The title of this post makes me cringe. You probably encounter these types of headlines multiple times a day on social media and around the internet. It’s designed to get you excited about spending money to change your appearance so you’re thin and therefore more attractive.
Want to know how to get a bikini body FAST? The easiest way to get a bikini body fast is, of course, to put a bikini on your body.
If you are a woman, headlines like this are targeted at you. This short title represents generations of making you feel like you’re not enough as you are, that you need to be better. That your body needs to be better. It’s infuriating, and it’s a lot to unpack.
Before I go there, however, I would like to point out that you are not the problem. Your body is not the problem. Diet culture is the problem. So if you stumbled upon this post hoping for diet and weight loss secrets to help you shrink into society’s warped standard of beauty, I’m glad you’re here. Because I would like to take this opportunity to illuminate why headlines like this–and the message behind them–are so fucked up.
Let me tell you a story.
It’s about a girl who grew up in a patriarchal culture that taught her the only way she mattered in her society was if she was thin and attractive. And cultural norms supported that; in fact, it’s proven that thinner, attractive people are hired more often than their overweight counterparts. (source) In her teenage years, she saw countless magazine covers with flawless models telling her to eat less and exercise more, because the smaller she became, the better she would be. These magazines did not emphasize her intellect or talents.
As she aged, she became terrified of looking old, getting grey hair and wrinkles, sagging skin, cellulite. She would spend thousands of dollars on hair treatments, skin treatments, maybe even painful plastic surgery to remain ageless and beautiful so she could be admired, not for her brain, but for her beauty and youthful appearance. She assumed this was the best way to snag a husband, because let’s face it, every attractive woman needs a husband to complete her life. If you’re a single woman over 40, there’s probably little hope for you. Also, what’s wrong with you if you haven’t snagged a husband by 40? You must be flawed.
This story is one in which most young woman grow up. It breeds a less-than mentality, and instead of lifting young women up and empowering them, it keeps them insecure, dependent, asleep.
The feminine beauty ideal is “the socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness is one of women’s most important assets, and something all women should strive to achieve and maintain.” Feminine beauty ideals are rooted in heteronormative beliefs, and in the U.S. typically mean you should be a skinny, tall, white woman with a symmetrical face, blue eyes, and luscious blonde hair. Pressure to conform to a certain definition of “beautiful” can have psychological effects, such as depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem. (source)
Women first encounter these standards when they read fairy tales where beauty is associated with being white, economically privileged (once they marry their prince, of course), and virtuous. It continues from there throughout mass media that now glorifies slenderness and weight loss.
Curves were in, but they had to be proportionate.
Then we decided thin was in.
Women’s bodies have always been scrutinized, and thinness is next to godliness. It means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.” Culture trains women to depend on and experience themselves through others’ expectations and desires.
These standards of beauty are typically patriarchal, meaning women should be beautiful and young so they can be objects to catch the male gaze. Diet culture encourages you to pluck, starve, primp, and powder yourself until you look like women in magazine ads, who actually aren’t even real. They’ve been retouched and photoshopped to death. Body correction even happens in films, where visual effects experts retouch frames to cover up cellulite and wrinkles. Adhering to this unreal–literally–picture of beauty is making women sick.
Diet culture is discriminatory against people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of health, and that could be people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities. Diet culture says you’re healthy if you’re thin but not if you’re overweight and not if you don’t conform to the current beauty standards.
We perpetuate this cycle by commenting on appearance and praising women who have lost weight, telling them, you look great! And while of course it is wonderful to be recognized for hard work, it may leave one thinking, Did I look bad before?
If you’ve ever caught yourself thinking how much happier would be be if you were just X much prettier or thinner, welcome to diet culture.
I want to be very clean about one point, however: the purpose of this post is NOT to shame people/women who work out regularly, take great pride in their appearance, and strive to be healthy. That’s not what this is about. It’s about a culture that tells women you’re worthless if you don’t fit into the societal beauty standard and tries to sell you surgeries, products, and crash diets to play on your insecurities and help you catch the male gaze, overweight or not.
If you’re overweight and unhappy about it, there’s nothing wrong with seeking a healthier lifestyle and body weight. But it DOES become problematic when your self esteem and self worth is entirely tied up in your appearance and how many people start to notice you when you suddenly fit into the beauty standard. And that’s not your fault; it’s the culture we live in that doesn’t see overweight people but puts thin blonde ladies on a pedestal.
Believe me, I know it’s easier said than done. In my teens, I was a normal weight but believed my life would be better as soon as I lost 10 pounds or changed my hair. It took a lot of work (and still is) to recognize that being enough comes from within, not outside validation.
The backlash against diet culture is here. It makes me happy to see intuitive eating and self care beginning to replace diet ads. Intuitive eating isn’t about how much, or when, or how you eat, but rather trusting your body’s cues and rejecting the dogmatic ideas about health being predicated on your weight. I don’t have all the answers to help you understand you are everything you need, but I can tell you that beauty is an optional goal (just think about that) and not a viable measurement of your worth or contribution to the world.
So, once again: if you want a bikini body instantly, slap on a bikini and hit the pool or the beach.
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