We live in a diet culture. We can see it in the way that weight loss is advertised as a goal, as something we should all be striving for. We can see it in the way that plus size or curvy models are a rarity, praised for not fitting the mould, all while often times not even being particularly bigger than ‘regular’ models, and are likely definitely still thinner than the average woman. We can see it in the way that magazines aimed at women (I’m looking at you, Cosmo) can have an article about self love or the dangers of eating disorders, but on the next page tell you how to get a beach body by following an often dangerously calorie deficient diet plan and exercising everyday. We can see it when celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence call themselves fat by Hollywood’s standards.
While all this is difficult to deal with and slog through, it is exceptionally more so when recovering from a restrictive eating disorder. The message we get from society is that we aren’t enough as we are – we must be prettier and above all, thinner, in order to be beautiful, worthy, accepted. This is the subconscious message society, advertising and the media sends us. It is also what the voice of your eating disorder screams in your head every day. This means that while you’re trying to silence the voice in your head telling you that you’re not good enough, you’re still bombarded with that message any time you read a magazine, watch TV, use the internet.
We live in a diet culture – one which plays ads for Xls medical on TV and promotes ‘weight loss tea’ outside health shops (the only weight you lose while drinking this tea is water weight from the serious diarrhea it causes). One in which weight loss conversations are part of daily chit chat. One in which a mayor can reassure the women candidates running for general election that the door to door campaigning will be only wonderful for their figures. One which you cannot escape while still engaging in society. Recovery shouldn’t have to mean living under a rock.
Becoming self aware and media literate is an important step in recovering from an eating disorder. You have to learn that what you see isn’t true, that you are being sold something. That your self consciousness, your feelings of inadequacy, are worth something to the diet industry. If we actually felt good about ourselves, it wouldn’t have the stronghold it does today. If the hundreds of diets actually worked, if any single one of them actually worked, people wouldn’t still “need” to diet. And if we didn’t learn from an early age to think that we have to be and look a certain way to be accepted or loved or worthy, we wouldn’t think ourselves not good enough or unlovable if we don’t fit in with what we see in popular culture – the predominately white, young, thin and typical beauty that is inescapable.
Part of recovery is letting your body be, letting it just exist and being thankful for all the wonderful things it can do. And that is exceptionally difficult when you’re constantly seeing the message, both explicitly and implicitly, that your body isn’t enough until it’s less.
Bodywhys is Ireland’s eating disorder association. There are many ways to get in touch with them if you need to talk to somebody – via email, phone, or weekly online support groups.