Illustrated by Austin Watts.
Each new year brings with it an onslaught of wellness resolutions. And, since many of these tend to focus on weight loss, it's the perfect time to re-examine our relationship to the art of dieting. Though the options are seemingly endless for those looking to change their eating habits, there's a common thread. For women, dieting is not just about sticking to a plan; it's about finding camaraderie with other dieters. But, as one writer points out, isn't there something regressive about a public campaign about one's weight loss? Isn't there something — dare she say it — anti-woman about bowing down to societal standards of what our bodies should look like?
Marisa Meltzer penned an essay for Elle.com in which she explores the inherent problem with dieting's relationship to feminism. On one hand dieting is something a woman does for herself, often for a combination of health and personal reasons. But, it can also suggest that she’s giving in to patriarchal standards of beauty. Naomi Wolf wrote her 1991 classic, The Beauty Myth that “a cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” Meltzer explains, "good feminists, in short, do not diet. Or, if they do, they don’t talk about it." And, so for a long time, she kept her dieting a secret in the name of sisterhood.
Meltzer was raised a feminist (think: a childhood protesting the Miss California pageants) and she was concerned that her desire to diet was an anti-feminist choice. As a result, she didn't tell her friends. "I flirted with fat acceptance, tried to believe that weight should not define who I am, that beauty comes in different packages. But, the truth was that I was neither healthy nor happy."
Looking for guidance on the subject, Meltzer sought out Wolf to see if her vision had altered over the past 22 years. And, the author had some excellent advice: “Feminism often gets into an unappealing cul-de-sac where there’s this set of practices or beliefs that you have to be part of to be a good feminist. Interestingly, that’s not very different from more conventional forms of social policing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking care of your body. I just want to know you’re feeling beautiful and important at whatever weight you want.” So, while dieting for someone else's happiness (say a husband or partner) is decidedly anti-feminist, dieting for yourself in an effort to feel happier and healthier is truly embracing feminist principles.