Content Warning: Material in this article may be harmful or triggering to some people. Mentions of eating disorders, body harm, etc.
Diets shouldn’t be advertised as one-size-fits-all. That mantra doesn’t even work for clothes, let alone food. Diet culture isn’t anything new, it has existed for decades. These ideas prioritize thinness and deprivation of certain foods to obtain the so-called perfect body shape. The word diet refers to the total amount of food and water consumed by a person, not cutting out food.
The culture of avoiding certain foods isn’t just physically harmful but also creates negative mindsets around eating in general. Not only do many of the trends and diets that are promoted deprive people of proper nutrients, but they can also be a source of stress and anxiety.
Sadly, these diets can often lead to people developing eating disorders and it is these unrealistic standards that have been set for people that have led to a terrifying statistic.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders,“...9% of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime."
It should be noted that women or young girls are not the only ones included in statistics like this; nearly 10 million males will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. While each circumstance is very different for anybody that struggles with weight, body image, body dysmorphia and their relationship with food, a lot can be explained by the toxic and unrealistic beauty standards that all bodies are set to, both by the media and society as a whole.
The idea of a perfect body isn’t a new trend. It has been around for decades and has been advertised in advertisements, magazines and on social media. The early to mid-1800s have perhaps the most extreme examples from history. During the Victorian era, a method called tightlacing was introduced. This term describes tightening a corset so tight over time that it shrinks a woman's waist to be smaller than its natural size. In some cases, women used this method to trim down 17 inches. In these cases, the rib cage often became deformed and rearranged organs in the attempt to achieve an unnatural and impossible body shape that caused extreme harm. Sadly, this wouldn’t be the last of the insane methods people went through to adhere to society’s idea of a perfect body.
Flappers are arguably one of the most iconic groups from an era that is often overly romanticized. In the 1920s, women and young girls alike wanted to look like the thin party girls printed in almost every magazine in the country. Thankfully, this era left corsets and tightlacing behind, but Hollywood and media still promote a standard of thinness. Many women and young girls were either following a diet of celery, tomatoes and lettuce or followed the Hollywood 18-Day Diet, a diet that seems to have been the predecessor to many of today’s fad diets. It is extremely restrictive and only allows 600 to 700 calories a day. It’s recommended that on average women eat 2,000 calories a day. Additionally, as soon as you got off the diet and began eating normally, you’d gain all that weight back, making it incredibly harmful to the body.
Beauty standards from then until now, for the most part, remain the same. For men, the demand for a sculpted, large muscular build became one that many cannot achieve. Men should not feel pressured to change their bodies. Women are constantly pressured to become thinner in the same way. As a woman, it feels as if the weight you lose is never enough. The standard keeps getting thinner and the pressure keeps getting worse. It is bad enough that our society sexualizes women so early on and in such abundance. Diet culture isn’t seeking to provide people with a healthier lifestyle or even educate people on nutrition and how to find the right routine for them. Instead, it promises social acceptance if they starve themselves. A striking amount of people have eating disorders and it’s no wonder how much pressure continues to happen. Harmful trends and diets keep coming when they should be something we leave in the past.
Instead of promising people a one-size-fits-all diet, the culture around diets should be focused on education. Diet culture should educate people on how to eat healthier, teach them how to find a routine that works for their lifestyle and show people that different body types are OK. If you feel miserable or sick while on a diet, or in an attempt to be healthy, something is wrong.
Society needs to stop shaming people for their bodies. It’s hard enough to fit in without creating a standard that often breaks the self-confidence of so many young people. Toxic diet culture and the peer pressure connected to it need to end. There is nothing wrong with wanting to become healthier or wanting to eat right, but it has to be done in a safe manner.
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