We can all agree that men and women deserve equal treatment, yet our diet culture wields a system of beliefs that is far from it. Let’s understand the underlying relationship between food, dieting, and feminism.
Every day, in every town across this country, young women are going on a diet. Mind you, nobody actually needs to go on a diet of restriction and being meticulously selective with their food. Body size does not dictate health, or worth, yet, so many women pursue weight loss with a single-minded focus, even those who fit the stereotypical cultural image of health.
Recently, I saw a young woman navigating the aisles of the grocery store, studying the calories on prepared salads, putting back the ones she wanted because they were over 400-500 calories and instead grabbing ones that were 300 calories and saying she could “scoop out the cheese”. She told her two friends, who had the exact same lean and athletic figure, that she’s “getting fat and really needed to work on her six-pack” then complained about the way her thighs touched. Passing sweets and cookies, she said to herself, “Welp, can’t have that ’till I lose weight!”
It’s a heartbreaking reality that many women live in.
Women obsess over their size, not out of shallowness, but because we’re told every single day that our worth hinges on our looks. We can be a successful woman, personally and professionally, but if we don’t look a certain way, it doesn’t matter.
We live in a culture when it’s normal to judge an actress based on her body size, and no one bats an eye when they comment: “That actress is so fat, she should just get off the screen.” How did we get to a point where we bash anyone in movies that represents the approximately 60% of women whose BMI falls outside of the so-called ‘normal’ range?
Conversations about women in the workplace often center around their looks, not their achievements, skills, or credibility. In fact, studies show women are 16 times more likely to face weight discrimination in the workplace then men. You’re probably familiar with the gender pay gap, but did you know that women who weigh more earn 6% less than thinner women?
No wonder that bubbly, athletic, and conventionally beautiful girl at your local grocery store is going on a diet.
Most men have a long way to go in how they talk about and treat women. However, we can begin to make changes by opting out of diet culture. We can learn about weight discrimination and sexism, and call it out when we see it. By dieting, we’re essentially accepting sizeism and sexism as truth. By pressuring our friends to join us in our diet, we’re spreading the same message:
That you’re not good enough unless you’re thin.
As women, we have to work just that much harder for the same level of success. That’s a fact. But how are you supposed to do that if you’re dieting? How will you get an A on that exam if your brain is deprived of the energy it needs to function? How will you have the creativity to engineer that new invention if you’re constantly thinking about if you’re not allowed to have foods to nourish that brilliant brain of yours? How will you get up in front of that crowd and make a sales pitch with confidence if you’re distracted by the way your arms jiggle as you’re making a bold statement? What skills or knowledge will you miss out on by spending your free time reading women’s magazines and books that perpetuate diet culture?
Dieting is a distraction from the hard work that women need to do to in order to achieve equal standing in this society.
This isn’t to shame anyone or call them anti-feminist for wanting to lose weight. It’s to say there’s a better way. Focus on appreciating your body as it is now, because you can’t take good care of something you hate. Instead of depriving your body, think about nourishing it so you can accomplish all the amazing things in your life. Let’s stop telling our friends they aren’t good enough by engaging in diet talk and body bashing. Instead, let’s talk current events, family life, work, and literally anything else.
Because you can do so much more in this world when you’re not preoccupied by dieting.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: PETE BELLIS
Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE is a private practice dietitian, food enthusiast, and nutrition expert based in Columbia, SC. By guiding others to rediscover the joy of nourishment rather than deprivation, Rachael helps men and women alike improve their health and well-being through delicious whole food recipes and practical advice through intuitive eating.