Whether you know it or not, you might be a victim to diet culture

How often do you see a magazine or advertisement that says something like, “Get sexy with these 10 fat-burning exercises,” “Get back your bikini body,” or “It’s time to get slimmer, fitter, and sexier!” The magazine cover below may say "ditch the diet," but it also says "7-day slim down"—sounds like a diet to me.

Diet culture is everywhere: social media platforms, magazines, print and web publications, the words that we say, the screens that we look at—and yet it’s invisible. Diet culture is so present in the developed world that it’s thought of as the "norm" or just the way that things are. Even worse, because diet culture is around us all of the time, we don't even realize that it's there in the first place.

Being a relatively new concept, it's hard to find a concrete definition for diet culture. To me, it's the overt presence and subsequent invisibility of the behaviour, ideas, and customs that make changing the body, whether that’s through food, exercise, or mentality, a moral obligation.

Through media, skinny is seen as good, and fat is deemed bad. I've never seen a front cover (of anything) that says, "Love the skin you're in" without adding "Try this detox and drop those last few pounds." It's more than clear that diet culture equates a certain body type or “look” with health, beauty, happiness, and success. 

Diet culture also makes the act of changing one’s body look like the central goal in a woman’s life. The amount of times I’ve seen an article about Kim Kardashian’s body or diet is astronomical. 

Media should stop focusing on the way Kim's body looks, as if attempting to lose weight is her only goal in life right now. Rather, there should be more focus on the fact that Kim is a successful businesswoman and mother of two, all while simultaneously handling major fame.

It isn't just targeted at celebrities, either. Let's take a look at Women's Health. When I enter their website, the subscription pop-up box says “Get Hot & Sexy.” This implies that the woman in front of the screen isn't already hot and sexy, and needs a magazine to teach her to acquire that "desirable" look.

Unfortunately, the importance that diet culture places on women’s bodies manages to erase the woman behind her appearance, only seeing her as a vessel for an (eventually) beautiful body. In reality, we don't need to do anything to our bodies to be good people because we're more than just bodies.

Diet culture also constructs exercise mainly as a means of improving the body—particularly making it smaller—rather than a way to help you feel good inside the body that you already have.

coffee, tea, beer
Photo courtesy of tumblr.com
Diet culture turns a lot of conversations into ones about food—what you ate, when you ate it, and why you ate it—as if there has to be a justification for eating certain things. Thinking and talking about food all of the time is a result of diet culture making us think that in order to be healthy and good-looking, we have to follow a set of specific rules.

I truly think that diet culture is an enormous contributor to the body image and self-esteem issues that many people experience on a daily basis. Although I don't think that we'll ever be able to fully eradicate diet culture, I think there are productive ways to challenge it and stop letting it control our thoughts and actions.

Depending on your past experiences, the prevalence of diet culture may not be as obvious to you. Nevertheless, I challenge you to try and notice it around you. If we're able to notice and not just see diet culture, then we can begin to deconstruct it and try our best not to reproduce it. If consumers reproduce diet culture by praising and sharing it, then what's stopping popular media from creating it?

A photo posted by Jessica (@thinspireteens) on

Unfollow people on social media that make you feel bad about your food choices or your body, talk less about what and why you're eatingdelete fitness apps, and reduce negative self-talk. Derive value and pride from the characteristics that are invisible to the naked eye, not just the way you look on the outside. It won't be easy, but breaking down diet culture starts with the people on the receiving end of this damaging epidemic: us.