"I was a victim of diet culture, but I allowed myself to become a part of the problem"
It's January, but for the first time since I can remember, I'm not on a new year diet. And I'm not alone — there's a widespread and welcome pushback against the usual post-Christmas flagellation, buoyed by body positivity and a refusal to inflict any more misery on ourselves after the couple of years we've had.
The body positivity movement is nothing new of course, with coordinated movements toward body acceptance beginning as early as the '60s and ’70s. But it was once a niche battle, all but engulfed by a titanic wave of weight loss milkshakes and drowned out by the synthy pop of '80s workout videos. Recently it has made its way into the mainstream, as the pervasiveness of diet culture starts to wane and fatphobia is finally being called out.
Gen X and millennials grew up hating their bodies. I was born in 1980, so I sit on the cusp of both generations; a Xenial, if you will. Our mothers were on diets and in turn, so were we. It didn't matter if we were perfectly average — smaller was always better, bums were out and nothing tasted as good as skinny felt.
I spent way too many years on every conceivable diet. Some were 'successful' enough to make me not hate how I looked for short periods of time. Some were so outrageous I wonder what the hell I was thinking. None of them were necessary and I hate that I wasted so much time, headspace and money on something that just doesn't matter.
I cringe when I think about the fashion writing and television work I used to do. In the noughties, I presented early morning TV segments about dressing for your shape which instructed women (always women) how to hide "problem areas". Dresses were described as "slimming" and it was vital that everything "elongated the frame".
I'm sorry. I was a victim of diet culture, but I allowed myself to become a part of the problem.
I've seen a real and obvious shift since Gen Z came around. I often see confident, curvy, young women happily sporting the tank tops and cycling shorts I never dreamed of wearing, because I was programmed to think they were not for me. I, alongside Nathalie from Love Actually, was too "chubby". As a grown women, I realise that there was never anything wrong with my size, or anyone's size. With the help of fat activists, inclusive fashion trailblazers and society slowly copping on to itself, I can now state with enthusiasm — and the confidence my straight-size privilege affords me — that how my body looks doesn't matter. Big or small, I'm worthy and enough.
But do I really mean it?
Do I miss my pre-baby body and the clothes that it used to fit in to? I do.
Do I suddenly feel like I can wear anything? Am I celebrating my every 'lump and bump'? Nope and nope.
But am I determined to lose loads of weight? Also no.
The work now, as I see it, is about learning to accept and love myself as I am. It's a process and there's a hell of a lot of unlearning to do, but here's how I plan to try.
Switching the focus
As writer David Valdes recently said: "The problem is the emphasis on visuals above all else. To get out of that mindset, your first step is to focus on health, not looks, as the goal."
He goes on to say: "To be healthy, according to the World Health Organization, means a combination of three interconnected things: physical, mental, and social well-being. Measuring your actual health means examining how well you function in your own body and mind, and in your interactions with others. Can you complete all the physical tasks required by your life without injury or fatigue? Are you able to regulate your emotions? Are you maintaining relationships? If you can answer yes to all three, that means you’re pretty healthy."
I'm always the most grateful for my health when I've had a glimpse of what life would be like without it. The relief you feel when those tests you went for don't reveal any problems, or that illness you've been battling finally subsides, is often a sharp wakeup call. I need to remember, every day, that I'm one of the lucky ones. Am I really going to bitch and moan about having a few extra rolls when I'm able-bodied and able for anything?
By learning about myself
Diet Culture and the fashion industry are certainly, in broad strokes, responsible for how many of us see ourselves and our bodies. But we all have our own unique origin story for our body hang-ups. Eva Wiseman wrote in Vogue last year, "Body image, I think, is a particularly confusing conversation, both to have out loud, and to have with ourselves, inside the guts of the body we’re discussing. But what’s missing from this party is any real understanding or even acknowledgement of why so many of us have such violent relationships with our bodies to begin with.
"The reasons you hate your body may seem wild and crazy to me, but to you they are logical, and learned"
"The impact of this cognitive leap we’re encouraged to take, from then (sad, fat) to now (delighted, curvy) is that the responsibility for loving one’s body falls solely on the individual. The reasons you hate your body may seem wild and crazy to me, but to you they are logical, and learned, and undoubtedly entrenched in any number of the following: emotion, politics, the workplace, race, parents, sex, capitalism, the sizing at Zara, the media, mental health, class, porn, – feel free to tick as you read."
When these thoughts creep in, we must ask ourselves why we feel the need to alter our bodies. Where did this opinion come from? Who would it serve? And what would it really change? (I may need to have this tattooed on as a reminder.)
Curating my media feeds
The problem with the current narrative around bodies is that thin is still prioritised and pedestaled, and therefore it's often all we see. People of every body size deserve to see themselves in the media they consume. It's up to us to edit our social feeds, celebrate artists and content creators in bigger bodies and support fashion brands who are inclusive, and not just in a tokenistic way. There's no point putting pressure on media outlets to be more inclusive if we're not going to seek out diverse visuals and embrace them.
Seeing more women like me, who love and celebrate themselves, does wonders for my self-esteem. Search hashtags like #midsizefashionblogger, #size[your size]fashion, #plussizedresses or whatever feels like a good fit for you and follow and engage with the brands and creators you find.
"There's no point putting pressure on media outlets to be more inclusive if we're not going to seek out diverse visuals and embrace them."
It's not all about the body
Another great piece of advice from David Valdes is to forget the term body-positive altogether: "Celebrating bodies “of all shapes and sizes” can still lead us to the mirror for validation, when what we really should be doing is focusing not on how we appear, but how we feel. Swap out body positivity for self-positivity and focus on being the person you want your siblings to look up to."
Here's hoping this is the start of the end for diet culture and the body hatred it bestowed on generations of people. I certainly don't want to pass my toxic internal bias down to my son. The son that this body made, lest I forget. How could I stay mad at it?