With Lizzo on the rise and body positivity trending, I couldn’t be happier that progress is slowly but surely being made. The definitions of beauty are shifting and it thrills me to know that my daughter might grow up around very different conversations than I did. I’m also very proud of the fact that I can call myself one of many women with an audience who are pushing back on generations of shame cycles.
I’m writing this because I feel a strong urge to be transparent about what I believe my place is as it pertains to body image.
This is a controversial social media topic that seems to be intense and even convoluted these days. I’ve recently received some feedback that precipitated this response from me. Last week, WW (Weight Watchers) reemerged and launched an influencer campaign. Immediately after, there was expected backlash in body positive circles.
I have heard from people who felt afraid to share their workouts or dietary plans because of feeling shamed by body positive community. On one whole side of the spectrum, there are women are actually feeling embarrassed to admit they like healthy foods and exercising because they think they might be “pitied” for “being a sucker for diet culture”. They aren’t embarrassed because they are innately ashamed of their behavior, they’re embarrassed because they feel shamed.
No one wants to be patronized, projected onto, preached at, or presumed to be thinking a certain way. Even just one woman feeling that way is too many. I think we need to clean up our messaging.
I don’t want to ever seem like I’m speaking for anyone else or representing something I don’t have any business representing, so I want to sum up my thoughts on the entire subject. I’m a big fan of exploring new perspectives. Opening up the way we think and trying our best not to be rigid with our belief is the key to success (in my humble opinion).
The cumulative stance against diet culture is good and absolutely necessary.
Diet culture is a systematic problem. We can all agree on that. Society has created impossible ideals about what women should look like, act like, age like, etc.- to become more attractive and accepted by others. This is not one person’s problem. We, as an entire culture, are fatphobic.
This is fact.
As with any initiative that is meant to shake the status quo, sometimes activists accidentally push away the very people they are supposed to help. Every single well-intended movement can become polarizing and misleading.
Is it because everyone in the body positive community is doing it wrong? Of course not. I want to be as clear as glass about that. There are countless people doing the work and doing it well.
The hard truth is that as humans when we feel ashamed, intent doesn’t really matter. Impact does. Wherever we felt like the shame came from is where we assign the responsibility. Our brain simply remembers that something linked to that movement or subject made us feel like shit.
Women are becoming confused about what the core message is. Is this about forcing yourself to love your body and not changing anything? Is this just about diet trends and gimmicks? What is the real sermon here? I’d like to offer my opinion on that, too, because I think it’s an important part of why diet culture and weight loss goals are getting a bad rap.
From a sheer body image standpoint, all outward modifications are equal.
From cosmetic enhancements to intentional weight loss (as a GOAL, not a side effect); they all stem from a desire to look differently either permanently or temporarily. Whether it be for strangers or friends or our job or for our significant other… you get it. In other words, someone who gets lip injections because they want their lips to be different than the ones they were born with are not necessarily any more mentally healthy than someone who wants to look thinner than they are.
Both are the human reaction to a society that has dictated how beauty looks and the byproduct of having been raised in said culture. Psychologically they are no different.
I do not believe that modifications are inherently bad. We wear make up, we color our hair, we get botox, we enjoy fashion, and some of us elect other cosmetic surgeries and procedures (even ones that slim or tone our curves). We all do what we can to create an outward appearance that matches who we feel like on the inside. Part of being a human being is wanting to be more attractive to others. It’s basic biology. I don’t think a couple therapy sessions can cure us of that.
Are there certain people that do these things because they are coping with an unhealthy insecurity and feel less than? Sure.
Are there some people who just like changing things about themselves and are probably fine mentally? Sure.
The reason that weight loss and diet culture gets more shade (and rightfully so) is because we need food to live.
Food is good for us and we can’t function without it. The most commonly recommended way to lose weight is to… (*holds mic out to the crowd*) RESTRICT OUR DIET. This is quite obviously dangerous because food is critical and when we start restricting our diets, we can easily slip into a place of disordered eating which could, simply put, mean life or death. When skinny became cool, the diet industry started booming, because duh, people would pay to look like their ideal of beauty. Fast forward to what is now a $70 billion industry overflowing with every gimmick you could dream up.
I’m a mom of three with an imperfect body that has fluctuated many times over the years. While I am “plus-sized”, I recognize that I am not in a very large body. I have felt moderate stigma based on simply not being a single digit size (probably mostly internally), but I have never had to endure things like being shamed on an airplane, medical bias, inability to be accommodated at a theme park, or worse. Fat women all over this country are treated poorly and I cannot pretend to have experienced that pain. I can only hold space for them.
My body is imperfect like every other woman on this planet.
My only goal with talking about my body image journey on my platforms is to:
- Represent the women who can relate to the way I look or feel or both. Representation means a lot, and every single one of us represents someone else who could be looking on.
- Educate on small ways we can make change and redefine beauty on a macro level in marketing/advertising/entertainment etc.
- Encourage other women who need empowering words.
- Support all women on their own unique journey to health and happiness (is anyone NOT on that journey in some phase?).
Diet culture is not only a very broad topic, but also a very sensitive one.
Sentiments spoken by someone of influence can quickly be taken out of context and subsequently start a chain of misinformation (every played telephone?). On a large scale, this slowly points our communities further and further away from what I believe our work should be. This is why I am hesitant to comment specifically or give blanket advice on much. I am not a dietician, a physician, or a therapist- and even if I was, I do not live inside anyone else’s brain. Every woman’s relationship with their body is personal, unique, and quite frankly- none of my business.
Additionally, I believe the language we use is important.
We have to fully understand and communicate the appropriate language for what we mean on this subject. When we say “weight loss” are we speaking about it as a goal or a side effect? When we say “diet” are we speaking about someone’s actual dietary intake or are we using it as nickname for a weight loss trend? Some of these words and phrases are being used interchangeably in ways that are not factually accurate and contributing to more confusion, especially for people who are brand new to this subject.
As an influencer who is also a body image activist, I have a responsibility to do my very best not to present nuanced information on important topics like this.
I believe all of our responsibilities should be simple.
- Bring awareness to the broad existence of diet culture and why it’s problematic.
- Educate people on how to find health practitioners that do not practice with weight/size bias, (because at the end of the day, their journey will be with their trusted providers).
- Encourage people (as always) to be in touch with their mental health needs and seek treatment if they feel stuck.
Your dietary needs, your mental health needs, and your physical needs are between you, your support system, and your healthcare providers. Full stop.
So, hell YES ladies- let’s normalize normal bodies, smash stigma, stay woke, support our sisters, and talk all day about how weight loss is a side effect and not a goal. Let’s remind people that healthy people come in every size and advocate against stigma, but let’s NOT presume to know what’s going on inside of anyone else’s brain. It’s not my job (or anyone else’s) to critique and police the origins of your behavior.