The Diet/Beauty Industry Cycle of Dis-Empowerment

I had the honor of being part of the Summer of Body Love event last weekend.  It was an honor to share the stage with Virgie Tovar, Naomi Finklestein and Isabel Foxen-Duke. Sarah Jansen-Mount did an incredible job coordinating and I got to meet and hang out with SO MANY awesome people!!!!!  I did a version of my talk “The World is Messed Up – You’re Fine” and several people told me that the bit about the Diet and Beauty Industry Cycle of Disempowerment was really helpful so I thought I would do a quick blog post about it.

Diet and Beauty Industry Cycle of Disempowerment

The cycle goes like this:

Step 1:  The diet and beauty industries tell us what is good/beautiful.

This happens through a lot of different mediums – advertisements, billboards, fashion magazines and more.  We are told sold a stereotype of beauty rooted in white, thin cisgender, able-bodiedness.

Step 2:  We internalize the message.

We start to believe that the (completely made up) stereotype is reality.  We start to believe that bodies are better the more closely they approximate the stereotype. We even start to believe that only people who can fit the stereotype of beauty can be talented.

Step 3: We enforce the “standard” on other people.

This happens in so many ways.  It happens when we engage in negative body talk against other people. It happens when we care more about what an actress is wearing than the work she did that got her nominated for an award in the first place. It happens when we insist that people should dress in “flattering” ways (which is to say using clothes the create the optical illusion that we look closer to the stereotype of beauty.) In this way we become walking talking peer-pressuring advertisements for the diet and beauty industry.

Step 4:  People are disempowered, the diet and beauty industry profit.

This cycle is incredibly profitable for the people who sell the promise of bringing us closer to the stereotype because, as my friend Courtney likes to say, they are in the business of stealing our self-esteem, cheapening it, and selling it back to us at a profit.

We can break the cycle though, and we can do it in a lot of ways. We can stop engaging in negative body talk of any kind, we can interrupt other people when they start engaging in negative body talk (or we can just walk away.) We can examine our own prejudices and privilege as they relate to people who fall outside of the stereotype of beauty. We can purposefully celebrate bodies that fall outside of the stereotype in everything from our social media feeds to the art we have in our homes.  We can ask ourselves if the things that we buy, the bodies we celebrate, and the choices we make are supporting or challenging the current paradigm.

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12 thoughts on “The Diet/Beauty Industry Cycle of Dis-Empowerment

  1. Yes. This. All of it.

    Tuning out of mainstream media that involves a ridiculous number of commercials, ending all my subscriptions except the Economist (which I still sent them a scathing letter over one of their ads), and reducing social media consumption does amazing things for how you feel about yourself, AND your budget.

    These marketers know how humans think. They’ve been studying it for almost 100 years to figure out ways to make us buy stuff.

    This has been especially true for us with kids. Yes, my daughter loves My Little Pony. Instead of her watching it on TV, we bought a season subscription to it for her on Amazon. Far cheaper than cable TV, she watches the one show she wants when she wants to watch it, and no one gets to advertise at her.

    Seriously, as a very young grade-schooler, when asked what she wanted for her birthday this year, she said a special day with mom.

  2. YES!! Such a pleasure meeting you in person!!! Thank you so much for your work!!

    xoxo isabel

    Isabel Foxen Duke – (646) 729-4758 * *

    On Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 4:48 AM, Dances With Fat wrote:

    > danceswithfat posted: “I had the honor of being part of the Summer of Body > Love event last weekend. It was an honor to share the stage with Virgie > Tovar, Naomi Finklestein and Isabel Foxen-Duke. Sarah Jansen-Mount did an > incredible job coordinating and I got to meet and hang o” >

  3. Jane Elliot’s famous “blue eye” exercise is a horrifying look at how easy it is to create and maintain prejudice, and just how quickly this can be accomplished. In a few days, she managed to get a classroom of kids ganging up on and violently policing the behavior of their fellow students- people they’d grown up with and knew- over their eye colors. Not years. DAYS. All it took was a statement from an authority figure that brown eyes were better than blue eyes and a sciency-sounding explanation.

    I’m posting it again because that diet industry cycle? That’s basically the Elliot exercise. The industry presents one arbitrary variant of humanity as the only objectively correct way to be human, makes up some convincing-sounding explanation to “prove” it, recruits the mainstream to enforce it… and then sits back and rakes in the benefits as the randos they’ve targeted for attack do and/or pay anything for even the most transparently false promise of easing the abuse. The perpetuation of this cycle over decades may not have created fatphobia, but it’s definitely what distilled it into its current militant scorched-Earth TBL-War on Obesity form.

    1. What gets me is that the “acceptable and proper body type” changes from decade to decade. Remember the Roaring 20’s and the flapper body? Straight, no hips, no breasts. And then, BOOM! BREASTS!

      And women who were “sexy,” became “boyish,” while women who were “fat,” became “buxom,” and “beautiful,” within years.

      I can totally get behind changing hemlines, and new cuts, new use of color, etc. Changing up the fashion is a good thing, because I like variety.

      But dictating that women are supposed to change their BODIES, to fit the new “lines” of the fashion? It’s both ridiculous and blatantly cruel.

      1. Why, from your comment one could almost think you consider women persons, not (flawed) ornaments. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)

  4. Somewhere in my house is a book I once read which had some great “flattering” advice about clothes. It said, “If you don’t like this feature, here is how you play it down,” right alongside “if you DO like this feature, here is how you play it UP,” for the very same features!

    They focused on big breasts, big booties and big bellies, and recognized that some women love big breasts, and others hate them, some women love big bottoms, and others hate them, and some women, yes, love big bellies, while the fashion industry hates them, and tells people not to wear bare midriffs unless you have six-pack abs.

    It was quite refreshing, really, to know that “flattering” advice could actually go both ways. It was, as far as I can remember, my first experience with “How to play this feature up,” positive flattering advice. Almost all the “flattering” advice I’ve ever seen elsewhere was completely negative, and all about hiding your flaws.

    This one acknowledged that you might view a thing as a flaw (and did not shame the body part nor the feeling about it, but recognized that we have been trained to feel that way, and it’s a personal issue, anyway), but also showed that it could be loved, as well. It turned my attitude around, just recognizing that I could have it either way, and basically choose for myself how I wanted to feel about my body. Just the possibility that I could love those body parts was so radical!

    So, I started looking at clothes I had always been told not to wear, because they’d emphasize the wrong things, and started thinking, “That will emphasize my bodacious behind! WOOT!” And purposefully choosing clothes to emphasize (instead of thinking I was doing a fashion no-no), made me feel confident enough to rock it, and thus learn to love it.

    The fashion industry has power. They have been choosing to use that power for evil, but they CAN, and some members of the fashion industry ARE, using it for good! That’s why fatshion and fatshionistas are important. They are turning that cycle in a completely new direction, teaching us about new standards of beauty, and helping us to internalize those new, broad, loving standards of beauty, seeing the beauty in ourselves and others, through the very same fashion tools the current industry tries to use against us.

    And if fatshionistas profit, in the process, then that’s a good thing, IMO.

      1. Yeah. Nowadays, I prefer my fashion advice to go straight to the positive – emphasize this, embrace that.

        But I wasn’t ready for the full-throttle treatment, at the time. The way they presented it made for a good transition. I especially loved how they didn’t judge either way, but encouraged us to choose, for ourselves, what we liked and what we didn’t, and realize that there is no universal standard of beauty, and that it’s all subjective, anyway.

        I’m currently playing a Sims 2 character who literally has fat as a turn-off and thin as a turn-on, because that’s what she randomly rolled at character creation, and I haven’t had her change it. And that’s OK, because she doesn’t say either one is good or bad. It’s just her personal preference. This is in the same town with a queen who is fat, and magically makes herself fat again, whenever her character autonomously exercises and becomes thin. And half the people in town heart-fart over her, constantly.

        Because beauty is subjective!

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