Another day, another post. Are you still here? Still following along? Well let me warn you that today's post is one that fuels my fire and gets me riled up. Today I’ll be discussing diet culture and fat stigma and how they are intertwined. These concepts have fed eating disorders for a long time, and I’m just tired of it.
So let's just start with something that needs to be said before I continue.
I am fat.
Done. Okay now that it’s out of the way, let's talk about it. Our world has decided that being fat and the word fat are negative. Calling someone fat is more than insulting to many people, it’s rude and uncalled for. When in fact. That word is just a definition and reality for all of us. (This does not mean we should go around calling people fat, just that it is ironic that it has turned this way). We as human beings have fat on our bodies, and need it to live. Fat has many functions: it surrounds and protects our organs, insulates us, and most importantly fuels our body. This is why fat is an essential part of our diet. Women also carry more fat naturally on our bodies due to hormones. It is presumed this is solely for the ability to bear children. This fat often forms during puberty and can fluctuate through life.
So we need fat, but extra fat can be hard on the body, we know this. But we also know that being too skinny can be hard on the body. Too much or too little of anything can cause difficulties for our bodies. So why is the fat stigma so pervasive and intrusive in all aspects of our society?
Well for one, as I mentioned yesterday, the medical community is partially at fault. Not only in continuing to speak on the “fat/obesity epidemic” constantly and blaming it for most of the health crises in America, but also in validating the idea that being obese is bad and wrong. The fat/obesity stigma exists: when someone is fat they are, “less likely to be hired or get promotions, be paid less, receive biased medical treatment, be socially excluded, or bullied”. You may think to yourself, “well they chose this life”. Two things on that. First, does that mean they deserve to be treated in that way? Secondly not all people can avoid weight gain. Medical issues, access to healthy food, lack of education around health, lack of access to medical care and so many other things, play a role in weight, health and more.
This idea of ranking/rating bodies is not new. From as large of issues as slavery and racism to smaller issues of popularity, it is rooted in society to rank individual people and bodies as good or bad. It now has moved into body shape and size to continue discrimination and stereotyping. The word “obese” is used to classify people in a category from the BMI Scale, which I spoke of yesterday and the problems with it. It is simply a system of ranking people - leaving only a small set of acceptable ranges for human bodies to fit inside. Having a desire to “eliminate obesity” from our society does not desire to eliminate the fat cells, but rather the people those cells are a part of and THAT is where the problem resides. We have started seeing the people as their classification and rather than their humanity. Blaming them, pushing them out, and ignoring the realities in which they live.
When we all are focused on getting rid of fat, not only do we tell people their identity as they are does not matter but that those who are not obese should fear becoming it. Both of which can cause eating disorders to form - as well as body dysmorphic disorder and negative body image.
The diet culture thrives on the idea that one's body is not of worth how it is or that it will no longer be if it changes. The diet industry is worth a record $72 million dollars now. This speaks to the invasiveness of diet culture in our world. Things are slowly improving - media is becoming more inclusive, advertisements are lessening the use of Photoshop and other editing, and more people are aware of the harmful effects that can come from the diet industry. But, that does not change the fact that this industry preys on vulnerable people when they feel their body is unworthy.
Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are full of advertisements for the latest and greatest diet trends, whether they be detox teas (which are unsafe), fad diets, and diet challenges (which can also be unsafe such as: no joke here the “oatmeal diet”). Young children and youth are exposed during their formative years to this culture. Celebrities they idolize telling them to try some new product to lose weight, despite being perfect in these kids eyes can cause them to second guess their own body and looks.
Slowly we start to realize how messed up this all is. It is all connected and can cause us to question what we believe about our own bodies and the bodies existing around us. We as a society have an idea of the ideal body types for men and women. They may shift with time slightly but they exist. Ask any young child or youth to describe it - they will tell you. I asked some youth I know to tell me their thoughts on these ideals. Below are the summaries of what they said:
Men: Muscular, in-shape, fit, strong, buff, “swole”, tall, attractive
Women: think Barbie dolls, skinny but still thick, attractive, tall but not too tall
If these youth can already paint that picture - what does it say for their future and ours?
So, why does any of this really matter? How did it affect me? I was infected by this culture at such a young age. Obsessed with my body and how it was not beautiful to me, I threw myself into diets. I had been told by people I cared about and people I didn’t know that my body was not beautiful how it looked. It was damaged, too large, and took up too much space. I tried SlimFast, Special K Diets, Weight Watchers, Noom, lessening caloric intake, not eating carbs, working out in different ways, starving myself and so many other things. All because I heard over and over again by the world around me that my body did not matter. I still hear it today when I look online, watch certain shows, listen to comedy routines… we have found a way to laugh at and make fun of those who don’t match the standards of this society. Unspoken rules that if you don’t fit in, you are subject to being the butt of the joke. When I say it broke me - I mean it. I would stand in front of mirrors and pull at my skin, my self-harm was targeted towards areas of my body I hated… nothing was ever enough for the world, so it wasn’t for me either.
When are we as a society going to stand up and say we’re tired of this? How many of us need to fall victim to the trap of being told we aren’t good enough? I have made a conscious effort to avoid the things in the world that can make me feel unworthy, but navigating that road is difficult and full of narrow moments of relief. Each day brings new challenges. I don’t have an answer on how to fix it but, if enough of us speak maybe there will be change.
But, I do want to say that some things are changing. It makes me proud to see companies such as: Dove, Gillette, Google, Third Love, Aerie and many more moving towards inclusive marketing of ALL bodies. Meaning tall, short, small, larger, all races, abilities, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations and more. Doing this validates every body as beautiful.
Let’s keep working.