The Many Downfalls of Diet Culture
I want to start this by saying there is a distinct difference between trying to eat healthy and dieting. Eating healthy is trying to maximize your body’s potential by eating foods that will be of the greatest nutritional value, whereas dieting is seen as either trying to cut back on a certain food group (carbohydrates is a common one) or trying to cut back on general caloric intake.
Our media heavily pushes dieting, whether it be through the weight loss teas seen constantly on Instagram or the newest juice cleanse. These diets are never truly for the purpose of health, and instead they are marketed as a way to loose weight. Diets further push the cultural notion that one needs to be skinny in order to be beautiful and that thinness equates to health. This is completely false. We all have completely different body types, and that is actually what makes us beautiful. People are born thin, thick, freckled, tall, short, hairy, and sometimes with disabilities. People can have cellulite, tummy rolls, acne, excema, stretch marks, vitigo, or scars and STILL be beautiful despite being underrepresented in the media. Diet culture attempts to make everyone fit a mold that only under 5% of the populations naturally fits (“11 Facts About Body Image”). Our beauty can be found in our diversity, which is something that modern society desperately needs to learn.
Calories are not the devil. Humans need to get a certain amount of energy (the exact number varies depending on your body type and the amount of excercise you do) from food each day in order to function. I am constantly surrounded by people (mostly women and girls) saying how they need to “cut back on carbs” in order to get their “bikini body”. I’m not trying to exclude myself from this; I went through a period where I tried to avoid carbs like they were some sort of deadly insect. I can say, from firsthand experience, that people need carbohydrates in order to function at an optimal state. Without carbohydrates, I felt too weak to do schoolwork and I frequently got very close to passing out in hot yoga. Your health is infinitely more important than a thigh gap.
I know how hard it is to dispel diet culture; it is all around us. It is important to try and notice when you see diet culture in your own life, whether it be through media or other people, and try to question and fight it. It helps to try and see your body as a canvas and your “imperfection” as art. Your painting looks different from any other, and that is a wonderful thing. Try to eat what makes you feel good. If a salad is what will make you feel best, go for it, but you also don’t need to deprive yourself of the occasional ice cream cone. I am writing this as someone who is still learning to love her body. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am, but I still am not at full acceptance with myself. Loving each part of your body is sometimes that takes a very long time. Be patient with yourself. I believe in you.
“11 Facts About Body Image.” DoSomething.org , www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-body-image.
I have struggled with social anxiety for almost my whole life, and when I tell people this, they are always incredibly confused. I come off as a very outgoing person. I love to talk and I can be very loud, and these are not the hallmark characteristics of someone who struggles with social anxiety. According to the The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety can be defined as “intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation.” Social anxiety looks differently for everyone, and it is important to recognize the diversity that comes with this diagnosis. When my social anxiety was at its worst, I would have to have someone else order for me at restaurants because it was too uncomfortable for me. I had no problems with public speaking, but being in social groups or interacting with new people made me feel physically sick. I have worked in therapy for a long time to get better with my anxiety, and now it goes pretty much unnoticeable. I can order my food at restaurants, conduct interviews, and even talk on the phone (sometimes). My anxiety in group situations still remains, and that is likely because I have struggled with it since I was a toddler. I’ve learned to appear relaxed, but oftentimes, I am very nervous in social groups. I like to compensate by talking a lot, which also gives people the idea that I am completely fine. Individuals with social anxiety are often portrayed as people who refrain from talking and public speaking at all cost. Some people do fit this mold, which is completely okay, but others do not. Everyone’s anxiety shows up in unique ways and we all have different methods of coping with it. You deserve care, even if you don’t “seem” socially anxious to most.
“Social Anxiety Disorder.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, ADAA, adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder.
The Words You Say to Yourself
This is a poem I wrote about how it feels to live with learning differences. Modern society views learning differences as deficiencies rather than unique ways of thinking. Cognitive diversity should be celebrated because when empowered, people with learning differences are capable of amazing things.
Slow math groups,
six words a minute,
I never thought words
Had the power to shrink.
Had the ability to force me into thinking
That intelligence is speed.
That intelligence is the amount of bubbles you can fill in an hour
Or how well you can follow instructions.
I was the puzzle piece that didn’t fit
Poked and prodded
Squished into the box
“Take your medication!”
“Don’t be so ditzy!”
You won’t go anywhere with
An attention span of a goldfish.
And then came the yelling
When I would sit down to take exams
My shrieks rickoshayed
Across the corners of my mind
“What are you doing”
“All the other kids are done”
“What’s wrong with you?”
Is that who I am?
The kid who’s too slow?
The kid who drowns while the others swim?
The kid who never quite makes the mark
The kid who stumbles
Fragments get smaller
My voice gets weaker
Is there no room for a kid who wonders?
How long it takes to build structures of acceptance
That were never there to begin with.
But you lied
I had planets in my palms
Solar systems in my mind
Does my light offend you?
I am not ashamed anymore
I am slow because I notice
I will always smell the roses
Because my beauty comes in
Riding against the tide
I’m sorry you ever
believed you were nothing
You deserve empowerment
You deserve peace
You deserve to feel complete
You are not dumb
you never were dumb
Your mind is a garden teeming with wildflowers
it’s not your fault the others can’t see
Brings new ideas to the table
This is what I want you to see in yourself
In modern society, mental health is still something that is rarely talked about and those who suffer are often shamed. This is seen in celebrities with alarming frequency, with one of the biggest examples being Britney Spear’s mental breakdown in 2007. In order to make those who struggle with mental illness feel less alone and ashamed, it is important for people to start talking about mental health more openly, stop making suicide jokes, and for teachers and bosses to be more accepting to those with mental health issues.
Talking about mental health openly can be incredibly difficult, but even something as small as “oh, I’m actually meeting with my therapist after school” or “I'm worried about switching new meds; I hope everything goes smoothly!”. These short and casual comments can help depressed people feel like less of an outsider for taking meds or seeing a therapist. These comments can make people feel less alone.
Casual suicide jokes (i.e. “I have so much homework tonight I want to kill myself”) make people with histories of depression or suicidal thoughts feel inconceivably awful. These remarks may not have cruel intentions, but they can bring up incredibly dark memories and trauma for those struggling with depression. For too many people, suicidal thoughts are not a joke. People brave through weeks and months of sleepless nights and not feeling safe in their own body. Throwing suicide thoughts around as something to be laughed at is belittling the sometimes crippling struggle of depression and bringing up trauma that can be too much of a weight to bear.
Not only can mental health stigma be reduced among peers, but it can also be decreased by an increased acceptance from teachers and bosses. “Mental health days” should not be seen as a sign of weakness. Mental health leaves and mental health learning plans should become the norm. When one has the flu or mono, they are expected to take time off of work and school to get better, and mental health should be treated no differently.
Self care is arguably the most important thing I have learned from struggling with depression. Self care looks different for everyone, but the key to caring for yourself is to see yourself like a plant. Plants need sunshine, water, and love in order to grow, and so do people. Self care isn't always bubble baths and expensive lunches; sometimes, it's as simple as looking in the mirror and saying “You know what? I am capable and I am radiant”. Self care is listening to what your body and mind need in order to feel your personal best. Some examples of daily self care include:
-cutting toxic people out of your life
-lifting yourself up through positive affirmations (i.e. “I am worthy of love” , “I am beautiful”)
-watching your favorite movie/tv show
-surrounding yourself with people who love and support you unconditionally (even if the quantity of people is small, it's the quality that matters)
-prioritizing getting enough sleep
-listening to your favorite music
-allowing yourself to have treats (like ice cream!)
-reaching out to people
Self care varies greatly from person to person, but the ultimate value that self care promotes is that your well being is important. Finding a home within your body is a long process, but it is worth it in the end.