Q. What do diets have to do with capitalism?
A. Quite a lot…
The diet industry continues to be one of capitalism’s most harmful outputs. Its toxicity is amplified by the fact that it likes to pretend it is helping us. Massive companies, namely food conglomerates and media empires, continue to tell us that losing weight is the key to happiness and self-fulfillment. Dieting is self-care, they tell us. If we are thinner, our lives will be better.
Women in particular are told to preoccupy themselves with their weight. Girls are taught from an early age that finding a husband should still be a priority for them. This felt particularly true for me when I moved to London for my Masters. Relatives asked if I was excited to find a boyfriend with a British accent, not what I hoped to write my dissertation on, or what career I hoped to pursue after graduating. However, their question alone highlighted the privileges thin women, like myself, have in society. My desirability has never been questioned in the eyes of my elders. People always assumed my singleness was out of pickiness, not because I needed to lose weight.
Despite my thin privilege, I have still had issues regarding my weight. I struggled with disordered eating at university, and it was only when I found feminism that I was able to separate my worth from the numbers on the scale. Capitalism, so tightly intertwined with the patriarchy, had told me that my looks mattered more than my intelligence or my kindness. When I lost weight, my peers commended me on my willpower. Just as working hard is supposed to lead to an aspirational life, I had “worked hard” enough to have an aspirational body. Denying yourself rest and pleasure are the cornerstone values of capitalism. My weight loss, though actually the result of anxiety and low self-worth, was viewed as the result of my commitment to hard work, and my apparent ability to uphold the key values of capitalism.
It’s no surprise that feminism is what helped me unchain myself from disordered eating. Dieting, and the diet industry, are absolutely political. If we think there is something wrong with us, we’ll continue to buy items to “fix” us. If we are preoccupied with our appearances, we’ll have less time to think about the systems that lead a few to have so much, and so many to have so little.
Rejecting diets isn’t just freeing yourself from obsession around food and exercise. It’s giving your mind the freedom to think about your place in society and how you can make that society more just. And wouldn’t that be wonderful?