Friday, January 10, 2014

Should dieting be secret? UPDATED

Normally, I cheer when I see anyone condemning overshare. So I should have totally agreed with Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett's piece about how - because diets fail, because friends and family undermine them, and because no one wants to hear about your cleanse - dieting should be discreet, between-you-and-your-scale behavior. I mean, I don't want to hear about your cleanse. And I even might have wanted to add to this argument - constant diet-talk gives the impression that to be a girl, woman or even just a person in our society means trying to lose weight, no matter where you're starting out.

And yet. While I'm certain on board as far as not wanting daily social-media updates about every high school acquaintance's calories-in, calories-out for the day (so please, high school acquaintances, don't start doing this!), I'm not sure dieting isn't already if anything too much in the closet. Because no one wants to be accused of having an eating disorder (and because we have this odd idea that eating disorders are things one might be accused of, as if they were pinnacles of vanity and not mental illnesses), already-slim women who want to be even thinner will rarely cop to this. Women who are not already slim also may not want to talk about their diets, but this is for a different set of reasons, and for its own set of reasons, my anecdotal evidence is more (not entirely) in the area of women who don't by any estimation need to diet doing so anyway.

But these days, one won't hear about diets. One will instead hear about toxins and lifestyle changes. (What's a "lifestyle change" if not a diet? The difference seems to require a straw-man definition of "diet" that defines "diet" as "crash diet.") Going to the gym to become stronger, not thinner, and oh!, by weird coincidence, this leads to losing four pounds. Eliminating wheat and dairy, not because these are the things that make cake worth eating, but because if you think about it, our bodies weren't really designed to digest either of these things. (They were instead, of course, designed to digest pulverized kale. Every paleolithic household had a Vitamix, every paleolithic cave-community a Juice Press.)

The sense that even if you're thin, you'd look better thinner, hasn't gone away, it's just gone undercover. Women who don't need to lose weight, but want to all the same, know that their friends and family will undermine their efforts. But it's like, these are efforts that should be undermined!

But I'm torn. Maybe all the "health" talk that's really diet talk is better than diet talk. Maybe a certain number of people really do perceive of it as being about health. In which case, fair enough - efforts to eat more vegetables and get off the couch should not be undermined. And my sense is that thin women trying to be thinner, whose friends and family tell them this is unnecessary, are no less convinced that this is just about jealousy than are actually-overweight dieters looking to reach a healthier weight whose friends and family are undermining perfectly reasonable efforts.


Huh! (Posted after this, I might add. Not to accuse of uncredited inspiration, of course, but to make clear which direction any theoretical inspiration might have gone in.)


Gwen said...

I'm surprised you didn't connect this to the whole "naturally beautiful" theme.

We don't want to hear about diets, we don't even want woman to diet (thats why we call it something else). They should just be skinny.

Same story as "I prefer girls who don't use makeup".

And something about dieting being another version of being "high maintenance", which is a no-no. And looking for girls who eat steaks rather than salads.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Fear not, I have. The "effortless" thing isn't new, but has gone into overdrive when it comes to weight, given the newish awareness of eating disorders.