January is the Monday of the year. The narrative of diet culture is that we wake up collectively from the hedonism of December – a simple carbohydrate induced daze – with the remnants of a mince pie crumbling from our lips, eggnog split down our fronts, and clutching a pig in a blanket in a sweaty hand. In December, our high fat diet sparkled cheerily in the crackling fire of Christmas. In January, the cold, hard light of the morning makes it wobble with gristle. January, diet culture tells us, is our opportunity to reverse and amend a month-long indulgence.
This is, of course, ridiculous. But like most cultural phenomena, the ridiculous is transcribed into unchallenged dogma quicker than Women’s Health magazine will rush to endorse an unsustainable New Year crash diet. Diet culture is not an amorphous beast that has arisen spontaneously. It is a structure supported by the cornerstone of misogynistic attitudes towards women’s bodies and their role as passive objects; in recent years, the antagonistic pillars of unflattering paparazzi shots, airbrushing, and Instagram fitness influencers have strengthened the notion of the need for control of the female body. It is dangerous to be a woman and wholly accept yourself. To reject the diet superstructure is a way of socially dismantling it. Existing in January without trying to change some fundamental element of your body is radical. Choosing not to diet is to choose yourself.
Dieting: A Fallacy
The verb ‘to diet’ is a contrived construction: your diet is simply what you eat. ‘Diets’ flog the myth that you can lose weight by restricting yourself to ‘earn’ a more ‘toned’ body. I mention diet culture because the construction of this cultural superstructure is insidious; it festers in our language, in our decisions, and our feelings around food. The received scientific understanding is that crash diets don’t work, and actually make participants gain more weight than they lost. I direct you to resources (much more deserving of your attention) to peruse when you feel the diet itch. The Anti Diet riot club is a blog committed to dismantling diet culture; Ruby Tandoh’s Eat Up looks at food trends through a lens that is at times psychological, sociological, but mostly unashamedly epicurean; if you are short for time, the Body Positive’s Instagram offers a rewarding five-minute scroll.
Even if diets did work, even if religiously eating a stick of cucumber every lunch for two months (when you really wanted that peanut butter sandwich) made you lose an inch from your waist, would it be worth it? It is liberating to realise that you don’t exist to lose weight. Liberation is the right word because it speaks to, as I have touched on before, the radical nature of kicking the diet. If you choose to exercise more this year, fantastic; exercise can be a wonderfully rewarding shot of endorphins and self-accomplishment. It can also be remarkably punitive and restrictive. In 2019, I encourage you to remember that it should be a celebration of what your body can do rather than a punishment. Each day is an opportunity to be enjoyed rather than a stick to beat yourself with.
Set an example. Instead of resolving to make yourself less this year, make 2019 the year that you decide to be more. Be more kind, generous, supportive, resilient, aware, or positive. This year, commit to disengaging from the cyclical and cynical monetisation of body hatred, and commit to remembering that life is about enjoyment, not bodily discomfort. I leave you with an extract from Robert Bly’s translation of Kabir’s Music: ‘suppose you scrub your ethical skin until it shines’,he postulates, ‘but inside there is no music, what then?’