[Trigger Warning: fat-shaming, eating disorders, body image]
On Christmas Day it was right there in my social media feed, like invasive annual weeds: Diet ads.
To be fair, as an American woman in my 30s, the diet industry targets my social media feeds with some regularity. I hit several of their demographic markers: female, 30s, mother.
But let’s be real. All I have to be is breathing for the diet industry to target me with its noxious blend of back-handed pep-talk. You know the kind I mean. The ads always highlight a woman who is otherwise totally winning life — except for the shame-spiral she feels about her weight. This narrative is most often employed by sincere (and compensated) celebrity endorsement sharing the totally (bullshit) “unscripted,” yet amazingly similar story of, “My life was okay but I was secretly so unhappy because I was fat.”
Oh. My. Glob. Thank goodness she’s not fat anymore! I mean, there are no other reasons why you might enjoy Sara Rue other than her now societally approved weight — not her acting ability; not her comedy timing; not the fact that she is, in fact, beautiful at any size. And you could be her, too.* (*Weight loss not typical. We are a corporation that has monetized weight loss and have no philosophical or actual incentive to help you be successful. In fact, we make more money when you fail and need us more.)
That’s the dirty little secret of the diet industrial complex, right? They are selling something. Don’t forget that! And it comes with dubious claims, mad sexism, and they can cost a mint. I mean, CNN Money estimated the price-per-pound of weight loss on Weight Watchers to be almost $100! Yowza!
I like this Mommyish takedown of the Slim Fast “Reverse Cowgirl” ads in which we see a stereotypically depressing scenario. (Click the link for video.) A woman is talking on the phone about how she can’t enjoy her sex life anymore, or do it with the lights on, because of being fatty-fat-fat. (There’s a not-so-subtle implication, too, that she’s basically not having sex, as evidenced by her husband’s Pavlovian response to hearing her say the word “cowgirl.”) Because if there’s one thing we know, only beautiful (aka skinny) people have sex! I mean, fatties having sex — gross! — amiright?
This is so, so, so very problematic on several levels not the least of which are upholding fat-shaming and contributing to the broader narrative of misogynistic oppression that narrowly defines what is acceptable for bodies of any gender. Indeed, fat-shaming in diet ads marketed to children (ugh) actually increases the likelihood of continued obesity and low self-esteem issues. I just died a little inside.
This is actually the point, of course. No matter how faux-uplifting they design the marketing campaigns, diet companies are not interested in your welfare, your self-esteem, or to be honest, your waistline. It’s like the for-profit prison industry. It’s success is predicated on your sense of failure (real or perceived) and your lack of emotional (and nutritional) tools that could take you out of the causation loop — dissatisfaction with weight, diet, weight loss, weight gain, dissatisfaction with weight, and repeat. (It’s also predicated on a medical industry and health insurance company collaboration that has made the “gold standard” Body Mass Index, BMI, an unattainable joke. It was designed to be impossible!)
Here’s the deal: If you want to lose weight, then go for it. I am not saying that people should never diet or that weight loss can’t be beneficial for some people. Personally, I advocate for people to find a weight that is realistic for them and feels healthy and functional for their lives — no matter what any ad campaign says. There are some scientifically proven tips — the most basic being cutting 500 calories from your diet, exercising, and eating quality foods — that work and in most cases are free. A food diary, for instance, has been shown to double weight-loss success.) The point is, the impetus should come from you — your needs, your personal goals, and your desires. And the methodology should fit you and your life, not the whims of diet fads or sexist body-image messages. If that means signing up for your first 5k, do it. If that means signing up for a diet company plan, go in with your eyes open. If that means that you are happy with your weight, rock on.
I have been all kinds of different weights during my life. I’ve been “skinny.” I’ve been “average.” I’ve been “fat.” I’ve worn all kinds of sizes. Since having my kid three years ago, I have had triple-digit weight loss. It came largely as a side-effect of severe health issues, which required a drastic diet change. But even now after losing the kind of pounds a weight-loss company would love to tout, I am by all accounts what Bridgette Jones might say is “just a little bit fat.” And for the first time in my life, I’m totally okay with that.
My hope would be that nobody ever made another weight-loss resolution at the new year. My wish for people is that they can break free of the negative messages we all get force-fed. Live your authentic life on your terms! Be you! People in your life already see you, the real you, and love you for who you are. The person you have sex with is totally happy they are having sex with you. (Seriously, they would not be having sex with you if they did not want to be there!) Your kid(s) thinks you are royalty and the exact definition of beauty. Why not resolve to give your head and your heart a rest. Let go of the things that are weighing you down. (Hint: It’s not your physical weight!) Nobody on a death-bed ever said, “But at least I got down to a size 2!”
You want to change your body? Go for it! Just do it on your terms! And wherever that takes you, embrace it. The most beautiful thing anybody can have is confidence. And that, my friends, is deliciously free.