I’ve witnessed my peers and girls at school scrutinize the fat on their bodies, criticize themselves for not being “disciplined” enough when it comes to their diet and exercise regime, and express guilt for indulging in what they and society deem as “unhealthy” foods.
Diet culture, as defined by a University of San Diego article, is:
“A set of beliefs that values thinness, appearance, and shape above health and wellbeing. Additionally, the concept places importance on restricting calories, normalizes negative self-talk, and labels certain foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad'”
It is alarming how pervasive diet culture is in modern society, how it has become ingrained in our daily rhetoric and thus internalized to dictate our self-perception. Thinness is glorified and synonymous with hard work, regardless of the unhealthy methods used to attain those ideals. Skipping meals, exercising to “burn off calories”, or compensating for a “cheat day” with detoxes and cleanses is seemingly normalized.
Subsequently, fatness is equated to negative traits such as laziness or a lack of willpower. Perfectly normal, healthy bodies are categorized as unacceptable and shameful when a monolithic beauty ideal is centralized.
I believe the dangers of diet culture lies in the linkage between a person’s eating and exercises habits with their moral character. An individual’s appearance, then, can easily feel like their entire worth as a sentient person— not their personality or talents. Diet culture perpetuates and validates unhealthy eating behaviors, which can potentially lead to an eating disorder, a serious and life-threatening psychiatric disease that has the highest mortality rate among all mental illnesses.
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has launched a new initiative in 2021 called Body Acceptance Week. From November 1-5, the purpose of this project is to promote body acceptance in the forms of body positivity, body neutrality, and body liberation. These concepts encompass beliefs such as how our bodies are instruments and not ornaments, and that we can learn to appreciate what our bodies allow us to do over its appearance.
A systemic issue takes time to change. But collectively, we should strive to be inclusive of all sizes, combat weight stigma, size discrimination, and build a safe space for all bodies to exist free of judgment and oppression.