Once upon a time, cupcakes were just a run of the mill dessert. Now there are boutique cupcake bakeries all over the place and our consumption shows no signs of slowing. It's no fad; the Washington Post has declared that our relationship with cupcakes is "an enduring love affair." Of course, the things you love say a lot about you. And, apparently, our love of cupcakes reveals some pretty disturbing things about us.
To get to the gooey bottom of our relationship with cupcakes, the Post talked to all kinds of cupcake professionals. And what have they discovered? Well, for one thing, our love of cupcakes is an embodiment of our neediness and greed. Wait, what? Yes, it's true, according to Brad Lamm, a "registered interventionist" who has been on The Dr. Oz Show:
Cupcakes are indicative of where this country is with our desire to self-soothe through food. People tell themselves, "One won't hurt me" because [cupcakes] are so small, dainty and delicious. Our desire for more and for self-soothing is out of control.
Awesome "expert" opinion, Mr. Lamm. Perhaps you need to hold a society-wide intervention to stop us all from being disgusting pigs who jam frosting down our throats in a sad attempt to fill the empty void in our souls. But probably we are too far gone to be saved. You see, on the surface, cupcakes may be simple food items, but if you look deeper, cupcakes are actually a sign that our society is being destroyed by the internet. Whoa, curveball! Psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyer, who's also been on Dr. Oz (what a coinkydink!), explains:
The popularity of cupcakes directly tracks the rise in cultural narcissism that has resulted from the Internet's impact on our individual and cultural psyche. … Through cupcakes, seemingly innocent little ‘treats,' we can project fantasies of who and what we desire to be. Instead of connecting us to others, however, cupcakes keep us separate and add to our sense of isolation.
Just like the internet, which allows us to ignore real people and pretend to be someone we're not, kind of. No, that makes total sense, actually, because cupcakes are almost never consumed at social occasions like, say, birthday parties or office functions… But it's not just that cupcakes drive us away from each other, it's that they're filling us up with crap. Here's the lovely Hokemeyer again:
[C]upcakes evidence the narcissism born of the Internet by feeding us in shallow and un-nutritious ways. Similar to the way we cruise the Internet looking for bite-size and delicious bits of information, cupcakes enable us to cruise the sugary world of self-indulgence.
God, who knew there was such a connection between cupcakes and the internet? Also, why have we never realized that a humble mix of flour, sugar, and butter is slowly causing our society to crumble into a pile of totally delicious crumbs?
Wait a second. Maybe it's not as bad as all that. Maybe cupcakes aren't pure evil. San Francisco psychotherapist Brooke Miller, who apparently is blissfully unconnected to the Dr. Mehmet Oz Terror Machine, says that cupcakes are wonderful because they represent the way we want to be:
With so much stimulation and expectation—material wealth, keeping up with the Joneses, Hollywood and our own parents' expectations of us—many people turn to food. . . to manage the emotion that comes up with living a life they assume is under par. In an interesting and delicious way, cupcakes are a sweet example of what it looks like to be good enough exactly the way you are. They keep us "boundaried" and feeling contained, like we don't need to do, eat or prove anything more than what is unwrapped in this little wrapper of joy and sugar.
Wow. Somebody has a bit too much of a sugar high. Maybe we should skip eating the cupcakes and instead all get giant pools shaped like cupcake wrappers and fill them with frosting. Then we can get in and soak up the joy of being "boundaried" and "good enough." Good Lord.
Finally, there is one other explanation for why we have developed such a special relationship with cupcakes, which, curiously, none of the experts happened upon: They are portable, they are pretty, they are made out of cake, and they are delicious. It makes sense, but no, that cannot possibly be it. There is just no way a love of dessert could be so simple.
The psychology of cupcakes [Washington Post]
Illustration by Jim Cooke