Dances with Diet Culture
So you know that I don’t want to live like this because I only have this one fucking life; if you don't know, click the links and catch up! My body is carrying 100+ extra pounds and is ravaged by autoimmune illnesses, chronic pain, and a fatigue beyond explanation. I know part of health for me is getting some of this fat, that itself is a source of inflammation, off my body.
But here’s the thing with the pervasive norms in our society known as diet culture—as inspired as we might be by someone having an awakening regarding their health, the primary way it translates into being for us is the how. And we only consider the how in two categories: diet and exercise.
If you know me and love me then you know everything I do has a lot of thought behind it. I’m self-reflective AF. And yes, I will talk to you about my diet and exercise because they are my pursuit of wholeness. I'm just not telling you yet. Because today we need to talk about diet culture, and the ways we have been programmed to believe that unless our body looks a certain way we’ll never be happy.
This won’t read like a textbook, though. I *can* write that way, but that isn’t what moves my soul, nor how I feel like what I am writing is worth your time to read. What moves my soul, and I’m guessing yours if you like my writing, is story.
Love makes the world go round;
story is what keeps it on its axis.
First, I will get a little nerdy and define diet culture as I understand it, just so we’re on the same page. When I say “diet culture”, this is what I mean by it: diet culture is the system that assigns morality to food. If you have dessert, it’s “sinful”. If you have a slice of toast, you’re “cheating”. Did you decide to eat some Doritos? Ooooh, you were baaaaad.
But if you chose cucumbers for lunch, what a good girl. (And diet culture heavily targets women in infantilizing ways.) Did you avoid grains, dairy, GMOs, and it was organic and slathered in coconut oil? Yay! You ate “clean”! And you are what you eat, so you are a clean person. Diet culture also values trim bodies, and the “fitspo” is only for people who look trim and toned. Ain’t nobody inspired by a woman who can squat 500 pounds if she herself weighs more than 200. Doncha know?
In sum, diet culture as I refer to it is “clean” and “good” eating and it tells you that your goal is always to look a certain way (thin), and even if you do get there it’s never enough because that ass can always get a bit more lifted, those abs a touch more defined. You’ll keep spending all your time, your money, your life in an endless cycle of searching for arrival.
That is the grotesque beast I despise known as diet culture.
And now, make sure you have your hydration (or libation; I'm editing now and poured myself a glass of red because I only got #T1FL, so cheers!) source and settle in for story time.
Being overweight my whole life meant that boys (in my heteronormative and cisgendered experience) weren’t into me. My town was teeny tiny—as in my graduating class had 35 other people small—and it just wasn’t acceptable to have a fat girlfriend. The few girls in my class considered “hot” cycled through the upper echelon of guys but even the less popular guys didn’t want a chubbo like me.
And those popular guys? Some went so far as resenting me for liking them, as though the fat girl crushing on them was offensive somehow. If I, said fatty, liked them then it must mean something was wrong with them, threatening their masculinity, that they didn’t only attract the hot girls.
I remember those god-awful middle school dances, always hoping almost any guy would ask me to dance. They never did, but by early high school I got up the guts a few times to ask. I remember when a guy I crushed on hard from the first time I met him in sixth grade until we graduated 7 years later broke the chain of “oh, yeah, um, maybe later…got girls in line” (they didn’t) by saying yes. Next slow song, I was to come find him.
And absolutely I did.
Except it sucked.
I was utterly incapable of being in the moment. My entire body was focused on where his hands held my upper waist. Did he think I felt fat and gross? Was he repulsed by my soft curves where his previous dance partners were taut and firm? Was he wishing I was someone else? He wasn’t holding me as close as her, that last skinny girl he danced with. There was way less space between them, right? Probably because I take up more and he doesn’t want to be close to me so he's holding back, no? He’s not into me. He’ll never be into me. Why did I think he could maybe be into me? That a dance could convince him I was worthy of love?
The thing is, I didn’t just want a dance. I wanted what I hoped the dance promised, that this beautiful boy would decide I was worthy and want to be in a relationship with me. But that’s the thing about a dance—after three minutes the song ended and then it was the next girl and I still went through all of high school (and college) alone.
Diet culture is a dance. It envisages that this time, this meal plan, this exercise routine, this lifestyle change is going to be the The One. You know what I am talking about. I don’t really need to expound, do I? Because already, if you are a human in the western world, you get it. ESPECIALLY if you are a woman. Worth is reserved for the svelte and gorgeous, and if you aren't giving it your all to get there then why are you even here?
And we do this. Over and over, we think this will be the time, the one magical dance where at the end the boy won’t let go and he’ll say, “I choose you.” We think that we’ll walk out of that awkward gym filled with hormones, insecurity, and angst, strutting out into the rest of the world with our lovely new boyfriend’s arms around us, and we'll be whole. And it will be forever. Happily ever after.
But a relationship, no matter how great, doesn’t fulfill you. A romantic partner can’t make you into who you are meant to be when you're whole.
And you know what?
Neither will the perfect diet. Even if you get the body you always wanted, and that’s a big if, that body won’t complete you. For one, you’ll never be satisfied. There’s always a little more cellulite here, a bit of under arm jiggle there that no amount of tricep toning will fix. You get your stomach flat as can be, but why can’t you get abs like Jillian Michaels? Secondly, as one who knows from experience after losing 100+ pounds, no matter how good you feel about how you look, it’s never enough to unify your banished mind or body or soul.
Did you hear me?
It's. Just. Never. Enough.
And, like me in the arms of that boy of my dreams, you can’t enjoy the moment. I can’t remember what song we danced to, what either of us were wearing, how he felt, how he smelled. I couldn’t be excited that he said yes. I can only recall the fear that he thought I was gross, unworthy of him, unworthy of his adoration, unworthy of love itself, all because of my body.
It's worth some humble bragging here: I was valedictorian, was awarded the majority of the college scholarships (other parents were visibly pissed as I went forward to receive yet another on the stage during graduation), was in all but one extra-curricular club and almost every sport, all while working to pay for my own gas/insurance/clothes/basically everything, held office in nearly every club I was in, and I was voted best laugh and friendliest. And yet the only thing that mattered was my body. My trauma wrecked, battered, beaten, and raped body that happened to have 30-40 excess pounds on it meant no guy wanted to be with me, and I believed I deserved to be alone.
This is the devastation diet culture brings. We think that if we can just get this diet, this dance partner, to stick with us then we can finally start living the life we want. If this boy is holding our hand in the halls of our school, waiting by our locker between classes, sneakily us passing notes (or texting for you young’uns) during Chemistry class, then life will be good. And if this diet gets us into that jeans size we thought we’d never be in again, if we can buy that cute bikini and feel confident in it, then good god, LIFE WILL BE WORTH LIVING!
Baby love, that is BULLSHIT.
It is just absolute fucking bullshit.
You know how I know? Because having a boy love me would never have made me feel worthy. Not only would he never have been able to undo the trauma I had already endured, he couldn’t fix my “now” at the time either. He couldn’t have made my home safe. NEVER could he have repaired the places in my heart shattered by broken parents; only I can do that.
And, for me, if I gave him my heart and my body and then he broke up with me—and absolutely it would have been him breaking up with me, because even if he had been a tremendous dick I would have assumed it was my fault and taken all blame and responsibility to fix everything—it would have compounded the trauma of unworthiness that plagued every aspect of my life save for academic achievement.
Diet culture is the same. If we get the body we want, it won’t fix what is inside of us that made us think the problem was our body in the first place.
Listen to me: YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY. Your body is only part of you.
As I recently said on Insta, and in my last post, you need your mind, your body, and your soul to be a whole person. Anyone who allows their mind to bully their body and thereby crush their soul isn’t going to be happy. You need wellness in all three and unity among them to be whole.
This is the great lie of of diet culture, that if you fix the appearance of your body by what you put into it and how you move it then it will heal your mind and nourish your soul.
That just isn’t fucking true. There is a reason why the data overwhelmingly tells us that even those who lose large amounts of weight regain it, often more than they lost. Why so many brave, beautiful humans on Insta have accounts dedicated to how hard they worked for the perfect body but were miserable, and now they have gained some weight and lost some definition but their body and mind and soul are now healthier.
But how do we stop dancing and start living? How do we become the person so confident that our hopes are not pinned on the dance because we know if we let someone put their arms around us they’re the lucky one who got to be close to us, and give no fucks about if our body is “ideal"?
Don’t you want that? Confidence that burns like a fire so bright that you put a flicker in other people’s eyes and set their face aglow?
I’m not a therapist, and I ask that you not put that pressure on me. Therapy has saved my life and helped me find myself, and you need an actual therapist to help you. But I have learned some things and I will keep sharing them with you.
Because do you know what’s so much better than a blip in time, dancing with a beautiful boy on a dance floor? Grabbing the hands of those trusted besties known as your own body and soul, and saying, “There’s so much more to life than boys. Let’s go live our life together, confident and free.”
It’s the only fucking one we’ll ever have. Let's live like it matters.
Do you want to know more? Are you inspired to learn how to fight for yourself? Stay with me. I know some of you are dying to know the "how" piece, and I feel you on a spiritual level, but also the "why" is the how, and without it nothing else matters. See you with more on Thursday, 8.16.18!