Death to the Dichotomy

The New York Times Magazine recently featured an article “Losing it in the Anti-Dieting Age: The agonies of being overweight—or running a diet company—in a culture that likes to pretend it cares about health, not size”. A beloved person we know through Be Nourished sent it to us and simply said:  “so many feelings”. 

Truth? We didn’t want to read it. We don’t even really want to write about it.  We are sick of watered down non-diet perspectives. Diet culture always seems to block our view of the entire terrain bruised by this conversation.

The author tries though. She is really in this. She says, “Weight isn’t neutral. A woman’s body isn’t neutral. A woman’s body is everyone’s business but her own. Even in our attempts to free one another, we were still trying to tell one another what to want and what to do. It is terrible to tell people to try to be thinner; it is also terrible to tell them that wanting to lose weight is hopeless and wrong.”

The hustling we do in response to body shame isn’t about losing it or controlling it, nor is it diet or anti-diet. It’s about having access to more than this dichotomous conversation.

We are not at a point in our collective consciousness where we can de-stigmatize our own bodies. Even with weight loss. This is especially relevant for those of us who are female, non-gender conforming, fat, etc. We can possibly change the size of our bodies and gain thin privilege. This does not solve the hustle.

We cannot get out of the fact that we have ringside seats to nearly constant fatphobia and we live in reaction to that. When Oprah, who is interviewed in this article, names her conditions for her own body acceptance we can clearly see that dieting has not solved any of this. The lethality of eating disorders has not deterred us. Body positivity divorced from bonafide fat acceptance has only brought us so far. We are flailing.

We are more accustomed to the process of making ourselves pay. We are attached to the illogical assertion that comfort, ease and health are more possible via assimilation than opening to the things we cannot know without letting go. What might those be? For instance, we can safely assume that oppression has a negative impact on health. Why aren’t we willing to hang our hats on the hope that shame resilience and acceptance will have the opposite impact?

It makes sense that few of us can find a way to really let go of weight obsession. We’ve been told controlling our weight is our responsibility since the early years of our lives. We’ve been sold this in the same culture asserting that everyone can be a millionaire or president, as long as you play your cards right. We are accustomed to blindly leaving out the complexity and trading it for an illusion that promotes our hustle for more—and for worthiness. These illusions numb us to obvious suffering, inequities, and disparities that truly plague the wellness of our culture.

To dismantle diet culture, we tell the truth about the ill effects of dieting and restrained eating. We do this to counter-balance the seductive, but harmful, rhetoric that renders the choice to chronically diet as somehow benign.

Sonya Renee Taylor, in a recent interview for the Queer Body Love series stated, “Radical self-love is not an individual experience. It’s an interdependent experience.” When we move in this direction, others have permission to move too. When we move in the opposite direction, we continue to center prescriptive and conditional love offered up by industries funded by fatphobia as the norm.

Body liberation (all bodies) is a non-negotiable for collective body sovereignty. If we continue to leave out the needs of the most marginalized among us, and we plow forward with dieting, weight loss and health(ism) talk because it’s our individual propensity, we are rejecting the lived, embodied experience of people who know this is a path to more fatphobia and displacement. 

No one is trying to take away your right to your own weight loss journey by naming the negative impact of dieting. But please, please, please understand that weight loss talk is never, never, never light or benign for others around you. It will almost always impact someone negatively. It doesn’t matter if it’s based in mindfulness or prescribed by a physician. It doesn’t matter if it’s Glennon or Oprah (in fact it’s worse). It has an impact on those with disordered eating (which is a lot of people given the culture we live in). It has an impact on those who are fat. It puts more money in the pocket of the dieting industry. Every. Single. Time.

At the end of the NYT article, the author describes sitting in her car watching people eat with what she assumes is ease. “All these people, I looked at them as if they were speaking Mandarin or discussing string theory, with their ease around their food and their ease around their bodies and their ability to live their lives without the doubt and self-loathing that brings me to my arthritic knees still. There’s no such thing as magic, Taffy. I shook my head at the impossibility of it all, and sitting here writing this, I still do.” 

The possibility may truly live in the need to really FEEL the enormity of all of this in our lives. We don’t often truly FEEL the impact of all of this because we are too busy making a plan to deal with it instead. What if feeling into the complexity of this got us freer than internalizing it, or believing that peace or ease is impossible without weight change? Perhaps our collective vulnerability would lead to possibilities we can’t see when we remain mired in the impossibility? 

As the author concludes, we can’t make this tidy. Our individual cycles of self-neglect are only mirrors of what is offered up by the culture, collectively and systemically.

Might this conversation be different if we hadn’t been taught to enter into it through the door of weight loss or health? What if we entered through the door of inequity, fatphobia and intersectionality?

What if we started from love?  Where would we be now?

Would we be freer? Would we feel “healthier”? Would we trust ourselves?

What if we just all aimed for being pro-truth? What if we let the illusion die?   

What if letting go of “losing it” created the space and freedom to study any other thing in the world (including yourself) with as much energy as has been devoted to your weight?

Could we free everyone?

Could we make acceptance unconditional?

Could we learn to trust bodies?

Would you hear your appetites?

Would you know your hungers?

Could your eyes look with love?

Could we let go of body blame?

Might we actually heal?

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