When was the last time you heard anyone admit they were on a diet? A while ago, right? Like, years and years.
This is because the diet is in decline – the word, not the action, mind. Choosing to deliberately lose weight is as prevalent as ever but you’d be hard pushed to find anyone calling it a diet.
The word feels passé, evoking images of cottage cheese, cabbage soup and calorie counting – emblems of deprivation that fly in the face of today’s burgeoning body-positivity movement.
We can wax lyrical about nutrition, intermittent fasting and healthy eating. But we don’t diet.
Even Weight Watchers rebranded to WW, having got the memo that ‘wellness’ is
the acceptable face of restricted eating.
‘I always give it the big ’un about being body positive and really into being healthy but the truth is, part of me will always covet a thigh gap,’ says Clare, 36, who works in marketing, lives in north London and is married with a baby daughter.
‘I can only admit I feel this way to my best friend and my husband. I think people would feel sorry for me if I admitted out loud I was worried about gaining weight. I think the younger women in my life – I have lots of cousins in their twenties – would judge me.’
Clare is one of many who grew up believing she had to be thin to be accepted, beautiful and desirable.
‘It’s a miracle anyone can like their body when you think about the culture we grew up in but even the culture now,’ says Molly Forbes, body confidence campaigner and author of Body Happy Kids.
Body positivity is mainstream: the hashtag has some nine million Instagram followers. There is greater body diversity in advertising: the plus-size market is expected to be worth £9billion this year. This pushes back on society’s long-held, largely impossible beauty standards, hence the banishing of ‘diet’.
When larger celebrities lose weight, they are often branded traitors by keyboard warriors. Lizzo and Adele both received backlashes for having autonomy over how their bodies look, as if they aren’t allowed to stray from the status of being unofficial poster people for ‘fat’.
Many people battle a feeling that if you don’t love how you look, you somehow fail at body positivity.
‘I absolutely believe in body autonomy,’ says Forbes. ‘People should be allowed to do what they’d like with their own body.’
Forbes doesn’t believe this should come at the cost of promoting anti-fat bias or creating triggering environments. ‘The way we talk about our own bodies really impacts the way other people feel about their bodies,’ she adds.
Carolina Mountford is one of many healthcare experts who discourage commentary on weight loss, even if what is said is intended as a compliment.
‘We may unwittingly be complimenting someone who is torturing themselves over exercise or battling an eating disorder, and thereby encouraging the destructive thought and behaviour patterns,’ she says. ‘It sends the message that thinner is better.
‘We would never say to someone, “Oh, you’ve put on weight,” so by praising
the weight loss, we are perpetuating the already very damaging notion that our worth or value is linked to our appearance.’
Finding the balance between sensitivity and self-censorship is not easy, especially when language shape shifts.
We can keep banishing words but change will come when we collectively tackle a culture that makes it hard for us to truly like our bodies.
Further reading: Body image bibles
Being You: The Body Image Book For Boys by Charlotte Markey, Daniel Hart and Douglas N Zacher
Aimed at teenage boys, this is filled with insightful answers to some of the questions that concern them most.
Intact: A Defence Of The Unmodified Body by Clare Chambers
A beautifully written and thoughtful push back against all the people and powers that have made us, as a society, feel that our bodies need to be altered.
Body Happy Kids by Molly Forbes
A practical guide for parents to help children learn to love and respect their bodies, this draws on the author’s experience and the help of experts to make sense of confusing health advice.
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