use of this very photo again? Like, maybe three months or so? In the meantime, you could have used one of those typical stock photos of someone’s waist waddling along. Y’all know what I’m talking about:
Secondly, Elizabeth Bartels - who doesn’t even have a weight problem, judging by her slender wrists - was tricked! When she agreed to have her picture snapped in Ted’s Bulletin that fateful afternoon, little did she know that the picture would also be employed as a cautionary tool to readers, as if to demonstrate, “The young lady in the low-cut yet professional dress is an example of an overeating fatty who must change her diet.” I mean, the very title above her head says, “Eat Less”! You know, maybe the truth is that Elizabeth Bartels is thrilled to extend her fifteen minutes of New York Times fame. Maybe when long-lost friends call her up today to shriek “I saw you in the newspaper!” she will be flushed with delight rather than embarrassment. I hate it when people are like, “Annie, you must be so embarrassed about Insert-Event-Here.” It’s like, no, I am not embarrassed about that thing that happened, and I’ll decide for myself when to be embarrassed, thank you very much. So yeah, if you’re out there Elizabeth, shoot me a message if I am interpreting the recycling of this photo in an overdramatic fashion.
All I’m saying is that most photos of me actively eating are devastating to look at, and if one was published in a national paper, not once but twice AND in an article about the obesity crisis no less, I would call up Arthur Sulzberger to give him a piece of my mind.