Izzy Harris reveals the role of marketing strategies behind the rise of diet culture
It is January, and with that comes the inevitable motherload of New Year’s resolutions. Everyone seems to be making resolutions, from your mum to your flatmate to that guy you met in the smoking shelter last week. There are good New Year’s resolutions, like cutting down on smoking and alcohol, saving a couple of quid on all those takeaways and eating more fruit and veg. But there are also resolutions that might end up hurting you, especially if you are vulnerable to mental health problems or poor body image.
This month comes with the onslaught of what some people call ‘Diet Culture’. Every pharmacy you go into will have an elaborate display of diet pills, protein powders and tea detoxes in prominent view. Every newsagent and supermarket will a have host of magazines emblazoned with headlines like ‘How to shift those Christmas pounds’, ‘New year, new fat-loss regime’ or ‘Lose holiday weight in 7 days’. Gyms reduce their membership rates and posters featuring young, athletic women advertising diet shakes adorn every tube station. And then of course, this motivates people to make resolutions to lose weight, tone up or gain muscle.
Although it might not be obvious, this kind of advertising is telling us something: that losing weight or gaining muscle and changing our bodies is a route to happiness and fulfilment. It is telling you that working hard to change your body to look like the people on the adverts will make you feel valued. It is telling us that our bodies our something to fix. We are made to feel like we are not worth as much as the people who look like the poster models.
The effects of these adverts and market campaigns trickle down into everyday society. Girls as young as 10 are saying that they think they need to lose weight. The number of people with eating disorders is spiking. Young men are using steroids to build muscle, causing irreparable damage to their bodies. Thousands of people feel pressure in their schools, workplaces and universities to fit into what has now become society’s standard of beauty and worthiness – just like the people on the adverts.
So whilst the diet industries are capitalizing on the inevitable New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, gain muscle and change our bodies, companies are cashing in on society’s unhealthy desire to reach unrealistic beauty standards, and at what cost? These industries are creating problems that can threaten lives, like eating disorders.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. Awareness of where these societal pressures come from is key. Once you know that the reason everyone is trying to look like Victoria’s Secret Models or Dwayne Johnson is a result of companies seeking to profit from our insecurities, diet culture becomes easier to avoid, and understand.
There are lots of ways to cope with the New Year diet culture. When you are out and about in shops, skip past the diet aisle or the fitness magazine stand. On social media, unfollow people who make you feel insecure by posting about calories, weight or muscle gain. Walk away from conversation if people are talking about how guilty they feel for eating a piece of cake. Choose not to believe adverts that show ridiculous ‘before and after’ pictures of people who supposedly took a specific diet pill. Avoid using words like ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ when enjoying sugary or fatty foods, because no food is particularly good or bad for you in moderation. Order what you want at lunch even if everyone else orders something else to be ‘healthy’. Choose food because of how it tastes and makes you feel, not because you think it will alter your weight or appearance. Eat and exercise like you do in any other month of the year, because a new year definitely does not have to mean a new body or an unhealthy mind.
By rejecting diet culture you will save yourself a lot of time, money and stress on your mental health. By rejecting diet culture, you are not feeding money into the major diet industries which perpetuate unhealthy body standards. By rejecting diet culture you are deciding not to live your life in a cycle of yo-yo dieting and guilt, but instead choosing body acceptance and self-worth. Just because you reject diet culture, it does not mean you do not care about being healthy, it just means that you are choosing to put your mental health first, and value yourself on your character, personality and talent, not just your physical appearance.
This year make a resolution to be kind to your mind and body. New Year, same you.