As a Registered Dietitian, I’ve been a provider for adults of all sizes in the Portland Health At Every Size (HAES) community for over 7 years. I am invested in eating disorder recovery and fighting against diet culture. As a member of this community, the idea for the Diet Culture Dropout t-shirts grew from conversations with clients, colleagues, and friends. The goal being to take down diet culture. This is the language we use in our community to describe a culture that believes bodies are healthy or unhealthy based on size, and thinner is better even at the expense of physical and mental health. This culture harms self-esteem, promotes disordered eating and disconnects people from caring for and loving their body. It puts the focus on appearance, rather than transformative work that can truly better one’s life and relationships (including the one with their body).
About a month ago, I learned there is a similar tee, Diet Industry Dropout, created by Shawna of Chubby Cartwheels. I immediately reached out to Shawna, explained who I was, the intent of the tees and hopes to co-exist. I was moving forward on the platform of our two tees co-existing, for HAES providers and from the fashion industry. However, I’m realizing, when the Diet Culture Dropout tee is seen by Diet Industry Dropout supporters, it can be perceived as:
- Stealing the work of others
- Co-opting body positivity
- Not keeping fat women front and center in the body positive movement
These are all things that I do not stand for. So, I have decided the amount of energy to counter this and the harm it may inflict is not worth keeping the tees for sale. It will take me a bit of time to phase out the tees, as photos and messaging is centered around Diet Culture Dropout. In the meantime I will have a disclaimer on the page, recognizing Chubby Cartwheels with the store link.
Before moving on, I’d like to take a moment to open up conversation around cyberbullying and thin bodies in the body positive movement; as myself and colleagues were targeted on social media for co-opting body positivity and stealing work in the creation of the tees, amongst other accusations. At the time I was too overwhelmed to address it publicly. I missed the opportunity to tackle some challenging, but important, topics. I’d like to circle back to it and have an honest conversation, or at least encourage folks to consider the issues.
BODY SIZE IN THE BODY POSITIVE MOVEMENT
We, clinicians, work with vulnerable populations: people who experience tremendous shame about their bodies, independent of size and shape. Some have it reinforced by our culture, e.g. size discrimination. While others escape weight discrimination, but live with an abusive eating disorder that constantly reminds them of their lack of worth. This leads to isolation and promotes the continuation of disordered behaviors.
I share this as a reminder, though there is no denying or ignoring various marginalized groups have experienced greater oppression, we are all impacted in some way by diet culture, regardless of size, race, socio-economics, and other factors. Shame does not discriminate based on size. And one’s body does not determine one’s place in the body positive movement.
Many of my colleagues happen to live in thinner bodies; their privilege does not take away from their dedication and work as providers. Please note, I am not denying privilege; however, I don’t believe the answer is to alienate privileged women from the body positive movement. It does warrant a bigger conversation, and better awareness on our part, as allies, to keep fat women front and center, as they are the ones who started this movement and the bodies that are least represented in the media and fashion.
Cyberbullying takes a tremendous emotional toll on folks. I appreciate calling out systems and messages that cause harm and oppress folks who deserve to be seen and heard. However, a quick message to the offender can go a long way. There is someone behind the screen. Often someone with an unrepresented story (as folks are so quick to judge) or a person who is in process, who may not be aware of how their messaging misses the mark.
It can be difficult for people to speak up when attacked. And as a clinician, I understand some people do not have the resolve to counter attacks on social media, and some people may be one knock down from self-harm. I am not discounting people’s anger in response to feeling wronged. What I am hoping to relay is that negative comments hurt people, and it can make it harder for folks to uphold body acceptance and self-compassion in their own lives.
As a thin woman I can enter a store and purchase a shirt from the top of the stack. Shopping isn’t a particularly difficult experience, outside of needing to hem pants. However, through the stories of my clients, I recognize the devaluing shopping experience for women in larger bodies. This is one reason, among others, that I want to support Shawna at Chubby Cartwheels and the fantastic work she is doing in the fashion industry, along with other body positive designers and shops.
I plan to continue forward with empowering, body love tees, as the conversations and stories that come from them matter. It is important to me that all bodies are represented with my tees, and it is something I am working toward.
In the end, I believe the body positive movement is inclusive not exclusive. There will never be too many people talking about the damage of diet culture and size discrimination. It is going to take an army to deconstruct the long upheld diet industry and patriarchal system. My hope is we can all work together, remember each other’s humanity and uphold inclusivity.