If you ask a group of experts, “Where does diet culture come from?” you could get a number of different answers.
One might look at the rise of gendered body ideals following World War II - when women were pressured to go back into the home after they’d had a taste of autonomy while men were overseas - and say: the answer is sexism.
Another might look at the history of food availability - noting that larger bodies are in vogue when food is scarce - and say: the answer is classism.
Yet another might look to the period of slavery - when white slavers projected narratives of immorality and greed onto black bodies, which were shaped differently than European bodies, in order to justify their own wrongdoing - and say: the answer is racism.
None of these answers are wrong. There is often no singular reason that we have the cultural norms that we do. Oppression emerges over time, building on all of the unresolved parts of people and cultures. Answering “Where does diet culture come from” requires that we remain intersectional, curious and ready to be surprised.
Today we’ll be talking about the racial part of the diet culture equation.
Here’s a question: Is it possible that fatphobia is as much about race as it is about Western notions of health?
Dr. Sabrina Strings, in her book Fearing the Black Body: the Racial Origins of Fatphobia, writes:
Because fatness and Blackness - and by extension, thinness and elite Whiteness - have become connected through racist science, diet culture enlists us in an endeavor with racist roots, even if we don’t realize it and even if that isn’t our intention. When we allow our bodies to just be whatever size they happen to be, we interrupt the cycle of trying to distance ourselves from bodies that have been historically disparaged - whether they be Black bodies or fat bodies or both.
When we question diet culture - or we decide to “drop out” of diet culture - we interrupt these racist mechanics and ideologies.
We leave room for the possibility that another way of engaging with bodies - with people - is possible. We refuse to accept that some bodies are just “good” and others are just “bad.” We put a stone on the path toward the celebration of all bodies. We create room for the repair of something pretty awful that has been centuries in the making. All of this is very, very powerful!
This is all a lot to think about. As you do, be patient and compassionate with yourself. No one asked to be enlisted into horrible racist things. Most of us don’t want to be part of them. See how - or if - these ideas land when you take self-judgment out of the picture.
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+ Take a look at my books: You Have the Right to Remain Fat (I narrated the audiobook), The Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color, Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion