The Damaging Effects Of Toxic Diet Culture On Society

Diet culture is absolute trash. 'Dieting' isn't just something people do anymore, it's something they believe in. It's an entire belief system embedded into our society. It has completely distorted our perceptions of ourselves, our relationships with food and our opinions on health.
People are no longer dieting because they want to diet, they're dieting for happiness, because our society has perpetuated the idea that gaining happiness is a direct result of losing weight. Our society has warped our views on body image so monstrously that we've begun rating the worthiness and validity of our bodies based on their 'fatness.'

But the crazy thing is, is we are fully aware of the damage diet culture is doing to us and those around us. We know it's making us unhappy, we know it's making us feel constantly not good enough because we don't possess a particular physique, yet we still cling onto diet culture like it's our best friend. Although, really, it's hard not to. It's hard to not succumb to diet culture when it's quite literally all around us. Whether it's through mainstream media or idle conversations with friends, the beliefs represented by diet culture are shoved down our throats every second of every day.

When we hear 'diet,' we think of a regimented lifestyle, calorie counting, regular weigh ins, only eating certain foods and following a meal plan, you know, a proper diet. However, diet culture itself has bred much further and now encompasses a million and one different things. It doesn't just come in the form of actual diets and old wives' tales that are said to help you lose weight, it's the small, barely noticeable things, that are perpetuated by us all every day, continuing to breathe life into diet culture. It's the television adverts only showing thin women, it's the magazine articles on how to get bikini body ready, it's the fat shaming on panel shows disguised as health concerns, it's the Instagram posts of influencers and celebrities promoting weight loss teas that we double tap without thinking.

People and brands are profiting off the insecurities buried so deep within us as a direct result of diet culture. They're selling us products we don't need, (and we know we don't need them) as they're convincing us they will help 'fix' us, as if we are broken before we jump on the diet culture treadmill and start losing weight, consequently, gaining worth and approval. These products, which range from protein shakes all the way to the absurd end of the spectrum, which includes elasticated bands which remove double chins and contour powder for your stomach, are being eaten up by us consumers because society has conditioned us to believe our soul purpose is to be thin and, if we are not, we aren't worthy of success, happiness, and we'll just always be that little bit of a worse human being than everyone else.

But these companies and celebrities don't care about how they're making us feel. They don't care that they're causing our appearance based anxieties to fester throughout our days before exploding in our brains at 3am when we can't sleep because we just hate ourselves so much. All they care about are their bank balances. Do you think Kim Kardashian West really cares about your health when she's promoting an appetite suppressant lollipop to you, as if she's your best friend? Or does she not care about the potential ramifications of that at all so long as she makes a few thousand dollars? If you're struggling to figure it out, it's probably the latter.
These influencers continue to perpetuate harmful diet culture myths and beliefs on social media to such large, mostly young and impressionable audiences, and shall continue to do so until diet culture is fully dismantled. With millions of followers, they're going to be asked to promote things all the time, and why would they say no? They don't know us, they're under no personal obligation to protect us, so they'll continue to inundate us with posts about things we've been socialised to care about, even though they do have a moral duty to act responsibly, think before they post and consider the possible outcome of telling predominantly teenage girls that a flat tummy tea will solve all their problems.

It's heartbreaking, really, because these promotions by these influencers are also direct products of diet culture. The Kardashian family too have been socialised to see thin as best and fat as bad and now have to live up to impossibly high beauty standards. They've had surgery, airbrushed their photos, paid for top personal trainers and chefs only to lie to their audiences that a weight loss shake or simple pill is the reason they look how they do. So long as these lies continue, diet culture shall only grow stronger. Even though we know they're lying, does the average 13 year old girl who is new to Instagram know that? Or is she being sucked into a dark hole by Khloe Kardashian who's telling her to watch her 'Revenge Body' TV show in order to be thin and gain gratification from others?
There is nothing wrong with having surgery, wearing make-up or having your own personal lifestyle choices when it comes to diet, however, deliberately and maliciously deceiving your audience for monetary gain is so wrong. And these aren't just little white lies. This isn't just Kylie Jenner telling you to download a game she's never even played, they're selling you products which begin this cyclical lifestyle of self hate, mostly to young girls who absolutely revere them and place them on a pedestal as the pinnacle of beauty. Reality stars, celebrities and social media influencers have to stop selling these harmful products to their fans. Brands also need to stop approaching them to do so, but that's more likely if the people with platforms themselves call out diet culture for what it is.

We are being indoctrinated, constantly, with the ideal that only one body size is acceptable, and it comes from everywhere. It comes from nasty men like Piers Morgan fat shaming Tess Holiday on Good Morning Britain but it also comes from your Grandma and Mother, who were brought up in a different version of this diet culture and ask "Do I look fat in this dress?" pushing their ideas onto you. Everywhere we look, we're overpowered by beauty and diet myths and this toxic diet culture is completely destroying our society. It's destroying, most importantly, young people who are hating themselves before they've even had chance to start living.

It's no secret that young girls are the main victims of diet culture. Teenage girls are the ones having waist trainers and appetite reducing smoothies advertised to them on social media, they're the ones targeted by magazine covers and drowned by archaic perceptions of beauty from school through to adulthood and, by the time they've reached adulthood, these harmful diet culture beliefs are etched so firmly into their brains, it's impossible for them to ever live freely of them.
Almost a quarter of 14 year old girls are self harming and those are just the statistics we know about, as much more goes on that's unreported. Young girls are battling severe body issues and dysmorphia about their appearance to the point of wanting to cause harm to themselves through things like eating disorders. They can't even escape these feelings online, as they're met by posts from other young girls feeling the same followed by an advertisement for some weight loss product or face tuning app they don't need.

Something has to change before we lose more young people to diet culture. We have to begin taking a stand to ensure diet culture, and those who perpetuate it, know it isn't wanted. It's time to start calling out and saying 'NO' to influencers trying to sell us weight loss teas, magazines telling us to lose a stone in a week, fat shaming, holiday food guilt and companies profiting off our insecurities.

There is so much more to life than being 'skinny.' We are all SO much more than that and we were put on this Earth to DO so much more than allow brands, publications and celebrities who do not care about our mental health to indoctrinate us with the idea that there is only ONE acceptable body size.

Things won't change overnight, because this system is one that has been built over hundreds of years to oppress, mainly women, into doubting their worth. It's going to take a while to dismantle, but it can be done the more we speak about it, share our experiences and, basically, just tell these trashy companies that we are DONE with their nonsense. Also, a huge part of knocking down diet culture beliefs involves educating those who have been harmed by it to the point of wanting to now inflict it onto us. Another huge part of annihilating diet culture from the world involves better self care. Avoiding talk of diets and body image and gym membership promotions is extremely difficult, especially in this social media driven age we live in. However, you can take it upon yourself to control what you’re seeing. You do NOT need to explain your reasons for unfollowing or ignoring things, pages or people that make you feel BAD about your body. YOU have full control over what you see on your Twitter and Instagram feeds, so shape them into ones that encourage body positivity and self acceptance.

Let's start a revolution, a revolution of changing our behaviour and mindsets. Let's start looking in the mirror and telling ourselves we are beautiful and shouting down anything or anyone who is teaching us to shrink ourselves to be smaller. We are all so much more than our body size, we are smart, strong and powerful and this culture obsessed with making women obedient in the name of thinness cannot take any of that away from us if we do not allow for it.
Don't be afraid to speak up and call out diet culture when you see it flourishing, whether that's on a larger scale or a small scale, whether that's by giving a speech at a protest or simply challenging a friend who calls herself 'fat.' There is no shame in taking up space, there is nothing wrong with you and the size that you are. You never need to be smaller to be loved or accepted more and you certainly do not deserve to live your life fearing not being able to wear something or eat something because you're 'too big.'

If you want to lose weight, that's your own journey. Don't take diet culture on it with you and always ensure you're doing it for the right reasons. Do it for no one but yourself. Don't do it for the men bashing plus sized models on TV or the companies wishing to destroy your self esteem.

I really hope we can start to make changes in how we view our own and other people's bodies. I hope we can prioritise self care and mental health over physical appearance and dismantle our toxic relationships with food whilst striving to achieve full body acceptance. I also hope for us to make our spaces more intersectional and inclusive of all body sizes and shapes. Body positivity does not exist just for thin people or models on runways with cellulite. It's for everyone of every size, ability, colour and gender. We're all just out here existing in our bodies, (which is worthy of praise in itself) and we're all fighting the force of diet culture, so let's join together!

We only get one body and it works so hard EVERY DAY to keep us alive. It’s pretty magical when you think about it! Please remember that you’re never alone on this journey towards acceptance but you are also SO capable of achieving happiness in your own skin. There is so much strength inside of you, even if the protein bar and yoga pants adverts have convinced you that there is not!

Here's to saving our money, (because we keep capitalism alive by buying into diet culture) our time, energy and not getting to the end of another year wishing we'd spent less time hating ourselves. Here's to unlearning old habits, (because any learnt behaviour can be unlearnt) and learning how to interact with food and exercise in fulfilling, sustainable ways. Here's to not starving ourselves, counting calories or editing our photos. Here's to listening to our bodies and eating when we are hungry, not allowing fitness to rule our lives and refusing to sacrifice our peace to be a certain size. Who we are is who we are, and that is enough. It's time to really give this whole ‘self love’ thing a go and end diet culture once and for all. We owe it, not just to future generations, but to ourselves. We cannot lose another innocent, precious life to diet culture because they were taught to believe they weren't good enough as they are.

Love, Emily