Updated: Jul 24, 2020
In this opinion piece, E talks about what diet culture is, why it is toxic, and how it impacts your self-esteem. She also discusses celebrity and influencer culpability as well as gives a few tips on how you can break your toxic resolutions.
Okay, real talk. I started writing this article at the beginning of the year when people usually write down their resolutions, but January has dragged on for what felt like forever. More pressing things have happened since we counted down 2020, like volcanic eruptions, viral outbreaks, and nuclear war threats. Given these recent events, I’m sorry if this article feels less relevant for some of you. These are truly crazy times we live in.
However, it is also true that multiple crises can exist at the same time. The coronavirus may be the most talked about health issue right now, but there’s another problem that has remained prevalent through the years.
According to the World Health Organization, about 70 million people have eating disorders worldwide, majority of whom are women. These conditions, particularly anorexia nervosa, result to the most fatalities of all mental illnesses around the world.
Eating disorders are not the only issue concerning the body. In society, fatphobia is also a rampant problem. Because of the existence of thin privilege, most people equate thinness to health and beauty, which leads to the oppression of anyone who doesn’t fit this mold.
Just recently, in one of our #TermTuesday Instagram posts (re: Fat Shaming), an internet troll commented about how fat people are lazy, as if this dumb ass knows the life story of every overweight person on the planet.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, it is not uncommon to hear relatives say something negative about your body during family gatherings. “Ang taba taba mo!” (“You’re so fat!”) is almost as frequently used as “Hello!” for greeting someone you haven’t seen in a while. Don’t be surprised if aunties make fun of your weight and feed you until you throw up at the same time. It’s Filipino culture. Families love to gather around the table and eat, but relatives also can’t shut up about how much fatter you've gotten.
Why is it that we, as a society, are so obsessed with weight?
In the US, the weight loss industry is worth $72 billion. That's almost 24 times the gross domestic product of the poorest country in the world! Let that sink in for a second. Celebrities like the Kardashian sisters, Vanessa Hudgens, Cardi B, Demi Lovato, and god herself, Lizzie McGuire—Hillary Duff irl—have promoted appetite suppressants (disguised as lollipops) and laxatives (disguised as tea cleanses) to their millions of followers.
Why do they promote these products? I don’t have a fucking clue. These celebrities are already rich and famous. They don’t need the money from these diet companies. And it’s not like they’re up-and-coming beauty vloggers collaborating with a makeup brand to create their own eyeshadow palettes either—they don’t need the popularity boost anymore.
Moreover, celebrities don’t look the way they look because of the diet products they were paid to promote. They have dietitians, trainers, and plastic surgeons! Yet they keep peddling these bad goods to their fans, some of whom are teenagers, and in the process perpetrate a toxic diet culture that leads to higher rates of eating disorders.
I was also a victim of these advertisements. I almost bought a 30-day tea cleanse in my early 20s because I wanted that flat tummy that Kim Kardashian was always bragging about. Imagine having to consume mostly nothing but a liquid laxative for a whole month! Thank God my mother raised me to be stingy. When I found out how much it would cost me to look like Kim Kardashian, I closed the browser and ate a cheeseburger instead.
It’s okay if you’ve been victimized by these advertisements too. It’s okay if you’re still trying to unlearn toxic beliefs that society has ingrained in your mind. To be honest, I am not immune to body image issues and I don’t think I ever will. There are days when I still hate my tummy rolls. Occasionally, I would tell myself: “I want washboard abs!” Then, come dinnertime, I’d remember that I love rice too much to actually have a six-pack.
And that’s okay.
What’s not okay is sticking to the harmful ideologies of diet culture even if you know that they're bad for you. Ragen Chastain, a National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) ambassador, wrote this article discussing the dangers of diet culture, including:
conflating size and health, pathologizing some body sizes;
encouraging following external rules about what, when, and how much to eat;
suggesting that people are more or less good/moral/worthy based on their body size;
creating thin privilege, which makes thinness a gatekeeper for jobs/benefits/comfort/accommodation;
suggesting movement as punishment for, or prevention of, being fat, rather than for other reasons like fun or personal goals;
viewing fat people as less valuable and more risk-able.
Let’s talk about each point.
In some cases, health professionals blame a person’s weight for a medical condition that has nothing to do with it. For example, strep throat, eczema, and post-natal depression are apparently caused by weight.
Atkins, Paleo, Mediterranean, Blood Type, Raw Food, South Beach… There are so many types of diets out there! And they all have different rules as to what a person can and cannot eat. However, you cannot effectively control your weight in the long run based solely on the food you consume! If your goal is to look a certain way, you probably need the celebrity trifecta (dietitian, trainer, plastic surgeon) to achieve it. There are other factors that may contribute to your weight as well. For instance, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which affects 1 in 10 women, can lead to significant weight gain. (Read about J’s PCOS diagnosis here.)
In society, fat people are seen as lazy and unwell while thin people are seen as disciplined and fit. It is not uncommon to make snap judgements about someone based on their physical appearance. Most of the time, fat people get negative and even abusive comments because of their weight.
Thin privilege is a special advantage granted to or experienced by people with “size”, weight, or body figure conforming to social standards. It is mostly recognizable in the beauty and fashion industry where thin models are more preferred and have more opportunities than plus-size models. But it also exists in other types of work.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I need to burn the [insert any type of food here],” right after eating? Are you guilty of saying this yourself? Exercising should mean more to you than simply losing weight. For example, I personally hate doing cardio even though it burns a lot of calories. So instead, I do yoga regularly because 1) I love it and 2) it helps both my body and my mind.
How often do we see mainstream TV shows and movies using fat people as punchlines? Even one of my favorite TV shows, Friends, is guilty of doing this. Fat Monica is a recurring storyline in its 10 seasons. (Yes, I know Friends is problematic! I’m sorry!) Actors wear fat suits to poke fun at overweight people. In the real world, majority of society still believes that fat people are unhealthy even though there are a lot of thin people who are also at risk for different medical conditions. Some thin people binge drink and smoke. That's not healthy either! So remember, and I can't stress this enough: Thin is not equal to healthy!
I don’t think that losing weight or being mindful of the food you eat is always bad. This is not a black and white issue. However, if you subscribe to diet culture’s toxic ideologies as listed above, then I’m sorry to say but you gotta make a lot of changes. It’s time to break your toxic resolutions! Here are five small steps to do that:
Thank your body for everything it does every single day. If you don’t have a disability, you’re already more privileged than 15% of the world population. We sometimes forget that our bodies are doing so many things at once just for us to function normally. If we start to recognize the work it is doing, whether we can see it or not, we’ll have a better appreciation of it beyond its appearance.
Stop punishing yourself based on the food you eat. Instead of counting calories, ask yourself, “How am I using food to nourish my body?”
Find an exercise that you enjoy doing. For me, that’s yoga. For others, that’s running. Whatever it is, if you love what you do, you’ll be happier doing it! Therefore, it won’t just be good for your body, it will also be good for your mind.
Don’t sacrifice your mental health for your appearance! Remember that health is both physical and mental.
Unfollow celebrities and influencers who promote laxatives and appetite suppressants! They shouldn’t be your role models.
I still have a ton of work to do to unlearn the things that society has taught me since I was a child. Loving my body is a choice that I make on a daily basis. Hopefully, my tips will help you do the same because we can all benefit from loving ourselves a little bit more each day. And if you can’t do it for yourself just yet, then do it as an act of rebellion against a culture that tells you you’re not enough! Celebrating your body can be the sweetest revenge… Trust me. It feels good to feel good about yourself.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, here is a list of resources from Eating Disorder Hope.
This post is sponsored by Simula PH.