“You do not win by struggling at the top of a caste system, you win by refusing to be trapped within one at all.” – Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf
In college I remember trying everything I could to make my body smaller. Laxatives, Atkins diet (basically keto), excessive exercise, diet pills, trying to become vegetarian, binging and purging, smoking cigarettes to curb my appetite. But the end result was always the same, whatever weight I did lose I would eventually gain it back. I knew this because I would get on a scale multiple times per day as a way to try to keep myself motivated. Surely if I could just become smaller I would be prettier and then I would be happier. The goal was always a vain attempt to look like the other girls in college that seemed effortlessly tiny and beautiful. Unfortunately this vicious cycle did not stop in college, in fact it only got worse after each pregnancy until finally I had to look inward and do the real work…but we’ll get that in a minute.
Unfortunately my experience with disordered eating and overexercising is far from unique. According to the National Association of Eating Disorders (NEDA), “91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting.” This means 9 out of every 10 women have thought about or have tried some type of diet to obtain society’s view of perfection. It is not surprising that girls and women feel extreme pressure to try to achieve the “ideal body” portrayed in the media. Some estimates show that young girls are subjected to 400-600 images of beauty every single day through different forms of media.
However, as I write this article, I want to make it very clear that I am writing from a “thin privilege” lens. Unsure what that means? Let’s break it down in simple terms, and if you feel defensive about this, please try to keep an open mind. Thin privilege means that you have never experienced discrimination, shaming, or access to resources based on your body size.
Now, does this mean that you’ve never struggled with your relationship with your body? No.
Does this mean that you even like your body? Also, no.
But it is vitally important that we are capable of acknowledging these injustices so that we can move toward more equitable treatment to folks in ALL bodies, and not just those in smaller bodies.
So the question becomes, what is the root of this problem and how can we begin to work toward change? To answer the first part of this question, I present you with two words: diet culture. Christy Harrison is an anti-diet registered dietitian, certified intuitive eating counselor, and weight inclusive provider, defines diet culture as the following:
“Diet culture” is a system of beliefs that…
- Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
- Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
- Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
- Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this, I completely understand. There is so much to unpack and unlearn because the truth is that for many (most?) diet culture is so ingrained in our way of life that it’s hard to step away and see just how pervasive it has become. But there is another way and while that path is not easy or linear, I do promise that it is worth the time and energy.
Stepping away from diet culture demands that we stop equating thinness with healthiness and take a long hard look at the true markers of health. I often wonder, what would we accomplish if spent less time simply trying to make our bodies smaller in an attempt to upload an unattainable societal standard?
My reason for being passionate about dismantling diet culture will always be multi-factorial – for my children, for myself and for all the women that have never felt the freedom to show up just as they are, without apology or explanation. What if we stopped talking about diets, stopped talking about shrinking our body, stopped lamenting over clothes that no longer fit, stopped pouring money into diet products that only hope we “fail” and prove to ourselves that we are more than a body? What if we really understood that our body will change many times over our lifetime and this has absolutely nothing to do with our worth?
We are more than the form that we present to the world. We are thinkers, lovers, mothers, friends, world changers, and the shape of our body has absolutely nothing to do with how well we do any of these things! I challenge you to take baby steps towards moving in ways that bring you joy, learn to eat all the foods without labeling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, practice giving yourself a bit more grace, and spend more time doing things you actually enjoy.
Please hear this: YOU ARE WORTH IT.