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Women's Campaign to End Body Hatred and Dieting

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What do you think would happen if women stopped hating their bodies?!

We would...


At the beginning of the 21st Century, we live in a world that has seen an upheaval in consciousness concerning the position of women. Yet, despite dramatically changed views and expanded lifestyles, many women still place dieting and body shaping ahead of life shaping and world shaping on their lists of New Year's resolutions. Once again, we are planning to spend billions of our dollars trying to transform our natural shapes.

Not too long ago, the tide seemed to be turning. Study after study proved the inefficacy of dieting. Newspaper and magazine articles made the link between the pressure to be thin and the epidemic of eating disorders; advertisers leaned on magazines to use larger models; and the anti-dieting movement got enough attention to scare the diet industry into concealing its programs under other names. It became common knowledge that even the models don't look like models after all that airbrushing and retouching and that the average American woman wears a size 14. Finally, dieting was justifiably blamed for its invariant result, uncontrollable bingeing and the fattening of America.

Yet, here we are again. The idealized image is meaner and leaner and younger than ever. The tabloids scrutinize our Hollywood icons to see who has lost and who has gained. The doctors hawk their programs, vying for space on bestseller lists. And many of us are ready to die for all those new pills and surgeries.

We believe that the pressure to diet and bodyshape is part of the ongoing backlash against the changes in the status of women. It seems that the more space we occupy in the world, the more pressure there is to reduce ourselves. The larger our presence, the narrower and more childlike the idealized images become, starting with Twiggy and culminating in Kate Moss.

Given that we've been there, seen it, done all those diets, why do grownup, capable, sexy, smart, beautiful women continue to buy into the pressure to make ourselves small, smaller, smallest? What exactly is so wrong with us the way we are in our great, infinite variety?

As we see it, women succumb to the pressure to diet and bodyshape because we ourselves are unclear about how much space we ought to take up in the world. After centuries of inequality between the sexes, we have internalized the sense that we are not good enough the way we are. And, of course, the problem goes further than the lingering effects of our legacy. Despite our impressive strides—more of us in elected positions, more economic clout, more access to education and jobs—women are still struggling for the basic rights of economic parity, safety at home and on the streets, reproductive freedom and affordable childcare. In other words, in a number of ways we are still treated as "less than."

Mostly, we women don't speak about our shaky sense of entitlement directly. Instead, raised as girls, we speak endlessly about our bodies and our need to transform them rather than the world. Women today suffer deeply from a condition we describe as "Bad Body Fever."

It goes like this: Millions of us wake up every morning, make our way into the bathroom to shower, look in the full-length mirror and say, "Yuck!" Every moment of every hour of every day, millions of us of all shapes, sizes and ages utter some variation of the phrase "I feel fat." A woman may catch a glimpse of herself reflected in a shop window and gasp, "God! My stomach is huge." She may be daydreaming while waiting for an appointment only to find herself thinking that her thighs are disgusting. Or she may be walking to her car when she suddenly feels huge. These "fat feelings"—bad body feelings—occupy the minds and hearts of the vast majority of women and even little girls.

Because we live in a society in which fatness and the femininity it connotes are denigrated, each time a woman says, "I feel fat," she is saying, "There is something wrong with me." She is feeling self-hatred and self-contempt. Sadly, her subsequent heroic efforts to transform her shape never impact the source of her real problem—her lack of parity in the world.

Sometimes we wonder what would happen if women simply stopped having these bad body thoughts. What would happen if each time you made a self-abusive remark about how you look, you let the reproach go, challenged your thinking—"Who says there is such a thing as a perfect thigh?"—and instead focused on whatever you were thinking about before you made the thought-detour to your body. Just imagine the $60 billion diet industry crumbling, taking several others along with it! What would we do with all that time on our hands? Imagine how we would use all the energy! The possibilities dazzle!

Granted, we have a long way to go. Hopefully, your daughter's daughter's daughter will wake up in the morning, secure in her value, knowing that her female body is absolutely perfect and lovely exactly as it is. She'll smile at her reflection, choose clothing that pleases her that day and walk out the door. She might even drop into a museum to see an exhibit of relics from our dieting past.

As a start, let's scratch all references to achieving an unreal body shape from our list of resolutions. This year, let's resolve to stop the dieting that has become such a life-long, life-draining preoccupation and instead embrace and enjoy our bodies in all their diversity. Let's happily reclaim our appetites, our bodies and our lives.


RANKED BY 1993 SIZE ($millions) 1991 1992 1993 1994
Diet Soft Drinks $14,300 $14,380 $15,100 $15,480
Artificial Sweeteners 1,300 1,330 1,390 1,438
Fitness Clubs (non-residential) 6,700 7,500 7,900 8,410
Commercial Weight-Loss Centers/Programs 2,110 2,090 1,990 1,690
Medically-Supervised Weight-Loss Programs 1,600 1,640 1,724 1,586
Low-Calorie/Diet Foods/Entrées 2,200 2,340 2,430 2,480
Retail Meal Replacements and Appetite Suppressants 1,500 1,113 1,173 1,210
Diet Books, Videos, and Audio Cassettes 196 209 260 380
Total Industry $29,800 $30,600 $31,967 $32,680

*Marketdata Enterprises, Inc., News Release


How Has This Thinness/Dieting Mania Impacted Our Lives?

How To Join The Women's Campaign to End Body Hatred and Dieting


How many sizes hang in your closet? How long have they hung there? Do you really think you're going to wear them again someday? We know you'd like to. We'd all like to be thinner than we are. That's the nature of being female in the last half of the twentieth century. But think about it for a moment. You tell yourself each and every day that it's time to do something about your weight. After you've reproached yourself in this way, what happens? If you're like most of us, when you have what we call "bad body thoughts", you end up feeling depressed. And often, when you feel low, you head for the fridge. You eat something you don't need and don't really want and then the next day the cycle starts again: "Oh, nothing fits. What am I going to do? I've got to do something about my weight."

In our experience, when a woman is willing to look at the evidence objectively, she sees very clearly that all her negative body thoughts have never gotten her anywhere and that all the diets she and everyone she knows have been on have never produced lasting change. If she takes her evidence seriously and resolves to start living well in the body that's hers right now—swearing off bad body thoughts and dieting—her life changes in very radical ways. Take Liz, who told us:

"It was a sad day when I went through my closet and took out all the clothes that were too small. There wasn't a lot left. I had to go shopping, and that was hard. I've always waited to shop till I lost a few pounds. But I forced myself. I looked long and hard because I'd promised myself I would only buy clothes I loved. Each time I'd start making faces in the mirror about how I looked, I'd intervene and stop myself. I don't care how big I am, I'm finished with that kind of self-contempt. It's such a dead end. Anyway, now I have a closet full of clothes I really like. I have a long way to go in terms of liking my body as is, but it makes a big difference to enjoy what I'm wearing each day. I didn't know that I could feel this good at this size. I'm not saying that I don't want to lose weight, but I'm beginning to have a glimmer of what life could be like without thinking constantly about changing my body."

Women have made great strides in the last few decades. However, the fact that millions of us still grimace when we look in the mirror is a sign that we don't feel as good on the inside as one would think. Evidently, we still feel "not good enough". It's time to catch up! It's not enough to act entitled—we need to feel entitled.

Together let's clear away all the old ideas about how we should look and what we should eat. Let's fill our cupboards, literally and figuratively, with clothes we like, food that's nourishing and delicious, and self-talk that's appreciative and admiring of our bodies in all their remarkable shapes and sizes.

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