Updated: Jun 16
I believe our society's obsession with dieting and thinness is not only harmful to our physical and mental health but also reinforces oppressive patriarchal ideals. The belief that being thin equals being good or morally superior is not only false but deeply problematic.
One of the main issues with this belief is that it perpetuates the idea that our worth as individuals is directly tied to our physical appearance. This can lead to feelings of shame and inadequacy, especially for those of us who don't do not fit into societal beauty standards. It also reinforces the harmful notion that our bodies are something to be controlled and manipulated rather than celebrated and respected.
The diet industry is a multibillion-dollar industry which profits from insecurities and shame. It is important to recognise that diets don't work in the long term and can lead to a disordered relationship with food. I was a kid in the 80s, so Weight Watchers was as common as Top of the Pops was and we were all raised thinking that Special K diet adverts aimed at kids was normal.
We are still taught that we should moralise food and restrict, restrict, restrict. Which in a time when food banks are so necessary, seems even more disgusting.
Yet despite all of the evidence to the country makes people still think that weight and health are synonymous. A person can be healthy at any size and weight. I know this might not seem like it's true, but the studies backs it up. We all know unhealthy people who are thin, but you've probably never met a fat person who has not been on a diet. Weight cycling (losing and gaining weight) has been proven to be detrimental to your health, increase your risk of heart disease, increase your stress (and you know what one outcome of stress is? Your body stores more fat because it thinks it is under threat). So when we compare thin people to people who are carrying more weight, it is not a level playing field: because one person has probably been fluctuating their weight their whole life (because of all the societal messages about how we must be thin), and the other party has probably maintained a fairly level set point throughout their lives. As a society, we pretty much say “Hey, unsightly people, damage your body, your cell health, disregulate your metabolism and damage your heart so you can look like these people who were born with these genes.”. It is astounding this is so socially acceptable.
We should not talk about fading restriction without looking at the racist, closest history of food restriction. It is a legacy of pious racism which actively sought out ways to divide tiny white women who did not need to have the energy all day as they sat on their fainting couches in the massive house from indentured labourers out in the fields who were forced to work and strive.
Understanding the history this stuff can help us make decisions about whether it's something that we want to maintain upholding.
In the words of Samira Ahmed “Your body is not a political playground”. The amount of food you in it does not equate to your value, but that doesn't mean we are not socialised in a society which demonises fatness and fat people. And so it is natural you want to avoid it, of course you do. And that does not change your value either.
But what if you knew that your weight did not equate to your health? Would you still want to manipulate your body into a different shape? I think most of us probably would, because of the privilege that it affords us within society. Understanding the history of body image and how we got to the place that we are today with these stories we repeat in our own brains, which we think are our own because they come out in our voices. It can help us decide how we want to speak to ourselves and how we want to treat ourselves and most importantly, what we want to teach the younger generations. What if we were the last people who had to go through this diet-obsessed world that teaches you it is a failing to put food in your mouth?
We could be the last ones. But we need to educate ourselves on where these stories came from if we're going to make that decision.