Diet culture & ITS roots in racism

Below are the words of Ibram X. Kendi, an American author and historian best known for his anti-racist work. In his book, “How to be an antiracist”, he describes a phenomenon called dueling consciousness, the idea that we can feel like two separate identities, living in the same body, at the same time. Kendi uses the example of being black and American. Below are his words. These are not my words, I only made two little changes: I swapped white with thin; and black with fat. I encourage you to really take your time reading Kendi’s words below:

“The Thin body defines the American body. The Thin body segregates the Fat body from the American body. The Thin body instructs the Fat body to assimilate into the American body. The Thin body rejects the Fat body assimilating into the American body – and history and consciousness duel anew. The Fat body in turn experiences the same duel. The Fat body is instructed to become an American body. The American body is the Thin body. The Fat body strives to assimilate into the American body. The American body rejects the Fat body. The Fat body separates from the American body. The Fat body is instructed to assimilate in the American body – and history and consciousness duel anew.”

While the origin of these words is rooted in racist theory, we are here to explore how body shapes and sizes are discriminated against in our culture.

Have you ever felt “too big”? (The Thin body defines the American body) Pressured by peers, healthcare professionals, and/or the media to be thinner?  (The Thin body instructs the Fat body to assimilate into the American body) Maybe you started tracking your calories and exercising more in an attempt to lose weight? Perhaps more drastically, you’ve eliminated major food groups in an effort to mold into this thin American ideal. (The Fat body strives to assimilate into the American body) But was this enough? Did you lose enough weight? Did you ever feel fully accepted? (The American body rejects the Fat body. The Fat body separates from the American body)

Given unrealistic diet culture ideals, it is likely that many of you reading this post might have your very own lived experience with weight cycling (or at the very least, know someone who has had this experience). You tried a diet, lost weight, and enjoyed the honeymoon phase of acceptance. But did this last? Were you fully accepted? Maybe, but maybe not. Physiologically and biologically, our bodies are not meant to be deprived. Over time, restriction alters our metabolism. While we might lose weight in the short term, over time, rebound weight gain is likely. If you ever experienced this, you might have thought, “what is wrong with me? (psst…nothing) Why can’t I lose weight?” (psst… biology). Diet culture does not teach us about science and evolution, it teaches us that we’re never good enough. So you’re back to the drawing board, this time, you’ll do better. (The Fat body is instructed to assimilate in the American body). And so history and consciousness duel anew. 

It’s no secret that diet culture has strictly enforced the thin body as the acceptable American body. If you don’t believe me, do a quick search across popular women’s magazines: Vanity Fair, Allure, Women’s Health, Cosmo. What is the predominant image you see? A thin, tanned white woman, free from bumps, bulges or cellulite? Probably. Now that the seed has been planted, you may start to see this woman everywhere. On TV, in videos, social media and online branding. But does this woman look anything like you? The truth is, our media uses two platforms in creating this ideal American body: extremely thin female models (read: unattainable shapes for the vast majority of women), and digital manipulation (aka photoshop). According to marketing experts, many of us are exposed to anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day! So how many times are we seeing this woman? And are we internalizing and adopting her (diet culture’s) message as truth? Must we shrink our beautiful and benevolent bodies to fit the American ideal? And will society even accept this? Will we ever be good enough? (The Thin body rejects the Fat body assimilating into the American body).

Kendi writes one way to get free from racism is to emancipate ourselves from the dueling consciousness. With Intuitive Eating, this means rejecting diet culture. The thin, white body is no longer representative of the American body. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as “the American body”, only American bodies, with our very own as the most accurate representations of the beauty found in diverse body shapes and sizes. When we know better, we must do better. So lettuce (nerdy dietitian word choice) reject diet culture’s oppressive system and make this world a more inclusive place for all bodies. Bodies of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Let’s start this journey with our very own benevolent bodies.

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