Unlearning Diet Culture
As the warm weather gets closer, I can’t help but recognize the influx of articles and media based on getting our bodies "ready" for summer. The way which my body looks in (or without) clothing is becoming centre to the conversation around how much I can possibly enjoy the change of seasons, and even on a bigger scale, my life.
Diet culture provides a dirty cocktail of misinformation and commercial products as a simple solution to my inadequate life. It is an entire system of beliefs that is prominent in everyday media to promote weight loss as a means of achieving worthiness, happiness, and virtue. In the same mindset, we have come to distract ourself from our larger purpose and the power we possess. We demonize and enshrine certain behaviours with how they fit into the goal of "weight loss." Many of these values operate under a false guise of "health and wellness." The dream body appears to be a couple "detox teas," appetite suppressants, or meal plan purchases away. According to many social media influencers, I cannot possibly be "ready" for summer without it.
In the mix is a complex relationship between body image and worth. These images that are delivered to us through an array of channels which narrate toxic ideals and negative relationships with our bodies. The grass looks so much greener on the "pretty" side of life; If our image was closer to the way that products and commercials show us is "right" then all our problems would vanish. How can we unlearn these detrimental narratives?
Diet culture has capitalized on our biggest insecurities and the idea of "fixing" our image to be our only journey to happiness. It shows us how our physical bodies are meant to be monitored because in so many ways they can be wrong. It tells us that we should be terrified of how horrible we can look and that our image can be detrimental to our lived experiences. Maybe if we were beautiful, we could be happy, people would be nicer to us. Maybe our bodies are fundamentally, truly our source of pain. We are only worthy of a meaningful and happy life if we fit specific criteria –unless we look like these other women. This criteria has many underlying messages through the kinds of women society has reproduced over and over again as worthy to be represented and seen in the public eye. The consequence is a misdiagnosed source of ills in the world inside the body of everyday women. Even with a very critical perspective, daily consumption of mass medias has sunk into my internal dialogue.
When I look at myself, I barely ever just see me. How has it happened that the mirror, the scale, how I measure up to Instagram ideals, has gotten to me? I am a strong, feminist, critical woman. I know better. Diet culture has worked a system to instil inner turmoil in order to push the investment of time, money, and resources into altering the way that bodies look. The form my body takes has been socialized to be more than a vehicle through which to experience life, but it has become a multifaceted indicator of worth. It has been exploited by capitalism as a consumer, interpreted as a window to my morality, and ultimately, a never-ending project.
Finally, my body has not been congratulated for that all it is – it has been shamed for what it is not. In the social media era, we are given the illusion that life always looks perfect. Mass-produced media attributes women’s worth to their desirability (to the media and the male gaze) and their "competition" with other women.
It takes effort to unlearn the connections that have been drilled into my mind since I was a little girl. The strangest part of it all is the illusion of power over changing my body. Ultimately, this allows me to mediate on how others perceive me through changing my body. I have carried the burdens of others' opinions for far too long. Realistically, I don’t actually know how someone interprets what my body means or how I could change their perspective. All I know is that the worth I attach to my image has weighed heavily on my peace of mind and stolen my resources.
The body image caused by diet culture is something that has to be actively unlearned. Although I know the ways that media has taken a toll on how I interpret my self-worth, that is only one part of the bigger equation. Nurturing and loving one’s body takes more effort than simply knowing better. It comes with instilling new behaviours and overturning subconscious connections. This can be done through changing the internal dialogue by interrupting problematic self-talk.
When we have been taught something for so long, we engage with internal dialogue that becomes automatic. We have to unpack these things that we repeat to ourselves. We can critique their validity and evaluate where they come from. Often, our internal dialogue leaks into the ways that we communicate with others. Let’s stop assuming others want to lose weight and need to exercise in order to "deserve" foods. By refusing to succumb to the beliefs and values diet culture has overwhelmingly burdened us with, we can help others and ourselves.
Written by: Eva Pomedli