You Say Diet, I Say Anti-Diet

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How many people do you know have been on a diet at some point in their lives? Maybe many reading this have been on one or several themselves. I spend a lot of time talking about the dangers of dieting and how diet culture creates a falsified and irresponsible standard of success and body acceptance. Trust me when I say that it is for a very good reason: I strongly believe that diets represent an avoidance of our humanness.

At the core of diet culture is the notion that if we eat the “correct” way and obtain the “best” body, we can have happiness, success, and be on top of the world. My goal is to preach against this idea and say that NO, dieting will not necessarily get you these things. In fact, my belief is that it has the opposite effect and so, I consider myself to be anti-diet.

This is not an original theory or idea, but very necessary to discuss. I am not alone on this. There are many people, groups, podcast creators, and magazines that are part of an anti-diet movement, like Refinery 29.

Words like anti-diet might be easily misinterpreted. I get that and I know that I cannot simply say diet culture is no good and just move on without explaining what anti-diet means to me.

Some people might think that when I say anti-diet I mean that everyone must go out and eat a steady diet of McDonald’s, gorge every night until their stomach is near explosion, and for mercy’s sake, do not exercise. Some people might think that I am saying never eat vegetables. Some people might think I am telling them to gain weight and do not stop.

This is not what being anti-diet means. After all, diet culture teaches an all or nothing approach to eating and living, which is the last thing I want to do. Diet culture suppresses humanness. By that I mean our needs, our wants, and our desires. It turns food into an enemy and a gold standard of control.

To be anti-diet means to reject the notion that I must turn against my body’s needs for the sake of societal approval. It is more than just throwing out strict food and exercise rules; it is a symbol of confidence, freedom, and joyous living.

I certainly do not want to tell anyone to do with their bodies, as I am not fond of others telling me what to do with mine (ahem…diet culture).

So, if someone wants to eat a steady diet of McDonald’s, that is their prerogative and business. That is fine! If an individual prefers not to exercise, that is their choice too and that is definitely fine by me. And, if a person chooses to gain or lose weight intentionally, that is also up to them and should not be for others to dictate.

We all have the right to body autonomy.

Anti-diet means we can reject the idea that we need to change and manipulate our bodies to be something they are not meant to be, despite a collective belief that doing so is the key to success. Anti-diet means that we need not cater to the notion that we must to look a certain way, lest we be prey to social stigma. I believe that diet culture preys on a collective fear of not being good enough in a competitive, capitalistic society. It particularly targets women because so many of us have been taught from a young age to be cautious of letting our bodies be what they will after puberty.

I was taught that too.

Today I say this:

Despite what so many books, magazines, tv news features, movies, advertisements, etc. present to us, it is ok to eat according to our hunger signals and our cravings, it is ok to respect your body no matter what size you are, it is ok to accept and love your body in its natural and healthy place, and most importantly, it is ok not to take part in judging others because of their appearance. It is not only ok to do these things. I believe they are a part of a healthy and balanced life, free from forcing our bodies to go against needs, wants, and desires.

And if we accept anti-dieting, we can gain freedom to simply be.

Diet culture does not just inform people how to eat to lose weight. It tells people how they eat is a moral issue and if one does not eat and exercise in a way that gets them the perfect body (hint: there is no such thing), there is something inherently wrong with their character.

This is why I reject the notion that there is a perfect body. Our bodies are not a playground of manipulation because they are inherently smart and know what is best for us. To honor our body is to appreciate our character that lives in it. To hurt our bodies to the point of starvation, over-exercise, using an excess of weight-suppressing supplements is to reject our personhood.

It is understandable why and how people fall prey to diet culture. The language of dieting is deeply engrained into everyday living for so many of us. It becomes an unconscious reality for many people. On any given day, I will hear comments either from people I know or in passing about how they know they need to do better with their diets and weight-loss plans.

When I say anti-diet, I mean how we can respect our bodies and thus, our being. The way I (and many other anti-dieters) see it, diets are not equivalent to respecting our bodies.

Respect. This is the key word for this entire blog. That is the key to not just accepting, but living freely within ourselves, so that we can live freely in the world.

If you feel that your optimal happiness and health lies in a low-carb diet and you feel energy-filled and joyous on it, then good for you. Go for it, but if you are doing it because a magazine told you to, I caution you. It is this exact mindset that leads to constant body dissatisfaction and body shaming either oneself or others.

If you like to eat dessert almost every night like I do, go for it. If you like to do intense cardio routines every day and feel bodily, mentally, and physically stable, go for it. If you feel like you need a day off from exercise, go for it. If you feel like you want a cheeseburger and French fries tonight, go for it.

No one can have monopoly on how one’s body should look like and what one needs to do with it. We all have a different version of healthy and happy.

To repeat, when I say anti-diet, I mean respect the body you have, as it is, and do the same to others. If you do this, it is surprising how much serenity is afforded you.

I can never stop saying that we are not our bodies, but we must live in them.

 

 

 

 

TV, Movies, and the Internet, Oh My!

Technology and media can play a significant role in the development of women’s self-esteem. In the wake of numerable technologic advancements, ranging from I-Phones to HD television sets the size of a room, our society has quick access to images that support a culture of diet fads, refining a person’s looks based on popular images, and the subjection of women. For any insomniac or someone simply in the mood for watching mindless television, a quick flip of a button can take one to an hour-long infomercial waging the war against fat and how a super tummy-tucking exercise band can be a woman’s ticket to happiness and the body they always wanted. Of course, infomercials are old-school. More relevant, many people have access to the internet, a forum full of thousands of how-to guides on achieving the perfect body, become a successful female, and finding the love of our life through a dramatic makeover. In addition, we live in an age where going to the movies is a common activity and not surprisingly, many women find themselves playing the comparison game with ultra-stars worth millions.

Obviously, I use technology to advance my interaction with others, look up helpful information, and sometimes even to relieve boredom. This blog would not exist if I chose not to use technology! And, just like many people I know, there are times when I find myself hopelessly addicted to Netflix, with its wealth of juicy movies and shows to binge watch. There is nothing inherently wrong with using the internet or watching Netflix and I certainly believe that they can be part of a fulfilling and healthy life. They are fun and even as a lover of literature, I admit that sometimes I just want to sit in front of the TV and not have to think too much (anyone that knows me, knows that I have a habit of over thinking everything). Sometimes, watching a good documentary can be a momentous learning occasion. Finally, just like many people, I have a difficult time functioning without my phone. We live in an age of fast communication. We would have to restructure the fabric of our society if we returned to the days of buggy and horse communication. Convenience is the name of the game in Western society and many of us have become masters of finding the fastest route, speed-dialing, and showing off our smart phone skills. However, in relation to women, I believe that technology and the media have a dark side that suffocates healthy body image and self-esteem. And, this dark side cannot be ignored if women want to be free of the pressure of double-standards and diet culture!

Let me start by looking at the media. How many female movie stars have a standardized look to them? How many of them have bones sticking through their clothes, even when the camera supposedly adds a dreadful ten pounds? How easy is it to turn on E News and see a piece about what size dress an actress wears? It is all too simple to do a Google search of celebrity diet and training “secrets”. It is all too easy to look at the movie stars that have been lifted to above-human status, ones often portrayed as the ultimate standard of beauty, and feel like  there is something lacking in our female essence and appearance. We are over-exposed to headlines and tabloids that display celebrities as infallible human beings and if we just try hard enough, we can get their body, face, and success. If a female celebrity gains weight, it can quickly turn into a demeaning headline, grabbed onto by greedy magazine writers as if the state of the nation is in dire conditions because of the God-forsaken appearance of stomach fat on a once bone-thin actress, model, or musician! The documentary Miss Representation, directed and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, points out that female politicians are often hyper-scrutinized for their appearance, rather than their qualities of leadership and public service. (By the way, this is a must watch documentary for those who wish to learn more about how women are falsely represented in the media.)

For movie stars, there is quite often the pressure to maintain a certain physical image, a point also made in Miss Representation. This can range from the pressure to get plastic surgery to losing weight for a certain role. And, in my mind, the problem with this is not so much celebrity bodies in and of themselves, as much as a forced and fixed idea of what an ordinary, everyday woman should look and behave like. Very rarely is the woman who a man woos for in moves of an “average” body size and shape. Very rarely do the women in romantic movies have pimples on their face or pooches on their stomach or have size A breasts. Very rarely do the women in these movies have “larger” body  types or have a bad hair day. Believe me, I cringe even using the terms average and larger because I believe that they set the tone for an arbitrary standard that is relatively meaningless to health or beauty. However, these are also terms that have become commonplace and are the best way to show how movie stars very often do not represent everyday women.

Young girls, teenagers, and women are frequently exposed to images of movie stars and in all too real human fantastical thinking, it appears that the thin, plastic looking woman is the one who gets the guy; is the one who gets the job promotion; is the one who triumphs over hardship or heartbreak; is the one who defeats the bad guys with her sexiness. Of course, there have been movies and television shows in more recent times that do strive to veer from a standardized look of women, but by and large, it seems that we cannot break the cycle of this idealization of plastic looks and ultra-thin body types.

And this brings me to my next point about technology: we have easy access to “how-to” guides in regards to women manipulating their bodies, changing their style, and gaining celebrity-level sexiness. This can come through online magazine articles, blog posts, and websites that are dedicated to motivating women to be “good” with food, “refining” their looks, and making them feel bad enough about their natural selves that they sacrifice the simple pleasures of life to maintain an idealized image of self. The problem is that these articles and “how-to’s” spend much time criticizing normal  and natural parts of women’s bodies, their relationship with food, and their inability to exercise sixty hours a week. The problem is that these articles and other internet informational sites bet women against their own selves, their intuition, and most importantly, their self-esteem. Even articles that talk about how it is “ok” to have that cheeseburger or take a day off from working out also stress the importance of starting back at the diet tomorrow and spend much time promising women that you won’t gain too much weight from one night of sinful eating. Thank you for giving me permission to eat what I feel like eating or deciding not to exercise because my body is not up for it! Phew! What a relief?!! My insecurity meter went down a notch, but of course, only until tomorrow…I promise! You can sense my sarcasm. The point I wish to make is that the internet can serve as a prop to put moral judgments on how women eat, look, move, and simply be. This is why it can be all too unhealthy for women’s sense of self and reassurance. We already have a marketing industry whose purpose is to make us feel insecure and wanting for relief from the beauty we lack.

Even when I Google for specific information, I often see a myriad of advertisements about the best weight-loss drugs, exercises, etc. And again, in an internet-crazed culture, girls and women see these advertisements repeatedly. Can we be surprised that women become insecure and feel the need to fix themselves and follow the guise of the internet and media? We look at images of females with flat stomachs and read words like, “You can achieve this too!”  I believe that this can be devastating for an impressionable young  woman seeking to discover her sense of self. When we live in a culture that feeds us instant information through a touch of a button on smart phones or laptops, we can gain quick access to self-esteem ruining propaganda of air-brushed images of women that look more plastic than they do human. And as is the case with human nature, this can begin the ultimate comparison game between women and the images that we are spoon-fed. The comparison game can not only make women’s self-esteem suffer, but also lead to a dark and dangerous turn: eating disorders. Constant exposure to pictures of bone-thin women, self-improvement and diet tips, and statements that suggest that body fat and curves are somehow unattractive, can lead young girls growing into their natural bodies and women already grown into theirs to believe that they need to control the situation. And this is the mindset that can lead to obsessive thoughts about food and weight and eventually to eating disorders. I will cover this topic in full in later posts because eating disorders are far more complicated and devastating than a paragraph or two can cover. However, I do want to talk about how the internet can influence the development and progression of eating disorders.

Of all the damaging websites dedicated to “helping” women and young girls change themselves and their bodies, “thin-spo” and pro-eating disorder websites (often called pro-ana) are the most dangerous. These websites often promote eating disorder behaviors, including starvation, purging, and over-exercising. These behaviors can be extremenly detrimental to a person’s health and even deadly. In fact, eating disorders, anorexia in particular, have the highest  mortality rate our of any other psychiatric illness (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/directors/thomas-insel/blog/2012/spotlight-on-eating-disorders.shtml). Yes, eating disorders are not considered mere dieting tactics, but rather mental illnesses and process addictions. This is because they consist of extreme thinking patterns in relation to food and weight that manifest into obsessive behaviors, despite dire health consequences or interference in one’s daily life. Needless to say, this is why I believe that “thin-spo” and other pro-eating disorder websites and forums are horrifying, damaging, and possibly even life-threatening. These websites and forums contain information about how to restrict calories to the point of starvation and achieve an extremely underweight body fat percentage, as well as contain pictures of skeletal women and girls. The images and forums on these horrifying websites are used to “inspire” those struggling with eating disorders to continue on their destructive path. The underlying philosophy of these unhealthy “inspirational” tools is that eating disorders are more or less a lifestyle choice and the supreme example of self-control.  And self-control is the theme that perpetuates diet mentality and culture and keeps women’s self-esteem in check. As discussed in my last post, we are trained to suppress our intuitive nature and instincts to well, take care of ourselves.

Technology and media can benefit and inspire women to be the best versions of themselves, as they see fit. I do not want to undermine that. However, these mainstays of our culture, can also contain harmful information and images that perpetuate the idea that everyday women lack the necessary ingredients and characteristics to be a successful, attractive woman. We are force-fed images that do not necessarily reflect the picture of health, and more importantly, sanity. And if women fall prey to the belief that their worth does in fact parallel the ability to count calories, remain wrinkle free, and wear the right kind of makeup, that they might make a sacrifice for the worse. When we live in a culture of convenience, largely aided by the internet, it is easy to allow technology and media to tell us what women should look like and do, rather than decide for ourselves, what our most healthy body is, what personal success feels like, and how to obtain meaningful relationships with ourselves and others, despite our weight.

It need not be like this. I encourage all women to look beyond internet ads and movie stars and determine what feels right to you and how you want to look and live. Write a blog of your own, begin a website dedicated to body positivity, scroll past the diet tips, do not read tabloids, and create an image of yourself that you feel expresses your best self. The media does dictate the fabric of your self and life. The internet provides arbitrary images. We all have the power to express our own truth and image that does not represent the standardization in movies and television. I believe self-representation is the choice to show our natural selves, embrace our unique image, and live according to our intuition and conscience. I believe this holds more water than any how-to guide or screen image can provide for us.

What’s Under the Covers of Dieting?

 

Before I go any further, I want to define what I mean when I mention dieting. I am talking about intentional parameters people put around food and weight in an attempt to manipulate their bodies to fit a certain standard or ideal. This is not a textbook definition of dieting, but one I believe portrays the messages about food and weight our culture receives on a consistent basis.

In my last blog entry, I discussed in brief my qualms with diet culture and why I believe it can be so dangerous and demeaning for women. Of course, men can fall prey to diet culture just as easily as women and this should not be forgotten. However, I can only speak from my experience as a woman in this culture. While women have come a far way in Western society, there is still a cage that exists in women’s collective consciousness that causes them to believe that appearance is a top priority. I believe that this starts with the negative body image that so many women have. Why do they? Because they have been taught to. Yes, I think in our modern times, many women grow up believing that their bodies are inherently flawed and that the only answer to fixing this is to change their relationship with food.

Women have been sacrificing their bodies for years, going from one diet to the next, hoping that one day they will achieve a weight and body shape that will make them valuable and happy. This sacrifice might happen through a variety of methods, but one thing they all have in common is that they are designed to change and manipulate one’s body to fit into a thin ideal. I would guess that many people are familiar with the rules of dieting and body manipulation, but some of these methods might include calorie restriction, only eating certain foods, designating some foods as “bad”, excessively exercising, and creating “should’s” and “should not’s” with their eating habits. The insidious nature of diet culture might eventually bring them to their knees in despair, wondering why they have not  yet achieved personal satisfaction and societal praise. And THIS I believe is the crux of the problem. How often do we women and men hear someone congratulated on their weight loss? How often might we hear others demean themselves and negate their worth because they have gained weight? I have heard many female friends talk horribly about themselves on account of the fat on their body, their “thunder thighs”, their “poochy stomach”, their “flabby arms”, etc. Again, because I believe it bears repeating, I have been the woman who has said such things and have demeaned myself endlessly for parts of my body that I thought reflected on my personal weakness and failure to be perfect. Yes, I wrestled with the nature of my female form and wanted to deny it’s needs, rather than embrace them. In fact, I engaged in this kind of thinking from a young age. And still, today, I have many moments where I stop and think about my body and nitpick. However, what I have learned and want my readers to think about in terms of themselves is that the body I have is what gives me life. This is the body that harbors my innermost thoughts, desires, feelings, nurturance, and soul. My body is not all that I am, but it is the thing that carries me towards the hobbies and interests I love to do the most. Today, that is vastly more important than straining myself and my health to correct imagined flaws. We all have a natural shape and size that is optimal for our individual selves. For example, I am a smaller individual and do not have a very curvaceous figure, but these are not facts that my self is or should be defined by. The sooner women can not only accept, but more importantly, love their natural bodies, the sooner they can live the life they want to without petty food and weight restrictions blocking their happiness. The important question to ask is why is it that one might feel the need to diet before she can be joyful and aim for the life she envisions for herself?

You see, dieting is really not the problem anymore than it is a solution to fixing a woman’s self and soul. To fix something, a person needs to know what needs to be fixed. When women are overly fed messages that they will not be happy until they are thin, superficiality replaces inner peace, happiness, and acceptance. This message can cause many to believe that if a woman does not fit a standardized image, then she must not be allowed to be happy with her body. Thus, so many women, including myself at a young age, never stop to ask themselves, before engaging in a diet, what it is they are trying to obtain and achieve through it. We are not taught to stop and ask ourselves why we should or do dislike our bodies. In my personal experience, I never bothered to stop and ask what was going on inside me that I turned to my body (an external, tangible thing) to fix? And this is what the problem at large is with dieting, the diet industry, etc. It causes people to believe that what is visible and tangible is the answer to success (whatever that even means) and our inclusion into culture. I believe women try to adapt their feminine side to a confused and hyper-masculinized culture.

Anita Johnston, PhD., explains in Eating in the Light of the Moon, that in today’s hyper-competitive world, the female spirit, which in ancient times was renowned and revered as an emblem of a Goddess, has been usurped by everything masculine (4). She discusses the importance of women balancing their nurturing feminine voice that provides wise intuition with that of the masculine voice, which takes action (11). Neither the masculine or the feminine voice is good or bad and they can a part of the human makeup, males and females. Johnston asks, “Why is it that those aspects of a woman’s body that are most closely related to her innate female power, the capacity of her belly, hips, and thighs to carry and sustain life, are diminished in our society’s version of a beautiful woman? (4)” She believes it is because in our culture, we have been taught by the patriarchy (4). I interpret this to mean that we have been taught that the wise and powerful female intuition is not equivalent to strength, power, and success. According to Johnston, the female spirit has been crushed and thus, women have become disconnected with their bodies and are now, as a whole, engaged in a spiritual hunger, one yearning for nourishment of her wisdom that has been painted by society as useless (6). Thus, women have turned to their bodies to manipulate as a means to fit into this overly masculine culture. Instead of seeking feminine curves, ones meant to support the biology and function of the female form, women seek more masculine traits of flatness and narrowness (Johnston 6).

I bring up Anita Johnston’s writing because I believe that it speaks very eloquently about the problem that lies underneath women’s desire to diet. It has helped me to better understand why women develop unhealthy relationships with food and their bodies.

Instead of learning that female strength lies in our power of intuition, nurturing nature, and love, we women are taught that strength lies in willpower and control. And what better symbol of willpower and control is there than food, weight, and the ability to manipulate our body’s biology and natural shape? Also, instead of appreciating and embracing feminine sensitivity and emotional intelligence, on a cultural level, women are stereotyped as hysterical, irrational, and prone to poor judgment. While we may have emotions creep in that do not always make immediate sense, I believe that there is much to be valued in the experience of intense feelings that can lead down the path of compassion and empathy. More importantly, I believe that this is one of the stereotypes that so many women either apologize for or seek to avoid (myself at one point) because we are taught that these intense feelings and emotions are worthless and make us seem invaluable or useless. In other words, women are taught that they should make the feeling parts of themselves invisible and turn to appear stoic and put together. And this is where the female form and body comes  into play. For, an easy way to avoid the look of the feminine is through weight loss and body control. By numbing the vulnerable, yet intuitively powerful, parts of the feminine voice, we can fit in better in the more stoic and hyper-masculine world and we can look the part by staying trim and invisible. These are the messages that I believe are the underbelly of the diet mentality and ones that I strive to counter.

To clarify, I am not saying that all men expect women to control their feminine voice or that all men are stoic, unemotional jerks. However, what I am saying is that on a collective level, women have been culturally taught to hide or at the least, tone down their feminine spirit if they want to be accepted, rather than persecuted. The easiest way to hide this feminine spirit is through  thin invisibility. Now, there is nothing wrong with naturally thin bodies and I know that not all women have natural curviness. However, I believe that there is something wrong when women seek to change their bodies as a means of fitting in and numbing their feminine side to fit into an overly masculine world. And, this is where there is much work to be done in helping women to embrace themselves as they and their bodies are. So I say, invite in the feminine and let go of rigid “should’s” and “should nots”!

 

 

 

 

Just Say “No”…to Dieting

Diet culture and all the fads, rules, and moral assertions it encompasses, has become a most prevalent aesthetic facet of this country. Within the context of the hyper-vigilant marketing of the Western world, society as a whole seems to have become obsessed with food, calories, the latest weight-loss program, and how to exercise oneself towards self-worth. Yes, in advertisements, commercials, magazines, and social media, diet culture places value on how best we can control (or not control) our food intake: the very thing that sustains human life. Lose weight and get a “bikini body” and you can be a person of worth and praise. This is the message that an appearance-driven, diet-culture sends to individuals. The underlying idea is more, be skinny and one can be the look of “health”. This is especially prevalent among women, for which thinness has become a supreme ideation. This standardized thin ideal of beauty has been brought about by high-pixel, photo-shopped images of models and other women on display. I am not demeaning these women by any means. In fact, I believe that they are victims of a cultural obsession that has cost many women their sanity, self-esteem, and self-love. For, at some point in Western culture, we infused the ideation of thinness with beauty and said that it is all in the name of optimal fitness and health. The problem with this standardization of dieting and thinness is that it confuses fulfilling our human needs of food and desire for pleasurable eating with demoralization and weakness. Is this really the lesson that we want to be teaching to the children of the next generation?  Sharp bones peaking though all-baring clothes and thigh gaps have become the mainstays in this diet culture we have become entrapped in. And the question to ask is: how is this serving us? For women, does it make sense that a thigh gap or the perfect size pants should be the ultimate measure of all that you are as a female?

Now a moment of truth. Don’t get me wrong: I understand the diet mentality. In fact, I understand what it means to take it to the point of an eating disorder and have your life focused on weight, food, and body obsession. Yes, I have been there in the trenches of weight-loss wonderland. I sought thinness like it was gold. I’ve aspired to, and have attained, the heroin chic look with bones sticking through my skin. Instead of healthy curves, I sought flatness, lightness, and invisibility. And let me tell you that it did nothing to fulfill my inner-most self. It did not make me bask in glory of my appearance. It did not make me happy. In fact, at my lowest weight, I felt more depressed, bleak, and miserable than I had been at a healthy weight.

Shocking! Yes, underweight thinness did nothing to make me happy, did nothing to help me feel more alive and part of the world, and certainly did not address why I felt I needed to fit unto an unrealistic body standard. When I was 26, I was diagnosed with something called Graves’ Disease. This is an autoimmune disorder in which one’s body produces antibodies that essentially attack the thyroid gland and cause it to overproduce thyroid hormone. Thus, I was left with a hyperactive thyroid, a condition that speeds up the body’s metabolism and can cause people to unintentionally lose weight. When I would tell people this, I had many say to  me that they wish they could have that problem and a few individuals even said that they would like to know if there is a way to give oneself a hyperactive thyroid. I would say that this was shocking to me, but in this diet mentality that seeps through so much our culture, it is not surprising to hear such comments. Sadly, at one time, I was one of those people and throughout a few rounds of treating my hyperactive thyroid (there is no known way to treat the underlying Graves’ Disease), I battled with not wanting to take my medicine out of fear of gaining weight. It saddens me to think that I was so caught up in the need to be thin and participate in a culture that perpetuates unrealistic body standards, that I actually toyed with and negated my health for the sake of it. However, that is what it was and I can tell you what I learned from it: it is not worth it. This also teaches me, and I hope it can to others, that thinness is indeed not the ultimate indicator of heath. For, in my situation, my thinness was a result of an unhealthy relationship with and a fear of food in combination with an underlying medical condition. I look back now and can honestly say that this is not the ideal and standard that I want to carry with me in this life. For, it takes away from my inner goddess and defies that fiery feminine spirit that lives in my soul.

Diet culture teaches us that our worth lies in numbers and is only several kale salads away. I do understand that there are many people that have dietary restrictions for medical reasons, such as diabetes and Celiac’s, and that should not be demeaned or downplayed. However, there is a difference between a medical affliction and dropping pounds for the sake of fitting into an aribitrary body ideal.

All over the internet, in magazines, and posted on billboards are messages such as “Lose that stubborn belly fat”, “want to finally get rid of those last five pounds?”, “trim your waist and fit into that bikini”. Lose that last five pounds? Stubborn belly fat??? What do these statements even mean? I did not know that an essential part of the human body can take on the characteristics of a five-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. And what exactly are those last five pounds? The ones you need to discard before you finally choose to be happy with who you are? These statements not only negate our worth as human beings, but also suggest that we are creatures that can be subjected and held to meaningless measurements.

We live in a nation of extremes. We see commercials about supersizing meals at McDonalds, followed by ones about the latest and greatest juice cleanse and diet pill. This is confusing and also a recipe for an unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies.

Why does our culture look at food and calories as an enemy that must be warded off at all costs? I believe it is because we encourage a thin ideal, which on a societal level and thanks to the powers of marketing, has become equated with a high degree of will power. Yet, simultaneously in the advertising world, there is this overwhelming message that bigger is better. It seems to me as a looker-on that in a cultural sense, we have become a nation fixated on the appearance of control, power, and domination. If we can control our bodies, we can gain acceptance of society, and thus, appear to have the power to pave our way to success. In other words, the message that seems clear in the diet industry and in the pictures of painfully thin women with a smile on their face: if we can control our hunger, we have power over our instincts that veer us away from idealized body standards.

How exactly does this diet culture bode for women’s self-esteem and body-positivity? I believe (from both observation and personal experience) it can be disastrous for them. As a collective, there is a trend of women walking in endless shame of what they think the female body should be, rather than checking in with themselves and asking what their ideal is. It is not surprising, considering how often we see advertisements and articles in our Facebook news-feed about the need to trim our wastes, thin our thighs, tighten our stomachs, etc. I believe this leads to a collective fear that our bodies are not good enough as they naturally are and that we cannot fully love and appreciate ourselves until we manipulate our bodies to fit a certain image. And these are some of the fears that can lead to chronic dieting and a perpetuating vicious cycle of body hate.

I ask all my lady friends: what might happen if we simply lay down the diet rules and love our natural bodies? Maybe we might stop endless comparison and look at each other with a more compassionate, loving, and respectful eye. Maybe we might just give a collective “Fuck You” to the advertisers that seek to make women insecure. Maybe we might just like ourselves and be at peace with who we inherently are on the inside regardless of our weight. Maybe the younger generation will grow up embracing the beauty of their feminine mind in lieu of nitpicking at imagined flaws. Maybe instead of obsessively counting calories, we can appreciate the nourishment, fuel, and pleasure of food. And, maybe we could help our society get to a point where we eliminate body shaming.

Which side of body love do you want to be on?

 

Loving Kindness,

Sarah