It 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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