Don’t Hate the Dieter, Hate the Diet Culture
In the past couple years my eyes have been opened wide to how damaging and overall fucked up diet culture is. There’s a billion-dollar industry profiting off our insecurity and the idea that being in a thin body is the only acceptable way to be beautiful or be “healthy.” Being in a thin body is one version of beauty and health, but it’s far from the only one. Not only does diet culture damage our individual mental health and sense of self-worth, there’s also widespread outright discrimination against people in larger bodies.
Hold Up… what is diet culture?
Diet culture is a society that places value on being a certain size, weight, and shape over actual health. Diet culture also promotes the false notion that health equals to thinness. It’s our society’s obsession with thin bodies. Diet culture praises and promotes weight loss as a tool for health. In reality, weight gain and loss is not inherently healthy or unhealthy. Fat is not inherently healthy or unhealthy.
Diet culture ignores body diversity. The truth is not every body is healthiest at it’s thinnest. Diet culture can be blatant – i.e. promoting straight up weight loss for the sake of weight loss using shaming tactics. It can also be more discrete promoting a “healthy lifestyle” but in reality it’s still praising and promoting thinner bodies and ultimately selling weight loss over true emotional and physical health. Weight Watchers is a great example of a diet company trying to shapeshift to stay trendy. They use words like “lifestyle” but at the end of the day they are selling weight loss.
I’ve Been Conflicted
And here I am. I’m a white, female, cisgender, young, able-bodied, thinner bodied, middle class,“ conventionally attractive” (I put it in quotes because I’ve never been discriminated because of my appearance) American and British citizen. I have staggering amounts of privilege. My body has never excluded me from any activity, job, travel, or access to health care.
And still, with all the inherent benefits of privilege, I struggled with my own internal battle, anorexia, exercise addiction and orthorexia. THAT is how powerful diet culture is. Someone like me who has incredible amounts of privilege still struggles in this society because of my mental health and my own self-perceived flaws.
I cannot begin to imagine the struggle someone in a marginalized body.
I’ve been so conflicted. The lines between the wellness industry and diet culture can get blurry.
It’s so hard to watch when I see someone talking about intuitive eating in one sentence and detox in the next. It’s hard to watch when “body positivity” is used as a thinly veiled one-dimensional marketing strategy.
I feel conflicted because I want to scream BS to all the noise and diet culture masquerading as wellness. Yet, at the same time, I fully acknowledge that I’ve been a part of this too, whether on purpose or not. I feel conflicted because in the past I bought into all of it. I feel conflicted because of my privilege. It’s easy for me to call bullshit but I still get the benefits of having a societally deemed “acceptable” body.
But silence doesn’t feel like an option.With the conversations on my podcast, I feel like I’ve been starting my own quiet rebellion. And from those conversations, I had a lightbulb moment. I saw clearly where my place is and how I can keep rebelling against from this diet culture without adding more hate and shame to the mix.
Don’t Blame the Dieter, Blame the Culture
I realized I don’t have to add more shame to the mix. I don’t have to make any individual feel bad or wrong (aka the last thing I want to do in this world) for their desire to diet. It’s not their fault. Just like it wasn’t my fault for wanting to be thinner in this society.
It’s the system and the culture that is to blame. It’s not about hating on the individual dieter because it’s not their fault. And shaming them, sure as hell won’t make things better. Shame is not productive.
[Tweet “Shame is not productive. Don’t hate the dieter, hate the diet culture.”]
This issue isn’t solved by going to extremes, calling names or picking sides. Loving, sharing and celebrating nutritious, body nourishing foods because of how they make you feel and how they taste is not the same thing as participating in diet culture. We can still pursue health and wellness without allowing it to become our whole life or something we need in order to feel worthy. Let’s live and play in the grey area of wellness.
We can also give ourselves and others compassion when we mess up.
Instead of shaming, let’s celebrate the brave individuals, who tired of getting on and off the wagon, have burned the whole thing down and walked into the wilderness (stealing this amazing term from Brene Brown her new book is FIRE*).
My job isn’t to tell you that it’s wrong to want to be thin when our world is screaming that’s what will get you access, attention, and privilege.
It’s the system that’s wrong. It’s the culture that’s broken. I’m here to celebrate the game changers who are dismantling it all. Celebrate the people who are calling bullshit on companies like Weight Watchers who dare to hijack the word wellness, when that’s not what they sell. And to call BS without shaming any individual who has participated or participates in weight watchers.
Individuals are not the problem and shame is not the solution.
[Tweet “Individuals are not the problem and shame is not the solution. Don’t Blame the Dieter, Blame the Culture”]
Change is coming
Diet companies are scared. Sure the diet culture is strong, but the resistance is here. We’re rising up and reclaiming our individuality and our inherent worthiness. Sure social media can be a bit of a double-edged sword, but I believe it’s ultimately moving us in the right direction, especially if we purposefully infuse diversity into our feeds.
I’ve been struggling with these thoughts for over a year and it feels amazing to set them free. I want body diversity, body justice, intuitive eating, health at every size, and true wellness without obsession to be celebrated. My hope is these things are celebrated so loudly, are so societally praised, and so economically profitable that diet companies who profit off of shame can no longer survive. I want to suffocate the shame with radical joy.
We’ve all been victims in some way to diet culture. So it’s time to cut the shame and the name calling and all band together to make LIVING YOUR BEST DAMN LIFE have nothing to do with the weight, size or shape of the incredible body you’re in.5