We are all familiar with fad diets, superfoods, and weight loss miracle trends as they are everywhere in our society. American culture is obsessed with body shape, type, fitness, and in theory, all aspects of physical health. While it has gotten better, especially over the course of the last two decades, this obsession often leads to some unfortunate and harmful body image issues and ideals. Fashion has a huge contributory role in this process, with supermodels often all looking very similar in their body proportions, clothing marketed to specific body shapes, and actively participating in an established social hierarchy pertaining to how an individual looks, also known as pretty privilege or skinny privilege.
Much of how we address body shape and weight in America is targeted. Instead of looking at the self holistically, we tend to look at problem areas that we wish we could change such as our stomach, upper arms, or thighs being common causes of complaint. Women especially are at high risk for these insecurities, with many comparing themselves to popular beauty icons when asked (as stated in a medical study conducted by experts in the field in 2012). Enter the fad diets and miracle workouts. Juice cleanses, and restrictive diets are just two of the misinformed ways that people try to lose weight. Juice cleanses, for example, can cause an individual to drop 8 or 10 pounds in a week and a half. However, most of that weight loss is water weight and the toll it takes on the body is not worth it. Juice cleanses cause blood sugar levels to change rapidly as well as a number of other health issues leading to breakouts, exhaustion, and irritability.
Restrictive diets are often very similar. Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, keto, Atkins, and paleo diets (and that’s just to name a few) for nonmedical reasons, especially short term, send your body into various states of “survival modes” like ketosis. While these diets do cause weight loss they also tend to lead to severe deficiencies and health issues if not well researched and conducted properly. Often these diets have to be accompanied by a litany of supplements to provide the body with the sustenance it needs if an individual wants to participate in them safely. Not to mention, a lot of restrictive diets are hard. Even outside the plethora of issues they can cause, the thought of not eating carbs just sounds exhausting to me. So, this begs the question, why are they so popular?
Anecdotally speaking, I have seen people in my life participate in these diets intermittently with the sole purpose of losing weight and looking a certain way. To be fair, living in Los Angeles does impact the sample population dramatically, but these dietary choices are not just haunting big cities, they are transcontinental (and international) and all are marketed the same way, as an easy way designed to lose weight. With constant exposure to airbrushed beauty icons in fashion who have a team working to make them as attractive as possible, the number of women who feel inferior is astounding. In adult women, a study published by the US National Library of Medicine found that 69-84% of women between ages 25 and 89 were dissatisfied with their body, preferring a slighter frame than their own. The study further goes on to explain the documented links between this dissatisfaction and a high risk for depression, low self-worth, and eating disorders.
Socially speaking, clothing is also becoming more revealing, and regardless of personal feelings on those trends, less clothing means more of the body is on display and under scrutiny. Fashion trends are encouraging exhibiting more and more of the body, namely, with skin-tight “athleisure” wear, that was leading sales in 2019 according to Forbes. High fashion on the runway is also known to be racy at times, pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable to display, often doing so with tall, thin individuals with very low body fat percentage. Fashion, whether in Milan or a mall detrimentally conflates beauty with exhibitionism of a certain body type.
Body positivity movements have done a huge amount to change problematic and hurtful mindsets that can lead to bullying and crippling self-doubt. However, these ideals are instilled in us as a society from a young age, with a limited representation of varying body shapes and sizes in mainstream media and ways to make those who don’t look like the physical ideal feel “othered” or not beautiful. The body positivity movement is rapidly gaining attention on social media and has been picking up steam in the last few years, spreading awareness and demanding visibility for these issues. Unfortunately, until this is the societal norm instead of just a movement, these troubling trends will continue to be prevalent.