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'Tis The Season To Dismantle Diet Culture
By Ghia Vitale
Here’s your annual reminder that it’s okay to enjoy food on the holidays. Also, keep your eyes on your own plate instead of shaming someone else for what’s on theirs. Food shaming, food policing, and fatphobia kill any kind of cheer the holidays have to offer.
Now that Christmas and Hannukah are upon us, grocery stores are packed with people buying holiday food. It’s a holiday tradition to celebrate the occasion with good food. But there’s a catch: During this time of year, diet culture makes it a point to shame people for indulging in food during their celebrations. With this increase in food comes an increase in food policing, food shaming, and fatphobia.
Here are some body liberation-related terms you should know for the new year: Food policing is the act of “policing” what someone else is eating. When you police someone’s food, you’re denying their bodily autonomy and agency while also assuming they don’t know what’s best for their bodies. It’s an insult any way you cut it, no matter how “concerned” you claim to be. Food shaming is when someone criticizes the food you’re eating, especially if it doesn’t meet their expectations of health.
“Should you be eating that?”
This is a fat-shaming comment that many fat people (myself included) have encountered before.
Here’s another example: One time during the holidays, I went to buy a candy bar for myself and my coworker commented that it would go straight to my hips. This is a classic example of how food shaming often includes fat shaming. Comments about how certain sugary treats “will totally give you diabetes” also fall into this category.
You see, food policing and food shaming are manifestations of diet culture. Diet culture itself is rooted in fatphobia. Fatphobia is the fear or dislike of fat people that leads to our oppression. People might claim to engage in food policing and food shaming because they’re “concerned,” but both actions are harmful and detrimental to the holiday spirit. And honestly, all of this negativity and insensitivity should have no place in a holiday context or any other context at all for that matter. If I want to eat Christmas cookies, that’s my own damn business. Whether you like it or not, I love my fat ass and I have the freedom to eat whatever I want. Not only are your unsolicited opinions on my fat body and food intake completely unneccessary, but they’re fatphobic and say far more about you than they do about me.
Exploring body positivity led me to fat liberation. Through fat liberationist books like You Have The Right To Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar and Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen, I learned about diet culture and how insidious it is. Diet culture exalts thinness as ideal and demonizes fatness, making it out to be as though being fat is the worst trait a human could have. Part of diet culture is the moralizing of health and food. Not only do many agents of diet culture see food through a “good/bad” dichotomy, but it also reframes health as something that makes someone inherently more moral than a person who’s health isn’t considered “good.” And quite frankly, this is all total bullshit.
In case you need to hear this, hear it is: Foods don’t have any inherent moral value. The food you eat doesn't make you "good" or "bad" because that's what your character does. What you eat isn’t a reflection of your morality. Furthermore, it’s okay to enjoy food during the holidays. Good food has been a part of holiday celebrations for centuries. Yes, food can be a tool of abuse, but it can also be a form of celebration and that's okay. No matter what diet gurus say, it’s perfectly normal to indulge in food during holiday celebrations. Nobody deserves to be subject to shaming for what they put on their plates.
To me, being body positive is about dismantling systems of oppression that affect people with marginalized bodies. Diet culture marginalizes people who aren’t thin. Sure, diet culture negatively affects people of all sizes, but fat people get the brunt of diet culture’s harm. After all, it’s diet culture that designates being fat as this awful, unforgivable thing that must be avoided at all costs. That’s why I believe any attempts to dismantle diet culture in your life is a step towards being more body positive. I've found that the more I rebel against diet culture, the more of a peaceful relationship I have with food.
For this reason, I advise you to spoil yourself on the holidays. Eat that extra piece of cake if you want it. If anyone subjects you to food policing, food shaming, or fat shaming, please know that person is shitting on your holiday regardless of whether they intend to do it or not. As such, it wouldn’t be out of line to feel hurt or say something to that person. You have every right to defend yourself. Never apologize for the food you eat or the space you take up. People of all sizes deserve lives of freedom and joy.
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