The Diet-Shaming Dilemma
The Diet-Shaming Dilemma
“That’s so unhealthy.”
“You should eat more!”
“Counting calories is wrong.”
I doubt anyone has never heard at least one of the phrases (or variations of them) listed above, whether directed towards themselves or said to someone else. I wager we’re all ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’ of such diet-shaming, usually directed at women.
In the current era of skinny as the ideal body type, larger individuals who don’t fit the ideal, and their dietary habits, are stigmatized. We are familiar with the term ‘fat-shaming’ and it’s understood to be an unacceptable behavior. It’s a social atrocity to call one ‘fat’, comment on one’s larger size, or call one out on ‘unhealthy’ eating habits: “You’re drinking 500 calories with that milkshake.” Whatever health implications that milkshake has, it’s taboo to address it, lest one is labeled a ‘fat-shamer’.
‘Skinny-shaming’ has also become an increasingly pressing issue. Although fitting the ideal, some skinny individuals can be criticized for their bodies, accused of having disordered eating patterns as a cause of their body shape, an offensive occurrence to the mental health community. Skinny individuals, though not systematically shamed for their bodies as often or severely as larger individuals, face open off-handed comments on their dietary habits, particularly by well-intentioned friends or family: “Why don’t you eat more? You can afford to,” with a teasing pinch on the arm.
Fitness is ‘in’. Attitudes towards certain bodies is different in this case. There’s fit to be skinny, then there’s fit to be ‘big’ (as in, muscular). Fitness to lose weight (in a healthy way) tends to be accepted with admiration until one mentions calorie-counting. Counting calories or macronutrients tends to be perceived as pathological restriction. Fitness becomes perceived as unhealthy in that regard. I’ve grown up experiencing skinny-shaming comments, but more recently, I’ve been facing ‘fit-shaming’. My parents scolded my macronutrient tracking spreadsheet: “You shouldn’t do any of that. It’s unnecessary, just eat.”
It goes without saying that I can’t represent even a fraction of people who have changed their dietary patterns. But I have personally fluctuated through periods of refusal to eat, binge-eating, calorie-counting to lose weight, and calorie-counting to gain weight. I don’t believe my varying eating patterns are pathological, but simply indicative of my emotional state and lifestyle at the time. I’ve been miserable and satisfied (and criticized) at every eating pattern.
Clearly, addressing eating patterns is a touchy subject. We generally want every individual to be happy and healthy, and both can happen with different eating patterns. Of course, we don’t want to endorse pathological eating patterns, but what about normal ones? If I’m a happy and functional 20-year-old at 85 pounds eating burgers and chocolate, am I better or worse off than a happy and functional 20-year-old at 150 pounds eating chicken salad and kale chips? And who is to be the judge of that?
Alicia is a 20 year old junior at The College of New Jersey, with a major in Psychology and anticipated minor in Women's and Gender Studies. In addition to Her Culture, she is a writer for The Prospect and secretary of TCNJ Barkada (Filipino club). Her interests include wearing black, playing Skyrim, appreciating her identity as Asian/Filipino, and knitting hats for stuffed animals. She values practical education over academic excellence and (as an introvert) the idea of speaking "only if it improves upon the silence" (Gandhi). Her goals include reaching self-actualization, building a successful and stable career, and benching her own body weight (85 lb).