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Why We Need to Start Recognizing 'Diet Propaganda'

I think it’s time to start looking the diet industry in the face and recognizing it for what it is.

The first thing I think you should remember when discussing the diet industry is that it is just that: a multi-million dollar industry. The diet industry can build on our insecurities. Unfortunately, I think it’s good at what it does, and is therefore able to profit off of our self-doubts.

As a community, I believe we need to begin learning how to recognize “diet propaganda” when we are faced with it. It feels like we are fed “diet propaganda” from all facets of the media, at all times, even when we are just children.

Because it seems so prevalent in our lives, and because some of us have become so used to it, it is often easy to miss “diet propaganda” when we are confronted with it. But when we open our eyes and begin searching, we might find it in what we may previously have thought of as the most unlikely places.

For example, just last week I re-watched a children’s film on television that I recall having gone to the cinema to see when I was very small. This movie (which I won’t name) was aimed at a very young demographic and had a plot line that should have had very little to do with caloric consumption. However, this film made diet related comments, condemning calories as if they were tiny villains and depicting dieting as a desirable behavior. This film is not alone. Our children are told to stop eating while they are still hanging off the monkey bars.

It feels like the media wants us to believe in our own “unworthiness.” I see it from all angles: there are news stories about how one food or another will kill you, slowly narrowing down all of our choices; there are celebrities endorsing drinks that aren’t actually proven to be effective; the new bikini we have our eye on is advertised on the body of a model that most people cannot achieve.

But why does the media want to make us feel small? Why do we exist under an unrealistic projection of what “perfect” ought to look like? Because that is how the industry survives.

I believe the industry works by making us feel as if we are too big, too small, too short or not short enough. It tells us when bustiness has gone in and out of fashion and what ratio our hips should be to our waists. It hounds us with images of noses that are more petite than ours, or legs that have a gap instead of meeting at the thigh.

And when we’re subtlety told this over a long period of time, we are susceptible to internalizing these societal ideals. Once we have been told it often enough, we might believe that we are not good enough as we are. The industry thrives when we believe what they tell us about ourselves and our appearances, and that causes us to buy.

We might stock up on fit teas and diet supplements. Or purchase gym memberships and apps we think will “hold us accountable.” We wear expensive workout clothing and we forget what we logically know about the body and its requirement for the carbohydrates we have been ushered to believe are evil. At the most extreme, we might pay to have knives and scalpels change the structure of how we are built; still never achieving enough for the world to stop hounding us to be better.

I think the diet industry does not want one thing to be enough. Then we will stop buying. It does not want there to be a size that is tiny enough, or a look that is just right. It wants to perpetuate more self-doubt. It does not want us to feel confident; it does not like our self-esteem. It likes our wallets and the insecurities that force us to empty them.

If I am cultured enough to believe that my brunette hair is somehow wrong, or not beautiful, I will eventually begin to believe it. And if I am, after this culturing, presented with blonde hair dye, I am much more likely to empty my pockets and buy it. I think the diet industry works in the same way. It works delicately, often forcing us to believe we need what it advertises, dangling the product in front of us, like bait for a fish.

So, how can we stop being sucked into the diet vacuum? I think first we should recognize it. We should acknowledge that this is merely “propaganda.” We shouldn’t allow it to decide our worth; it is simply an opinion fueled by growing bank accounts. We should talk to our children about the diet culture to which they are, or will be, exposed to. We should diminish its power by refusing to listen to what it tell us.

I think we should remember that diet culture comes alongside an incredibly lucrative industry. Remember that you are not worthless, simply because someone with an eye on your credit cards would like you to think you are. I think we need to stand up and defend those who are vulnerable to developing insecurities that are then used for profit.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via gpointstudio