Awakening to the possibilities of a healthier lifestyle can be a very exciting time. To go from being asleep, using food as a means of getting by, to realizing that food is fuel for our bodies—the sheer “woman on fire” moment that often comes after discovering health—is phenomenal. I have no desire to take that away from anyone who is joyfully finding her own version of health.
However, there is a dark side to health culture that often quickly follows this “anything is possible, greens are amazing, eating ‘clean’ is life’, rainbows and unicorns” moment of empowerment: a “one size fits all” approach to health, which is inextricably linked with diet culture. This dark side typically sends women into a spiral of “health” and obsessing over nutrition and weight that takes a very real mental toll.
Diet culture is an insidious industry and belief system fed to society at large that prioritizes thinness as a status symbol, marker of success, and an indication of overall health and wellness—and how much someone values her own health and wellness. Diet culture is fueled by fatphobia, or the fear of being perceived as fat, overweight, or obese, and it is not a new construct.
We look back at women in the 1800s, shrinking their waists with corsets to create an exaggerated hourglass figure, and we think “oh, those poor women”. Our modern version? Trainers. SPANX. Body shaping. Over exercising. I have definitely worn SPANX. Push-up bras. And even modern versions of true corsets.
Or perhaps we take into consideration early interpretations of the Bible which claim that gluttony, temptation, and morality are portrayed outwardly by fatness—sin written on the body for all to see.
Back in the good ol’ days of 1727, Thomas Short came to the conclusion that overweight people live near swamps. He devised the “Avoiding Swamps Diet”, which asked participants to simply… move away from swamps. (I live near swamps—even lived in one during college—and can say with confidence: this was flawed logic.)
We have collectively been shrinking ourselves since the dawn of time. And the “why”? It makes sense. Let’s take a look at the ever popular Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
As soon as we achieve base level physiological needs, we need to master safety. Safety requires being accepted by a group of other humans for protection and shared resources. Arguably, belongingness and love needs are deeply tied to safety. So, we ache to feel safe in society—we need to be accepted. In a society that has, for hundreds (thousands!) of years, celebrated and promoted fatphobia, it’s no wonder we’re all desperately trying to shrink ourselves.
This is not a new thing, and it is not your fault if you realize you, too, are fatphobic. If you’ve ever said “does this dress make me look fat?” or “I don’t want to eat that; I don’t want to get fat,” or “I’m scared I’ll get fat”, you aren’t alone. This is deeply rooted in our collective need to be accepted, belong, and feel loved and secure. That does not make it right.
When I was coming out of the fog of my eating disorder, which was fueled by so much more than fatphobia (to say it was that alone would be an oversimplification), I was terrified of getting “fat”. I was also terrified of being skinny. I was terrified to lose control of my body. I was terrified to surrender.
I too have been fatphobic, and it is not something I’m proud of. Yet, how freeing it was to discover, admit, and surrender to.
Because weight alone is not a barometer of health, and you have the right to take up space. All the space that your body requires. Fact: bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Yours isn’t wrong or right. Mine isn’t wrong or right. They just are.
I recognize that I have lived in a very privileged, societally accepted body my entire life. I am thin. I am white. I am still (relatively) young. And yet I still struggled with the ill thinking that fatphobia has cursed us with—I have a huge store of compassion, empathy, and FIRE for change for those who have been marginalized by this and other constraints.
We can’t move into true belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization until we acknowledge this core of fatphobia that is running through each of us.
When we can learn to recognize the thoughts that are not coming from our hearts and core-knowing but rather from an outward, societal doctrine, we give ourselves permission to realign the thoughts. We can mute the voices not yet awakened to this reality and choose to surround ourselves with those speaking a different message.
This is an invitation for further awakening. (Goodness knows I’m waking up more and more on the daily.)
Here are several women I follow who are speaking to this new paradigm of health, and I invite you to do the same (all of the profile linked below are Instagram for ease of clicking and following):
Please note that these women aren’t perfect. I’m not either. We all make mistakes, missteps, and errors. But we are all, every day, learning. We move forward as best we can.
All I ask is that you continually seek your truth, speak your truth, and want what you want.