“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” ― Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
Summer is coming, and you know what that means: we are officially in the season of the oh-so elusive (yet oh-so unattainable) bikini body. Around this time every year, companies salivate at the opportunity to profit off of our deepest insecurities, intimidating us into desiring a conventionally attractive physique. It’s like clockwork, really–– restrictive diet fads resurface in March. By April, Alexis Ren ab workouts creep their way onto your YouTube recommended feed. Calorie counting makes a comeback in May. By June, magazine articles look less like “10 Cozy, Blissful Ways to Have Fun With Your Family This Winter!”, and more like “10 Brutal, Self-Loathing Fueled Exercises to Maintain That Perfect Summer Body!”
Perhaps the most heinous byproduct of diet culture is the way in which we assign moral value to the foods we consume. In a society that praises the bikini body above all else, food consumption is a luxury. With every meal we eat, we are told we are putting our waistlines and beach bods at risk. Thus, companies fiercely shame us when we eat for any reason other than survival. To be worthy of consumption, chips must be sinless. Brownies? Guilt-free. High-calorie foods are dismissed as junk, whereas low-calorie foods are praised as clean. The “healthy” ice cream market is especially responsible for fueling this narrative, with morally-suggestive brand names like Halo Top and Rebel. As a result, you’ve probably heard someone say, “Oh, I was so bad this morning, I’ll have a salad for dinner instead of pizza…”, or “I ate two servings of cake, I’m being so naughty…”.
When you see a brand using “guilt-free” marketing, know that they do not truly care about you or your physical wellness. What’s so cruel about this language is the way in which it is disguised as mindful self-improvement. In fact, it is quite the opposite: these brands simply recognize how lucrative shame and insecurity are, and manipulate them to flourish at our expense. “Guilt-free” foods imply that there is something inherently wrong with every other food on the market. It implies that you need to “earn” the food you eat, whether this is through dieting, exercise, or body monitoring. In all reality, food is just food. Though we are brainwashed to believe otherwise: it is there to nourish you, to satiate you… not to emotionally torment you.
With this language, what are we telling ourselves about our bodies? Going even further, what are we telling young girls and boys about their bodies? That eating certain foods is an offense so abominable, that they deserve to pay the price of shame for it? This mindset could not be less grounded in reality. So, here’s my challenge for summer 2021: we must stop demonizing food. We can’t dismantle the toxic system of diet culture entirely, but removing phrases like “guilt-free”, “junk”, and “naughty” is surely an excellent start.