Body Positivity and Diet Culture: a Complex Conversation

Personal is political.

That was the motto of Second Wave Feminism and it is still the motto of a lot of feminists today.

Personal is political, so much so that our own bodies have become a point of contention. The policing of the female body has long been an obsession of the patriarchy, so we need to take that into account.

What happens when our bodies don’t conform to the norm?

A whole movement was born out of the necessity to accept ourselves as we are. Body positivity tells you that no matter what you look like, you deserve to be seen and heard. You deserve to see yourself represented and you deserve to have a voice. You matter. You should have space. Everyone can agree with that.

However, I’m skeptical when I see body positivity approached in mainstream media, for it feels like some sort of misappropriation. It’s usually not as inclusive as it should be. It still revolves mainly around white plus-sized women, and it keeps most of tropes and standards of traditional patriarchal bullshit.

At the same time, with an obesity rate 35.5% amongst women in the US, which could result in a increase of diabetes, coronary disease and certain types of cancer, I wonder if, along with self-acceptance, we should be focusing on healthier life choices.

I recently came across an Instagram post that stated that obesity was not responsible for the health issues in the US, but rather, diet culture was. It went as far as to claim that diet culture, and weight fluctuations were the cause of the aforementioned diseases. As happens often with IG posts, it didn’t cite its sources.

One of the targets of the body positivity movement is destroying ‘diet culture’. Diet culture is the idea that we –mainly women– have to be either exercising or controlling what we eat all the time, in order to achieve some kind of ‘perfect’ body (which actually doesn’t exist because it’s a notion created to sell us products).

When you open a magazine that tells you how to get a bikini body, that is diet culture. When you see a post on Instagram advertising detox teas to shit your fatness out, that is diet culture. The overall obsession with skinniness is diet culture.

Diet culture has, in fact, been responsible for thousands of girls getting all kinds of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and so on. It is harmful and it should be stopped. Body positivity attempts to destroy these narratives. In a recent example, actress Jameela Jamil called out the Kardashians for their promotion of detox products.

However, I find that there is a more complex conversation that needs to happen.

After all the years of fighting EDs we seem to have swing completely in the opposite way. If we used to be policed for having a slice of cake, or a burger, now we are the ones policing those who aren’t.

Anything that might suggest a healthy lifestyle is deeply mistrusted, as if it intended to promote disordered eating. I’ve seen women bullied online only because they posted a picture of their workouts.

Often, when a woman portrays what could be considered ‘healthy lifestyle’ choices –such as snacking on fruit or exercising– she can be instantly accused of promoting ‘diet culture’, and thus shunned as a soldier of the patriarchy. Even if showing that is her choice. Even if it’s not detox teas, crazy fad diets, or expensive crappy pills. Even if she is living by the healthiest of standards, she’s presented as unhealthy, for being unable to accept herself just as she is. Even if she is doing all of that to improve her health.

She’s put on a pedestal, from which she has to represent all women and flip the finger to the patriarchy. No matter which consequences that haves for her.

It seems like women can’t have full agency over their bodies. If they aren’t reflecting mainstream media, they are making a political statement.

Either you are portraying some kind of luscious overconsumption, or you are doing a disservice to your fellow women. It saddens my heart to see people being put down just because they want to better themselves.

You shouldn’t be bullied for your life choices.

It’s a completely different thing to call out the Kardashians for making money off of charlatan products and a vulnerable young audience. Or to warn people about a real obesity epidemic that carries serious health risks, mainly due to the crappy food we eat (which is very often not our fault, but of several industries).

But calling out regular people because they post about their work out or their healthy lunch –which they might be super proud of– seems a little bit far-fetched. Attributing all of the current health risks to ‘dieting’ feels delusional.

There’s also a growing silencing of the fact that obesity is very often not about self-acceptance. The high obesity rates also reflect a lack of access to better options in low-income households, the poor dietary choices offered even by the school systems, and the tons of successful campaigns to promote unhealthy products under several disguises.

I agree that we should destroy diet culture. Women don’t need to be neither skinny nor perfect in order to be valid.

However, in order to truly destroy diet culture and promote a healthy lifestyle we need to fight differently. We need to fight for everyone to be able to afford nutritious food and clean water. We need to do something about misleading ads. We need to demand better dietary choices for children.

We need to stop turning on each other and start turning on the industries that fuel self-hatred and overconsumption. We need to defend that everyone has a right to self-acceptance, as well as right to health.

It’s much easier to accept yourself when you can afford good food, so you can get moving and get into a good mood, whatever your size might be.

It’s also much easier to accept yourself when you are fighting the good fight instead of policing other people’s choices.

Body Positivity and Diet Culture: a Complex Conversation

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