Toxicity of Diet Culture and Why Health is Beauty

Illustration is by Shelly Dean

We live in society where being thin is considered the “ideal beauty” and being “fat” is unthinkable. Most of us have seen this idea since the beginning of our lives. We see it in books, shows, movies, magazine covers and so on. When we see it around us our whole lives, we grow up with the mindset that the thinner we are, the more beautiful and desirable we become. 

It did not help when social media eventually came into our lives. We now had access to see this standard ideal of beauty everywhere we went on our mobile devices 24/7. Here is where diet culture comes in. The definition of “diet culture” varies, but generally refers to giving in to the pressure of dieting for the intent of focusing on weight and size instead of for the sake of genuinely trying to live a healthier lifestyle. 

Dieting can mean different things for different people. For some, it is having set times of when to eat during the day. For others, it is rigid restrictions on what you can eat and drink and what you can’t. The act of dieting in and of itself is not what diet culture means and is not the problem. Where the issue lies is the reasoning behind why we may go on a diet. For a lot of people out there, the sole reason why they diet and restrict what they eat is truly to lose weight and “look better.” 

In today’s day and age, it’s easy to get caught up in the toxicity of diet culture. Even I have unfortunately participated in dieting for the wrong reasons. I gave extreme dietary restrictions for myself, with no easing or transition, with the hope of losing weight to feel better about myself. It can be hard to turn away from the toxic messages of dieting and societal standards, especially when it surrounds us on a daily basis. From what we see on social media pages and front covers of magazines, to our friends talking about their workout routines and the next diet they are trying, to watching celebrity endorsed advertisements on detox tea and Weight Watchers, sometimes it seems impossible to not think that losing weight will make us happier when that is what were shown and told. 

“Diet culture is more about a system of belief that being thin is equivalent to having moral virtue,” said Kollin Battle, sophomore fashion merchandising student at Kent State. “That should not be the main focus for any individual. They should focus on being the best they can be in any given circumstance. Health does not equate to being skinny or thin. Health is about feeling good within yourself, whether that be through mental health or physical health.”

Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t have to lose weight and go on diets to be happy. To have that mentality only encourages a negative image of ourselves and the people we are surrounded by. But the true mentality we should have is that we can be happy and beautiful no matter what size we are. All of us were created and built differently and we should recognize that and celebrate those bodily differences. 

When you self analyze and recognize what’s truly going on, you see how toxic diet culture is. For me personally, it was not until I got into my freshman year of college that I realized what I was doing to myself. I had to take a step back and really ask myself, “Why are you doing this? Is this about being healthy or is this about feeling prettier?” 

When I finally eased away from my toxic mindset and started working out and eating healthy to live a healthier lifestyle, I noticed the more positive effects on my body. I was more energized and had a more positive attitude. There was not that much change to my body, but it didn’t even matter to me because I felt healthier and could confidently look at myself in the mirror and feel good.

It’s important that as a society we come together and recognize that health and weight do not equate to one another. All of us are built differently, and it’s time that we accept that we are all different body sizes and one size is not any more beautiful than the other. It is time to end feeling bad about ourselves for deciding to have a milkshake instead of salad. If you want to have ice cream, then have ice cream. If you want a slice pizza, then enjoy that slice pizza. And know that at the end of day, you are still just as beautiful and you should not feel bad or think about “all the calories you need to work off.” No one should go through life thinking that their self worth is based on image. We need to acknowledge that you can be beautiful and thin, but you do not have to be thin to be beautiful. 

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Hi, I’m Maria McGinnis, a senior journalism student from Stow, Ohio. I’m also the editor in chief of A Magazine. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important and entertaining news from the realms of fashion, beauty, and culture. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate to A Magazine.

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