Diet Culture

By Evelyn Gonzalez ‘18
Feminism Columnist

Trigger warning: diet & body image talk.

We currently live in a diet culture and it has manifested itself in a number of ways. Diet culture is disguised as New Year’s resolutions, where the ultimate goal for self improvement is to lose weight. It is laxatives camouflaged as delicious energy drinks, it is kale and chia seeds as the ultimate superfood, although they won’t be for long, and it is diet fads, pills and supplements providing endless advertisement fodder during commercials. Diet culture is as much about control and obedience as it is about losing weight. How well can you adhere to the standards that society has put forth? The media creates a one-dimensional view of beauty and self-acceptance that is often damaging to those who don’t fall into very specific categories set forth by society.

Diet culture is dangerous, not just because it teaches us to hate our bodies, but because it tries to force us into an impossible mold.   

I wanted to talk about fat specifically because that’s what diet culture is targeting. As Virgie Tovar, fat activist, sexologist and author explains, “ “fat” is just the current catchall word for all the things that we as a culture are afraid of: women’s rights, people refusing to acquiesce to cultural pressures of conformity, fear of mortality.” Fat is often viewed as the worst thing you could be. Note that I said “could be” and not “could have.” This is because when you’re fat, it becomes your one defining identity, an identity that others view as an affront to their own. If you take the good fatty vs. bad fatty dichotomy, an idea that looks at what actions are acceptable, and break it down, it’s easier to see where all this hatred for fat people comes from. It’s because of a thing Jes Baker calls Body Currency. “It goes like something this: we are taught as a society that IF we achieve the ideal body that we see in traditional media (and not before) we will then obtain love, worthiness, success and ultimately— happiness.  Which is what we all want, right? Because the vast majority of our culture buys into this, we have millions upon millions of people investing everything they have into achieving this ultimate goal. The goal being— thinness, which obviously equals happiness, remember? (Note: other body “goals” also apply here, like able bodied/lighter skin color/cisgender appearance, [citizenship] etc.)
SO, they spend their lives in a perpetual state of self-loathing (it’s called inspiration!) while working their asses off to become that ideal. So THEN after all of this, when a fat chick— who hasn’t done the work, who hasn’t tried to fix her body, who doesn’t have any interest in the gospel we so zealously believe in, stands up and says: I’M HAPPY! ...we freak the fuck out. Because: that bitch just broke the rules. She just cut in front of us in line. She just unwittingly ripped us off. And she essentially made our lifetime of work totally meaningless.” It’s almost as if society thinks, “We can’t exploit them sexually, we can’t make money off of them if they are not buying into the ideals and marketing ploys that society has set forth, so what value are they bringing to society?” It’s important to challenge this notion of worthiness.

Our bodies are not a spectacle, they are not a statement, and they do not exist for the comments and criticisms of others. Stop buying into all the harmful diet fads, the body policing and the self-hatred talk. Take a moment to think about who profits off our self-hatred because it certainly isn’t ourselves. Just because we’re not attractive or valuable in the eyes of society since we don’t contribute to society’s narrow and capitalistic ideals of beauty does not mean we are any less deserving of respect or love.