Fat/Food Memes: Just Say No

fat food memesIt is one of the greatest ironies of my life that once I finally stopped dieting, I looked up and saw that everyone else around me had started, or at least were living like they should be on a diet, which is, frankly, almost as bad.

One of the places I see it the most is on social media. Although I have tailored my feed pretty well via my professional Facebook page to only see body positive/HAES/non-diet goodness, my personal page occasionally feeds me an intermittent drip of body hate/food fear messages by way of unfunny memes, sadly by people I actually know (and who are clearly not reading my blog!).

The most recent cringeworthy fat/food memes I encountered were these:

“Attention: Due to recent setbacks, my summer beach body will be postponed another year. As usual your patience is appreciated…”

“I don’t need a personal trainer as much as I need someone to follow me around and slap unhealthy foods out of my hands.”

Hilarious right?? On further critical thought…not so much.

The first one assumes that there is a particular type of beach body that one needs for the beach in the summer, and that if someone doesn’t have this body – well, sorry, no beach for them. I’m going to assume that the body that this meme would deem acceptable is the body type owned by probably less than 5% of the people in the world. So I guess the unlucky rest of us just need to stay home, miss all the summer fun, and wait it out till the Cultural Ideal Body Fairy comes along and bestows its blessings on us. Aaron and I talked about the “summer beach body” BS in this podcast.

The second one is wrong on so many levels it makes my head want to implode. First of all, the idea of “unhealthy” foods is just sooooo 2015. Have we not figured out yet that there aren’t really any unhealthy foods – that it’s really our relationship to food that makes the true difference to our health? Is a donut really going to decimate the health of someone who has a varied and balanced diet and a good relationship to food? No, right?! Then how can any one food truly be labeled “unhealthy?” On a personal note, I find talking about “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods really poor conversational fodder. When did we all collectively decide to stop enjoying what we eat??

I also hate the assumption that somehow avoiding “unhealthy” foods is the health equivalent to exercising. That’s simply not true on the scientific face of it. Studies have shown that exercise is far better than diet for helping to reduce visceral fat (the fat that collects around organs and tends to be more harmful than subcutaneous fat, the stuff that is much more visible) even when no weight is lost. As a dietitian, I’d love to just tell you to have a healthy eating pattern and be done with it,  but I’ve never been able to deny the health benefits of exercise. To say that eschewing movement and simply avoiding those foods you’ve designated as “bad” is somehow going to fix your health…dude, it’s misleading and it’s not even funny. Kill this meme now.

Perhaps in my dieting days I would have enjoyed this sort of bonding. “Haha, let’s all laugh about how bad we feel about our bodies and the way we eat!” Which is weird, because the reason I dieted and lost weight was to feel better about my body (something I achieved only fleeting with this strategy).

In reality, when we share these types of memes, we send a message: I am not in the right body. Other people are not in the right bodies. I do not deserve the food I enjoy. No one in the wrong body should get to enjoy food. We should feel ashamed.

These messages, while seemingly innocent, simply reinforce the culture of body hate and dieting that is weightist and healthist on the face of it and extends its long, gnarly fingers into sexism, racism, ableism, healthism, all the fucking -isms. Creating a hierarchy of good and bad bodies means that you can do that in any other facet of life: sex, ability, skin color, health levels. So let’s just stop, because a culture of compassion and radical acceptance is just so much better.

There are ways to motivate people to eat better and move more and like their bodies that aren’t shame-based. Shaming never made anyone healthier, certainly not in the long run. Meanwhile, if you feel bad about your body, consider why. Could it be the ever-present specter of a culture that practices hate and calls it humor? Reject it and define health on your own terms. And don’t make the world a worse place with shitty memes.

Dietitians Unplugged – Our This American Life Breakdown

Episode 12 is available now! Aaron and I had fun talking about the Tell me I’m Fat episode of This American Life.

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12 thoughts on “Fat/Food Memes: Just Say No

  1. erin lares July 18, 2016 / 11:49 am

    “Perhaps in my dieting days I would have enjoyed this sort of bonding. “Haha, let’s all laugh about how bad we feel about our bodies and the way we eat!””

    Brene Brown would call this “common enemy intimacy.”

    • GlenysO July 18, 2016 / 12:59 pm

      Oh what a great term! I just got “Daring Greatly” from the library – looking forward to learning more from her.

      • Andi July 18, 2016 / 3:44 pm

        She’s amazing. Her books have inspired me to embrace being vulnerable in a way that has been a truly invigorating (and a little bit scary) experience.

  2. ebay313 July 18, 2016 / 2:14 pm

    Personally I notice so much the cultural view that we should all be losing weight/on a diet the most at work- not just my current work, but I’ve noticed this at almost every place I work. Though I think there is also certainly a gender aspect to this, which is also probably reflected in the fact that I’ve almost always worked in offices that were by a huge margin a majority women. But I constantly overhear comments about weight watchers or needing to lose weight, if there is a party involving food inevitably people explain how they have or need to account for the “unhealthy” foods they are eating there, or least saying how bad they are for eating them, and of course around the holidays there is always talk about having gained weight and now needing to work hard to lose it. Even just not participating by saying how bad I am or how I’m going to work that slice of birthday cake into my diet I feel quite alien. It really drives home how much this is so much a cultural norm and an expectation of socialization. The idea of just being ok with one’s weight or ok with what one is eating is such an anomaly. And it makes me want to scream that it isn’t totally normal.

    • GlenysO July 18, 2016 / 2:25 pm

      I hear you! I am currently in an office like this too. So much negative food and weight talk. It’s so sad to me that this has become the norm. Then think (and cringe): I was probably one of the people contributing to this in the early days. Mea culpa. Hopefully everyone will eventually come around and pick up a new, ridiculous thing to obsess about.

  3. Andi July 18, 2016 / 3:43 pm

    Amen! I saw the second meme yesterday on FB and I had such a visceral reaction to it (I am in recovery from anorexia) because I also try very hard to keep my social media clear of this shit. The person who posted this is not someone I expected to engage in this kind of nonsense, but I guess we never know. Down with the memes!! 🗡

  4. melissajanisin July 19, 2016 / 3:41 am

    Cultural change can only begin with individual changes – as we all become more accepting of ourselves – at whatever weight we’re at – the world will become more accepting. And you are helping a lot of us to get there. Just so you know 🙂

    • GlenysO July 19, 2016 / 9:53 am

      Thank you! I agree that individual changes are important – but it can be so hard when we live in a world that endorses various systems of oppression, such as body hatred…that’s why I think it’s so important to create a community of support. For those who just can’t muster the strength for individual changes, we need to extend a hand – or many hands.

  5. jodietitian July 19, 2016 / 6:08 am

    I totally agree with all of what you said, it strikes me exactly the same way. I cringed when posts appear on my personal page and actually decided to set up my Facebook so that I had to approve anything I was tagged in (so it would not appear on my page). Recently (somehow) I was added to a friends “group” all focused on weight loss!! I plan to message her but thinking I may be able to somehow infiltrate and influence this group to see things differently…..haven’t figured it out yet…..I literally roll my eyes and cringe when I read the stuff that is posted there. How food and bodies became so complicated for people just is baffling.

    • GlenysO July 19, 2016 / 9:51 am

      Oh my – that was certainly a liberty that person took! But such is the way now – it’s assumed that *everybody* believes in weight loss, restriction, etc etc. SIGH!

  6. Jo July 20, 2016 / 4:02 am

    It’s funny, I’ve had a couple of these types of memes pop up in my feed lately and I didn’t take much notice. This is good in the sense that I’ve come far enough in this journey that they don’t trigger me like they once would have. But it’s also bad because you are totally right, they are complete fat phobia BS disguised as a fluffy joke and the world is worse off for them!!

    On another note, I listened to the ep12 podcast mentioned at the end of this blog and oh my goodness, the notion of coming out as fat blew. me. away. I can’t stop thinking about it – thank you!!!

    • GlenysO July 20, 2016 / 8:56 am

      I know – it’s sad when we start to notice all the little things in life that contribute to fat phobia, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. – I realized one day that it’s all around us all the time.

      Re: coming out as fat – that concept also blew me away when I first heard about it several years ago from one of my favorite fat fashion bloggers, Karen at Curvy Canadian (wish I could find the post now). It made total sense for how I’d been living my fat life as a young fat person (ie, don’t mention my fat) and how I didn’t want to hide any more if I was going to be fat again. Glad you liked the episode!!

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