Looking for myself in someone else's body

Dieting isn't just a thing that women do because it's fun.

We don't fear body fat and carbs because we enjoy being in constant conflict. 

We don't choose to become obsessed with the size of our thighs because we've got nothing better to do with our lives.

Nope.

We do these things (and more) because we've been promised love, worthiness, attention and safety in return for measuring up to the societal standard. We endure frequent torment and anguish as a result of living in a society that encourages us to go against ourselves over and over again. 

Many women know all too well the physical, mental and emotional costs associated with trying to achieve a smaller body. 

Recently, I've been exploring how diet culture disrespects our individual and collective humanity. One of the ways it accomplishes this is by disregarding body diversity. The images used by the weight loss industry to sell us on the idea of "success" are almost always thin, able-bodied, gender-conforming, heterosexual white women.

In reality, bodies come in different colors, sizes, shapes, genders and physical abilities. But the folks who shove these images in our faces and down our throats want us to believe something else.

This is no accident. 

Here in America, we're socialized to view everything through the lens of Whiteness...and weight loss is no exception. White is the default for American, normal, human and good. Anything else is considered to be “other”. From an early age we understand that thin + white + female = womanhood and femininity. I vividly remember flipping through the pages of Seventeen magazine wishing I looked like the skinny, blond girls in tank tops and acid wash jeans.

In essence, diet culture is a tool of our racist, sexist, patriarchal society. The evidence is right in front of us on the covers of health and fitness magazines, in ads for weight loss products, and in your social media newsfeed. Images that are shown to reflect success are usually represented by a 6-pack-having, green juice-drinking, yoga-posing white woman. The message that thin whiteness is highly valued, loved, and protected in our society is unmistakable. 

This isn't anything new.

The diet industry has forever been instrumental in enforcing the standards set by our larger culture. They deliberately reinforce the idea that certain body types deserve to be celebrated while others should be pushed out to the margins.

It's taken a while for me to figure this out, but there isn't a body wrap, protein shake, or meal plan in the world that will transform me into a 5'9" 120-pound white woman. Awakening to the realization that I've spent most of my life searching for my worth in a body type that isn't mine was certainly liberating, but it also filled me with so much RAGE that I couldn't even see straight.

Now, after a lot of processing and writing about it, my vision is clear:

  • I reject the use of thin, pretty white bodies to sell the idea that smaller is better.
  • I refuse to hate and fear bodies that are outside of the norm.
  • I firmly stand in opposition to the status quo...because that's how we change things.

We don't have to keep looking for ourselves in someone else's body. 

For those of us who fall outside the norm, diet culture denies us the right to exist peacefully as we are. Diet culture is not here for us. 

I can't think of any good reasons to keep to participating in it, can you?

We have the power to opt out.

-Melissa

P.S. As you can imagine, this is a very complicated and layered topic. I don't have all the answers. I'm figuring things out as I go along with the help and inspiration from: Audre Lorde's book of essays and speeches called Sister Outsider; McKensie Mack, who spoke the words "I was looking for myself in someone else's body" and inspired the title for this post; and Ashleigh Shackleford, who brilliantly captures the experiences of someone pushed out to the margins. Without them, this piece would still be stuck inside my head.

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