The XX Factor

We Can’t Decide How We Feel About “Models Who Can’t Decide”

Portrait of young cheerful woman choosing between apple and cake
“Portrait of Young, Cheerful Woman Choosing Between Apple and Cake”

Photo by Thinkstock

In the spirit of Follow Friday but applied to Tumblrs, I would like to draw your attention to a new “adventure in stock photography” by Jason Feifer: “Models Who Can’t Decide.” It’s exactly what it sounds like—a roll call of beautiful women (and one child and one man) frozen in moments of indecision, usually over whether to eat this or that food, often an apple and something more delicious, like chocolate. I’m not sure why I can’t stop looking at this stream, or why, despite its snarkiness, it seems to sum up an essential truth of the human condition. Maybe to scroll through “Models Who Can’t Decide” is to confront the existential downer that alternatives by their very nature exclude. For whatever arbitrary, deontological reason, you cannot have both the pear and the donut. You must choose.

There are less philosophical reasons to admire the photos, of course. They reveal the culturewide obsession with women eating things, or worrying about whether to eat things, and which things, and when. (Can there really be so many stories that demand stock images of a woman so torn over snacks? And if so, isn’t that disturbing?) Or is it just funny to see so many people (especially female people) taxing their apparently limited mental powers, because, really, who expends so much energy on such a trivial decision? Each image is a not-so-nice advertisement for the phrase “first-world problems.”

Or is the joke that these supposedly tortuous choices are such no-brainers? The cruel, Puritanical, judgmental apple or the luscious cupcake? Usually, when a beautiful woman is depicted pondering an apple, we sense that, despite the temptation, she should back away slowly. But here the apple—with all its connotations of death, sin, and destruction—is presented alongside a muffin, or a pear, or an ice cream sundae. What to do? Sweet deliciousness or eternal damnation? Deciding is hard!    

When I reached out to the site’s creator, Jason Feifer, about his intentions, he replied:

Stock photography is just plain funny. It’s communication in its simplest: You need an image to represent a feeling or a theme. And so, the images are forehead-smacking literal. Need to represent a difficult decision? Just have a model hold two things up, and scrunch her face.

Also, stock photography is a really fascinating cultural lens. The photographers have to anticipate basic, recurring themes that will bubble up in the media, and then produce images that represent those themes without being too specific. So, the existence of all these photos—especially the ones with the apples—means that it’s a safe bet that publications will always be talking to women about dieting, or struggling to make the right eating decisions, or just that gosh it’s so hard to do the right thing! And I thought it was so interesting that clearly there’s a morality tale happening in these photos: The apple is the right decision. It’s the angel on the shoulder. It’s implied. Often it’s right next to their faces. Photographers know that when a story is written and it needs a photo like this, the apple is the unsung hero. And yet, that slice of cake beckons. And this is so common that tons of different photographers are producing versions of the exact same image, to represent the exact same theme, and there’s no need to be more creative because the conversation will never get more complex.

So says Feifer. But perhaps the sneaky appeal of this Tumblr lies elsewhere? (I don’t know! I … can’t decide!)