Thursday, 26 November 2015

Why I Will Never Bring Diet Talk Into The Body Positive Community

I started my first diet when I was 10. It was nothing too extreme - swapping chocolate bars for snacks with fewer calories, exploring the lower fat options at the supermarket. I slowly dropped a dress size, and basked in the compliments of my peers. I began to value my iron will, my devout commitment to my mission of slimming. With my eyes locked on the holy grail of thin, my self worth laid bare and exposed, I was hooked. 

Swapping snacks turned into eliminating snacks, meals got smaller and smaller, any diet that allowed 'treats' was out of the question; I thrived on restriction. I found something so intoxicating about that routine, that mixture of gnawing hunger and waning hope as the day goes on. The torturous workouts and the denied cravings that earn so much praise -

"You're so dedicated! I wish I could make myself go to the gym, how'd you do it?!"
"Look at you! So skinny! How did you do that?"
"You have so much will power, how can you turn down chocolate cake?!"

The answer that I never said -
Self hatred.

We live in a world that praises submitting to our self hatred, more than it praises fighting for our self love.

Now it's important that I say a couple of things before I continue, disclaimers to anyone that my anti-diet stance doesn't sit well with:

  • There is a huge difference between living a healthy lifestyle and following diet culture. Pursuing health is about balance, it's about a nutritious and varied diet and being more physically active for the benefits of feeling better. It is not painfully restrictive and it's not based around a goal weight or fitting into a certain size by a certain date. Healthy lifestyles are great, if that's what floats your boat

  • Diet culture is poison. Diet culture is the 'lose 10 pounds in 10 days!' articles that little girls stumble upon and learn that they aren't good enough as they are. Diet culture is pills and potions and wraps that offer magical transformations for extortionate prices and even more extortionate health risks printed in teeny tiny writing on the bottle (if printed at all). Diet culture makes up one of the biggest and meanest multi-billion dollar industries in the world, it teaches us to hate ourselves and sells us 'cures' that don't work. No really, 95-98% of diets fail. I mean think about it - if diets worked, wouldn't we all be thin? Wouldn't those big weight loss companies all go bust and happiness and joy would be spread throughout the kingdom? They don't work. They're not supposed to work. Because that's how the diet industry thrives - repeat business from people who's self esteem is so shattered they will try anything to get what they're told will make them happy: being thin. Those industries team up with media and advertising and jackpot, a brainwashed population living on terrible body image and expensive diet plans.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Healthy lifestyle = good (if that's what you'd like to do, but are by no means obliged to or worth less if you don't). Diet culture = bad. And the other thing is:

  • I'm not trying to tell anyone how to live their lives or what to do with their body. If you're not swayed by the horrors of diet culture and you still want to choose that life, that is entirely your decision. Bodily autonomy (YOU having the right to eat, wear, and do whatever you want with YOUR body), is a crucial part of body positivity. Do you! What I'm saying is, if you consider yourself to be part of the body positive community, please please do you in a way that is sensitive and respectful of the weight loss talk triggers that so many of us have. That so many of us came to the bopo community to escape from.

Because that is what the body positive community truly is, it is a haven for those of us who have believed what we've been taught about our bodies. It is a place to recover from that self hatred that we've carried for our entire lives. Self hatred that is rooted in the diet culture that is all around us.

I've met some spectacular human beings through body positivity. I've met plus size people who've always been bullied for their weight. I've met thin people who don't realise that they are actually thin, so deluded by the photoshopped images of 'perfection' we're told to emulate to gain our worth in the world. I've met some of the most compassionate and kind-hearted people out there, people who've spent years believing that their life's purpose is losing weight. People who will never see how wonderful they are because it's so ingrained in their minds that they're not good enough.

I meet people everyday who are killing themselves because no weight loss will ever be enough. Because no diet will ever be enough. And I swear, I will protect those people with everything that I have because I needed someone like me back then. I needed a safe place to turn.

These days we can barely leave our houses without hearing murmurs about weight loss attempts. We can't go to a restaurant without hearing damning indictments of some food being too 'naughty', or someone feeling too guilty to satisfy their appetite. Groups of women flock together to wallow in their body dissatisfaction and search for the secrets that might finally bring that elusive prize of thinness within their grasp. Somewhere at a primary school, a group of 10 year old girls do the same thing.

I know you might think that your post celebrating your 3lb weight loss this week is harmless, but for so many of us it can act as an arrow right into the heart of our self esteem. I know you might think that posting how many calories you burned on your daily workout is inspiring, but the only thing it's guaranteed to inspire is comparison. And comparison is the seed that so many of our body image issues grow from. For every like you get you'll have planted a thought in someone's mind about whether they've eaten too much that day. Whether they need to exercise harder or eat cleaner. Whether they should re-evaluate their entire existence to be centred around the same weight loss goals the rest of the world is so obsessed with. And if the person who stumbled upon your picture is currently in recovery from an eating disorder or exercise addiction (as a lot of people who cross over into our community are), there are no words for how damaging that might be.

There are thousands of communities out there dedicated to diets and weight loss. There are even some that promote those things with a version of body positivity along with it. Talk about your scale based triumphs there. Lament your glorious dessert indulgence there (p.s. dessert is one of the most magical things in the world and should never be regretted). Don't bring those emotional triggers into a community that is so densely populated by people recovering from weight loss induced self hatred. We need one place where we can be free from that.

Live your life however you want, but if part of your life lies within the body positive community, please honour the fact that it is a safe space for so many of us. A space that we can't find in the outside world that is so infiltrated with the poisonous lure of diet culture.

As for my page, I promise, #riotsnotdiets for life.