Since working in the field of eating disorders I have become more aware of the extent that specific body shapes and sizes are idolised or stigmatised by society.
Idolisation: adoring, admiring, glorifying or worshipping; making a favourable judgement
Stigmatisation: negative judgment or shaming of an individual or group
I often hear weight adoration (idolisation) and shaming (stigmatisation) in everyday comments that people make such as “her body is ah-mazing” referring to a model in a magazine, or “she doesn’t need that ice cream” referring to someone whose body does not conform to society’s ideally slim physique.
Our society tends to hold the opinion that one’s body shape and size is:
a) a choice, and
b) a reflection of one’s worth
THIS IS SO FAR FROM THE TRUTH!
As a result of this adoration (idealisation) and shaming (stigmatisation) there is an enormous pressure felt by many of us to attempt to be within a certain weight range. Society seems to hold a belief that one’s BMI is a choice (MYTH!) and that BMI is a reflection of an individual’s health (which is a much too simplistic view of health and therefore also a MYTH!).
The Pressure to Diet
The pressure felt by individuals to be a certain weight and in turn gain acceptance within themselves and from society often results in attempts to change their body shape/weight through dieting and excessive exercise.
Too often in our culture we hear people talk about how they can’t eat a particular food because it has “too much sugar”, or “too many carbs”. It is also not uncommon to hear about the most recent gym challenge. The pressure we feel to conform, and the content of these discussions is often referred to as “diet culture”.
So often in my clinical work I meet people who have tried multiple diets and exercise routines. Sometimes these diets seem to “work” initially, however, they then commonly backfire and behaviours such as binge eating begin to occur. This, ultimately, in the long-term, leads to weight gain.
So, what can we do as an alternative to the diet culture?
How do we reduce shape and weight stigma? How can we live healthier, happier lives?
Tip 1. Consider Health Holistically
Health is so much more than our body weight or shape! According to the World Health Organisation health includes physical, mental, and social wellbeing.
Tip 2. Eat Intuitively
Eat according to your hunger & satiety cues, nutrition, and pleasure as opposed to strict eating plans aimed at weight loss.
Tip 3. Engage in Physical Activity that is Enjoyable
Some ideas might be going for a walk with a friend, throwing a ball at the beach, gardening, swimming for leisure, yoga, playing golf, dancing, or stand up paddle boarding. The ideas are endless! The point is to find something that suits you. When you find something you enjoy doing, you are much more likely to be motivated to participate.
Tip 4. Appreciate Your Body for its Function
Cultivate gratitude for what your body can do as opposed to how well it matches society’s thin ideal in appearance.
Tip 5. Celebrate Diversity
Accept that people come in all different shapes and sizes and that this is something to celebrate. Try not to engage in judgmental conversation about people’s shape and weight as these conversations maintain shape & weight stigma.
It can be challenging to give up diet culture, however, my experience of working with clients suggests it is also a very freeing experience. An experience in which you learn to prioritise your self-care and meet the needs of your body.
If you think this approach would be beneficial to you or someone you know please contact The Talbot Centre for more information.
Deborah Etienne-Ward is a Clinical Psychology Registrar who has a passion for assisting people to develop a healthy and balanced relationship with food and exercise.