Fat Phobia and Diet Culture 

By Dania Sheikh 

THE pandemic and the subsequent lockdown that was imposed altered our lives in several ways.As the covid cases surged, stringent lockdowns were imposed across the world, and quarantine became the new necessity. It was an unprecedented event and people took to several new activities and hobbies to keep themselves engaged.Social media was flooded with aesthetic pictures of dalogona coffee and quarantine bakes.There was an increase in social media consumption as people had a lot of free time on their hands. Memes were circulated to get through the monotony that was brought about by the lockdown and one particular meme which caught everyone’s attention was the ‘Barbie charbie’ meme, it mockingly implied how our appearances would drastically change because of all the quarantine cooking, baking and immobility during the lockdown. While such memes might seem harmless but they are extremely problematic and can have grave repercussions on our physical and mental health. These memes perpetuate fatphobia and make us believe that weight gain is something that we must dread.

While these memes are directed towards everyone regardless of their age and gender but women especially are targeted. Women suffer this double jeopardy of living in a patriarchal and capitalistic society.

From quite early on in their lives women are indoctrinated with the socially constructed notions of beauty and are told that it is a prerequisite for a happy life. Their worth is reduced to how they look, they are made to derive their confidence from their looks and their physique. Young girls begin to idealize the barbies they play with, the female actors they see on television, and the mannequins they see in stores.

Exposure to such unrealistic and homogenous standards of beauty in the formative years of children has grave repercussions for their physical and mental well-being. Studies have shown that children who are not confident about their physical appearances lag behind their peers in academics and extra circular activities. A recent study reveals  that 40-60% of elementary school-aged girls are dissatisfied with their weight and anxious about putting on weight.

Capitalism takes advantage of these insecurities that are engendered especially among girls. Brands capitalize on this dissatisfaction and exploit our sentiments to expand their markets and aggrandize their profit. They come up with myriad products ranging from fat loss pills to fairness creams which only seem to validate these distorted notions of beauty and exacerbates the existing insecurities.

‘Fat-phobia is defined as the ‘irrational fear of, aversion to or discrimination against, obesity or people with obesity. Fat-phobia establishes the need for diet culture, and the consequences this unhealthy obsession with diet culture has are frightening. It ruins a person’s relationship with one’s body and with food. Eating disorders like Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, and binge eating are at an all-time high. Anorexia Nervosa mortality rate supersedes that of depression or any other psychiatric illness. Over the years these habits get so solidified that it becomes extremely difficult to rectify these habits, and these eating disorders if left untreated lead to suicides, deaths due to malnutrition, and cardiovascular diseases. A study reveals that every 62 minutes someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder. It is, therefore, necessary to dismantle these toxic and misleading notions of what constitutes health and beauty.

The US weight loss market is worth a whopping $72 billion, diet culture is so well marketed that it clouds our rationality and demands to be followed. People feel obligated to make these ‘unhealthy healthy’ choices.

The pandemic has exacerbated fat-phobia and the obsession with clean eating. There is an urgent need to apprise people about what being healthy means, healthy is not a size, and more importantly healthy looks different on different bodies, it cannot be gauged by a weighing scale. The recent body positivity movements by plus-size models have been successful in helping people to embrace their bodies and to overcome their fears of eating.

Eating disorders are lethal, they can wreak a person’s physical and mental health and are emotionally draining, if not taken into account and not given the attention it requires, it could become the next epidemic. Abandoning a diet culture should not translate into consuming inordinate amounts of junk and processed food either, healthy choices are choices that make you energetic and enable you to live a happier life.

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