Friday nights at my mums’ house were somewhat of a ritual with the women in her social circle. Every week my mums’ friends would leave the kids at home and come to our house to swim in the pool, sink a few wines and generally shoot the shit about their husbands, kids and of course, their bodies.
It was the 90’s so the conversation mainly revolved around Jon Bon Jovi, Oprah and the latest fad diet and trust me, they did them all. Atkins, Weight Watchers, Low Carb, All Protein, Juice Cleanses, the Lemon Detox Diet, there’s is not a diet out there that my mother and her friends didn’t try. They were a product of societal norms, diet culture and effective advertising. I mean the phrase diet culture didn’t really exist in the 90’s. So it’s not really their fault.
I was a tween at the time and eagerly lapped up every piece of ‘adult conversation’ that I was allowed to listen to and what I heard changed my life. Body loathing, fat-phobia, self- deprecation, constant talk about calories, carbs, sugar intake, restriction and praise for weight loss. I doubt at the time, that these women realized the impact that their body negative dialogue would have on me not only as a teenager but still to this day as an adult. I doubt they realise the effect they had on each other. To be honest this learned behaviour has only recently occurred to me.
I am a product of my environment. I grew up believing that I needed to lose weight in order to be liked, that as a woman, I needed to be a size twelve to be healthy and that low-fat food was the answer to everything. I grew up watching my mother struggle with her own body image and the lengths that she would go to in order to lose weight. I grew up thinking that I had to cover my body until I was the perfect size twelve and that weight loss, no matter the cost, was the ultimate victory.
My earliest memory of being on a proper diet was at fifteen. My mum, Aunts and their cousins had decided to make weight loss a competition. I come from a family of big women and so as a way of ‘supporting’ each other we decided to all chip in $20 and whoever lost the most weight by Christmas would win a prize. Needless to say, I won. I was the youngest, the most active and I had no chronic illnesses that would affect my body or my battle for the ultimate body. My prize was a beautiful pair of earrings that I own to this day and the learned lesson that weight loss would earn me the admiration and attention of my family and my peers, regardless of how I got there.
Three years later began what would ultimately be diagnosed as bulimia.
I was just a young woman who wanted to be accepted, I wanted to be like everybody else. Diet culture and mainstream media took advantage of that and of my mum and her friends. How were they to know the affect that they would have on me when they were not conscious of the affect they were having on each other?
Are these people from my childhood bad people? Absolutely not. They are a product of the time and genuinely believed they were doing what was best for each other and for me. That’s the problem with body negativity and the venomous demon that is diet culture, it slowly crawls its way into your life without you even realizing it. You’re constantly exposed to various forms of fat shaming and fat-phobia so it doesn’t occur to you to question it. Why would you question a skinny, smiling celebrity as she sips her slimming tea? She has it all, the body, the house, the life. She has the dream. The tea will help you get there she says. She doesn’t mean it. It’s time to be more self-aware ladies.
So how do we fight the stigma and the body shaming? My number one tip is to cleanse your feed. Remove the before and after accounts, the weight loss accounts and the gym bunnies from your feed. Surround yourself and your socials with positive influences, Australia is full of some amazing and inspiring BoPo women. Check them out, there are body positive people of all shapes and sizes into fashion, exercise, travel, adventure… You just need to start looking.
Check your self-talk (especially around kids and young people), be conscious of what you’re saying about yourself. Would you talk about a friend like that? No, then why would you speak to yourself like that? Be kind to yourself. Plus, you never know who might be listening and what effect you might have on them. Let’s just stop body shaming each other and ourselves all together shall we?
The road to self-acceptance and body positivity is a long and harrowing one but it is so worth it. Just remember, that it is a journey, there will be good days and bad. You are not alone in your battle to fight diet culture and love the skin you’re in. And you are beautiful and perfect just the way you are.
Host of The Fat Collective – Australian Body Positive Podcast.