In our society, we’ve grown up being constantly influenced by companies, social media, and magazines telling us how we “should” look. Diet culture and the idea that “thin” directly equates to beauty has been ingrained into our minds for most of our lives. Diet culture, in the simplest terms, is a “belief system that focuses on and values weight, shape, and size over well-being.” Obviously, this is not a healthy outlook to have. The negative impact of diet culture has left a significant mark on young people and often leads to body image issues, dangerous diet behaviors, and in worse cases, eating disorders.
Luckily, the body positivity movement has become increasingly popular and a handful of brands have begun to make strides towards utilizing models with more realistic and diverse body types. It is so important to have all types of people represented in media. These strides toward more inclusive representation are fantastic, but it does not erase the ideology diet culture has brought upon some of our youngest minds.
The influences of diet culture can be seen in our daily lives whether we immediately recognize it or not. A few examples of diet culture’s immediate impact can be seen through restrictive dieting, fixating on physical appearance, and labeling foods as “good” or “bad.”
Restrictive dieting actually falls into the category of types of disordered eating. Not only does restrictive dieting often lead to nutrient deficiencies and binge eating, but it can even progress to actual eating disorders. Being mindful of what you put into your body is one thing, but deeming any kind of food as “off-limits” is not beneficial. Labeling foods as good or bad kind of goes along with restrictive dieting. Diet culture has basically turned food into a moral issue. The reality is that food has no moral value! This idea that foods are either good or bad encourages unhealthy relationships with food and even our bodies. Being in touch with your body and its needs is so very important. Listen to what your body wants; if you’re craving something, eat it! Eat foods that you actually like. If you don’t like salad all that much, why would you force yourself to eat it every day just because it’s the “good” choice?
Fixation on physical appearance is another way diet culture has influenced our perceptions of ourselves. According to a 2014 study from a center for eating disorders in Minnesota, 53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, and by the time they’re 17, that number rises to 78%. This statistic isn’t particularly surprising to me, but body image issues aren’t something that only affects young women. Men and individuals outside of the gender binary struggle with this too. Diet culture’s emphasis on weight, shape, and size being of the utmost importance creates such a horrid expectation for all people. Being healthy and happy has no “correct” look. Your size or body type isn’t what defines your worth. This seems like an obvious statement, but I feel like we have all found ourselves getting hung up on our looks, no matter how confident we feel in our own skin.
Diet culture can also be seen all over social media. Every now and again, my feed gets clogged with images of celebrities promoting “flat tummy teas,” appetite suppressant lollipops, and other types of supplements that definitely should NOT be going into your body on a regular basis. Actress Jameela Jamil from “The Good Place” has become very vocal on social media about body positivity and is very quick to call other celebrities out for encouraging these unhealthy habits. More celebrities and other big influencers should be utilizing their platforms for good like Jamil is. Calling people out for perpetuating the BS that diet culture has brought upon our society is important for both current and future generations.
Diet culture’s influence will most likely linger for quite some time, no matter how hard we work to somehow erase its effects. Young people need to grow up with healthy relationships with their bodies and food. Diet culture has no business telling the youngest members of our society how they should or shouldn’t look. Continuing to promote body positivity and saying f*** it to the ~standards~ upheld by certain groups will create a lasting impact for good.