CW: Eating disorders.
The Diet Industry
The pressure to look a certain way is influenced by many social media platforms. With its images of unattainable bodies and faces, Instagram is a catalyst for influencing women to hate their bodies. The diet industry is worth £2 billion a year in the UK¹ and depends solely on people hating their bodies. It is therefore an industry that works against the consumer. This industry promotes a diet culture that is incredibly damaging and can often lead to an eating disorder.
Influencers, celebrities, and models on Instagram are paid to promote diet products that often encourage disordered eating. They use their unrealistically slim figures to promote products they likely do not use themselves. Slimming shakes, skinny teas, appetite-suppressing lollipop, and weight loss pills have all been promoted by numerous celebrities. This includes the Kardashians and celebrities from reality tv shows such as The Only Way Is Essex. This is incredibly damaging to people who see this content and are easily influenced by social media and celebrity culture, such as teenagers.
Unrealistic bodies and Transparency
People such as Jameela Jamil have actively scrutinized celebrities and influencers who promote these diet products. Jameela openly criticizes influencers who manipulate their bodies through photoshop or cosmetic surgery without transparency. This is what is key. Like most, Jameela believes people are entitled to do what they want with their bodies. However, when they are influencing hundreds of thousands to millions of followers, the idyllic image they present can be incredibly damaging to people’s self-image. Therefore, it is honesty and transparency which is needed in order to break the façade that these unattainable bodies are natural and normal.
Skinniness does not equal happiness
There is another misconception amongst people with body-image issues and eating disorders. That achieving the body type you want will enable you to achieve happiness. This is false. There are many people online who have recovered from eating disorders and they insist that they were never happy with their body, even when they reached an incredibly slim figure. This can also be because there is body dysmorphia at play.
The definition of Body Dysmorphia according to the National Health Service (UK) webpage is ‘a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.’² This means that the individual trying to attain the ‘perfect’ body type in their eyes will not achieve this because of their mental health condition. Therefore, it is important to recognize ‘skinniness’ as an unattainable, unrealistic, and damaging goal that will not lead to happiness.
Negative feelings towards our bodies can also be overcome by ‘body neutrality’, a term coined by Jameela Jamil. This is the attitude of not caring about what your body looks like as long as you are healthy both physically and mentally. Whilst ‘body positivity’ has been promoted by many celebrities, it implies that the individual still has a mental and emotional connection to their body. This could ultimately relegate back to feelings of hatred in the future. Whereas, body neutrality advocates for a complete emotional disconnect from the body. Instead, our body becomes a mechanism in which we are able to live; something we should appreciate and look after.
Calling Out Diet Culture
“For the vast majority of my illness, I really wasn’t aware that I was unwell, in part, because so many of my behaviors, thoughts, beliefs, patterns were normalized by diet culture.” – What Mia Did Next³
Youtubers Mia Findlay (What Mia Did Next) and Abbey Sharp are great channels for those recovering from an eating disorder. Both explore their own struggles with eating disorders and call out diet culture. As a registered nutritionist, Abbey Sharp takes a health-based approach and encourages healthy and balanced eating. She often reviews the diets of influencers on YouTube who post ‘what I eat in a day’ videos. This informs viewers which diets are healthy and which are disorderly. Abbey does this to communicate to her audience that it is not normal to under eat, cut out food groups, and restrict in any way.
Ultimately, influencers such as Mia, Abbey, and Jameela are paving the way for the dethroning of diet culture in social media. Diet culture is detrimental to society because it leads to eating disorders and mental health conditions such as Anorexia Nervosa, which has the ‘highest mortality rate of any mental disorder’⁴. This may shock readers. Nonetheless, it is important to know that there are people trying to dismantle this deadly culture online surrounding diet, body image, and restriction.
If you think you may be suffering from any of the conditions mentioned in this article, please talk to a healthcare professional.
Some Eating Disorder Helplines in the UK
3. What Mia Did Next, ‘3 signs you might have an eating disorder’, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocort3ju04g&t=66s