Cruelty is an inherent part of diet culture. Diet culture gives us a dichotomy: bodies are either good (thin) or bad (fat). In this framework, a “good” body is something that can and should always be the ultimate goal. Not only is a good body the only healthy, morally upright and worthy kind of body, this body is achievable for anyone who works hard enough. Anyone who fails to achieve a good body fails due to a lack of work ethic or a lack of moral uprightness.
It directly follows, then, that a fat body is direct evidence of unworthiness, laziness and moral failure. This shorthand carried in the body is extremely useful: If someone lives in a fat body, you can simply assume that they are unworthy, lazy and of poor morals. (With a few exceptions where the person “can’t help it” due to illness or medications.)
The ramifications of this shorthand are also clear:
1. If you mistreat someone in a “bad” body — who is automatically a bad person — you’re actually providing a useful service by encouraging that person to become a better person, and thus more worthy of good treatment.
2. Full access to society, and the right and duty to treat bad people poorly, are rewards of being a good person.
3. If you, by misadventure or poor morals yourself, become a bad person, better people will treat you like a bad person until you fix the outer evidence of your unworthiness. Better not fail if you don’t want to be treated like you treat bad people.
The problem, beyond the obvious and inherent cruelty of this framework, is that none of this is true. None of it. The entire basis of diet culture is built on a profit-seeking lie: that bodies can permanently become smaller by any means.
For as long as diets have existed, none of them have ever been able to make more than about 5% of the people who try them permanently thinner, at best. Not one single diet or “lifestyle change” or calorie counting method or meal replacement or surgery method has any kind of scientifically-backed track record.
So even if bad people could become good people via becoming smaller people, there’s no way for them to do it. Instead, diet culture has created a permanent underclass of people who should be mistreated for their own good, until they do the impossible.
We have no way to turn “bad” bodies into “good” ones, and yet we have an entire cultural framework built on the lie that worth, in the form of body size, is completely under our personal control.
One of the ways this framework plays out in the real world is the incessant drumbeat of protests against bad people — fat people — having the ability to access the public sphere in any way. Not only do bad people not deserve clothing, healthcare or dignity, but they *should not* have those things. Otherwise, they might be motivated to stay morally impure and lazy and gluttonous, unlike their more worthy peers.
In diet culture, lack of access is a feature, not a bug. Fat people, in the eyes of those invested in diet culture, should literally not be able to live their lives until they do the impossible and change their body size, despite there being no practical way for them to do so.
Here is an incomplete list of what I, personally, have been told in the last year that fat people *should not* be able to access (mostly in replies to my social media posts) as they attempt to move through the world:
– Moving trucks
– Seat belts
– Camping chairs
– Seats in waiting rooms
– Seats in the emergency room
– Seats in restaurants
– Seats at concerts
– Seats, anywhere, ever
– Inner tubes and pool floats
– The ability to get in/out of a car in a crowded parking lot
– High-quality clothing
– Logo and fan t-shirts
– Attractive, fashionable clothing
– A wedding dress
– A bridesmaid’s dress
– Underwear of any kind
– Athletic clothing of any kind
– Sewing patterns
– Clothing at brick-and-mortar stores
– Clothing, period
– A medical gown that covers you
– Organs and bone marrow (donating or receiving)
– Giving blood
– The ability to donate your cadaver to science
– Joint treatment and replacements
– A dentist’s chair
– Healthcare that doesn’t consist solely of weight loss recommendations
– Eating disorder treatment
– Mental health treatment
– Body neutrality
– Body acceptance
– Body love
– Equal wages
– Equal treatment in hiring
– Equal treatment in the workplace
– Representation on TV
– Representation in magazines and fashion
– Representation in advertising
– The dignity of fitting into a physical environment
– The ability to go out to eat, grocery shopping or to the gym without being publicly stared at, humiliated and commented on
When I say, “fat people cannot access public life and this is a problem,” diet culture sends hundreds of minions to tell me that, no, this exclusion is right, good, proper and by design.
The cruelty is the point.
Hi! I’m Lindley
I’m a professional photographer (she/her, pronounced LIN-lee) who celebrates the unique beauty of bodies that fall outside conventional “beauty” standards. I live outside Seattle, WA.
People come to me for:
- Body-safe portrait, boudoir and small business photography sessions
- Diverse stock photos
- Fat fine art photographs
- Health at Every Size (HAES)-aligned consulting, writing and editing
- The Body Love Box, my monthly body-positive subscription box
I talk about and photograph fat folks because representation of large bodies in the world is vital to our body liberation. Join me for weekly thoughts on body acceptance plus quick and useful resources for your own journey.