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Eating Disorders Week 2021
Posted by SANE
5th Mar 2021

This year eating disorders awareness week falls a week after Boris Johnson laid out his roadmap out of lockdown. This provides the perfect reminder that covid restrictions do not need to be replaced by diet restrictions. 

The latest government announcement has felt synonymous with a pressure to emerge out of lockdown having lost weight. Not only does June 21st pinpoint a time when life may regain a semblance of normality, it has also become a goal post for losing weight. The current lockdown climate is the perfect breeding ground for diet culture. Weight loss and body-shaming advertisements ramp up as summer approaches in any given year. But with the added dimension of a year locked down, characterised by lack of movement and mobility, and the upcoming opening of the world, the pressure to look ‘the part’ has increased. We are now striving for a ‘post-lockdown body’, not just a ‘beach body’. 

I am all for laughter, in fact it is more important now than ever, but not when it is at the expense of a person’s self-esteem and mental health. You may have seen the recent posts circulating social media which glorify restrictive eating and shame weight gain. One that comes to mind depicts a plate full of ice, with the caption underneath, “my diet between now and the 21st June”. Another one details weekly weight loss targets for the next 17 weeks. This is mainstream social media, and it is highly dangerous considering we live in a society where young girls are more afraid of ‘getting fat’ than they are of cancer, war, or losing their parents. A harrowing finding, revealed by Jes Baker in her TED talk ‘Change your world, not your body’, which emphasises the magnitude of the problem at hand. These messages contribute to a culture which glorifies weight loss and idealises the smaller body type. It perpetuates the message that a person is worthy of acceptance and visibility if, and only if, they meet society’s standard of body size. Which is absolutely not true. It is, however, diet culture’s way of making people feel inadequate, so that they can profit of the solutions they sell you to the problems they create. 

Diet culture is a system within society which values weight, shape, and size over physical and mental health. Its definition of health is synonymous with weight - when you lose weight (by any means necessary), you will be healthier – and happier. This isn’t necessarily true. Diet culture has a powerfully dangerous impact on our belief system surrounding weight and body image. As Naomi Wolf writes, ‘society’s conscious is fast asleep’, as the $60 billion diet industry continues to benefit off lowering the self-esteems of vulnerable, and impressionable, people. It’s a modern-day tragedy, which has devastating impacts: anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. Megan Jayne Crabbe writes in her book, Body Positive Power, that “none of us asked to live in a world that sells starvation in a million different ways and then ignores the cries of the ones who learned the lesson too well”. So, I want to be a voice which distils the fickle notes of diet culture, to tell you that you don’t need to lose weight to see your friends and family on June 21st. They will not care how much of you there is to hug, they will only care that you are there to hug.

I haven’t weighed myself for years. But I know that I have gained weight during the last year. My clothes are tighter, and my body is squishier. Does it bother me? Sometimes, as I also grew up exposed to society’s beauty standards. But I know that I am not going to fixate my time and energy on losing weight and I’m sure as hell not going to beat myself up about it. I have far too many things on my mind, and frankly life is too short. When I can walk to work again and enjoy a swim, the weight may well go, but it may also stay, and I am at peace with either. Weight gain is weight gain, it doesn’t define your worth and it certainly does not mean you’ve failed. Like flowers which grow and wilt, and tides which go in and out, your weight will go up and down – especially in times of crisis. Be compassionate to yourself and your body, it has carried you through a difficult year, and it deserves to be celebrated, not punished.

 

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