Tag Archives: diet industrial complex

Body Shaming Is Abuse

drawing of women with different bodies; banner says Health is SelfLove

Laurie and Debbie say:

Sarah Miller writes about her struggles with her body in a New York Times article called “The Diet Industrial Complex Got Me and It Will Never Let Me Go.” She doesn’t say how old she was when she dieted seriously for the first time, but she tells a very familiar story:

Every person I talked to was now two people, the one who was nice to me because I was thin, and the person who had been mean to me when I was fat. I was also two people: the fat person who felt like everyone was better than me, and who was so scared to walk across a room, or even stand up, and now, the thin person, who did not know how to manage the exhilaration of suddenly not feeling that way, and of sometimes even feeling superior to people.

All “successful” dieters know this feeling. Before even getting there, Miller recites a litany of ways people were cruel to her, and ways the cruelty continued even after she “felt thin.” The word she never uses, even when she is describing a long continuum of completely normalized viciousness is “abuse.” Yet, clearly, she not only was abused, she did what so many abused people do: she internalized the abuser.

Then the movement she calls “body positivity” came along:

Suddenly, about a decade ago, when I started to notice that fat women were a) calling themselves fat, with pride, and b) walking down the streets of our nation’s great cities nonchalantly wearing tight or revealing clothing with a general air of, “yeah I will wear this and I will wear whatever I want, and I am hot, too, I will be hot forever, long after you have all died,” I thought to myself, Oh my God WHAT? The solution is not … the diet?

I started seeing fat, beautiful models and actresses in catalogs, and on television shows. I would like to have seen more, but I was pleased to see them at all. I was and remain in awe of their confident beauty. I feel tenderness for them as well, for what they endured, and still endure, to achieve it. I sometimes choke up with love for them, and for the idea of how I could have lived if I had allowed myself to just weigh what I weighed.

So what kept her from doing just that, allowing herself to just weigh what she weighs? She certainly sounds like she is — extremely understandably — far less worried about how much she weighs than she is about being the target of mean people’s nasty comments. To weigh what she weighs, to stop going to Weight Watchers, to inhabit her own body, would be to say “I am fine as I am and if you are mean to me about how I am, the person who should be ashamed of themselves is you.”

But she has no support to go there, because “body positivity,” however admirable the original idea may have been, has been taken over by the advertising industry, the “beauty” industry and, to use her own words, the diet-industrial complex. Those groups, of course, cannot in any way encourage you to be fine as you are: you always need to be buying something, striving toward something, needing something. And since what she needs is reassurance, peace of mind, and real self-acceptance, she’s on a path that constantly moves her away from her real needs.

Worse, she has let the drumbeat of constant reiterative criticism convince her that she must stay on that path:

Even if by some miracle I were to accept being not thin, as I have many times — for five or 10 minutes or three whole days like when I finished Lindy West’s excellent memoir, “Shrill,” and naïvely thought I had finally been cured of my sickness — I would remain the sort of person destined for re-infection.

That person is always prepared for contempt from men who don’t find her physically attractive, and has been on high alert to general woman hatred since she was 4. (Honestly, I pity the women who are not.) At any rate, I’m 50 and I am way too scared of the world to stop dieting.

What is there to “pity” about women who are not on high alert to general woman hatred? Does she mean that it’s a bad thing to walk through the world without knowing who hates you? (If so, we agree.) Or does she mean that you have to spend your life trying to get them not to hate you, so you can feel okay about yourself? (If so, that’s really awful.)

She isn’t asking for advice, and she doesn’t seem to have any hope. She’s comfortable saying that her entire generation (she is 50) cannot be any happier in their bodies, or less attuned to outside virulence than they currently are. Even after having read Lindy West (and presumably others), she does not seem to realize that there are paths outside the mainstream narrative: there are therapists who will actually help you learn how to reduce the impact of haters in your life; there are support groups who will offer a corrective to the voices you avoid by repeating the things you need to hear; there are friends who not only can love you as you are, but can model blocking your ears to hatred.

Sarah Miller, you are not beyond hope. And don’t write off your age group.

Follow Debbie on Twitter.