The Diet And Beauty Industries’ Cycle Of Disempowerment

Cycle of DisempowermentThe diet and beauty industries don’t stumble into making billions of dollars. They employ very specific strategies, one of which is their cycle of disempowerment.

The cycle goes like this:

Step 1:  They Create The Message

The diet and beauty industries tell us what is good/beautiful based on the products they sell (essentially, they create “problems” out of things that are completely normal – fat bodies, grey hair, wrinkles etc. – and then sell “solutions”)

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 of beauty is reality.  We start to believe that bodies, and people, 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 actor 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 industries.

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 Legare 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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7 thoughts on “The Diet And Beauty Industries’ Cycle Of Disempowerment

  1. Can we lump the plastic surgery industry in there too? There is very much a place in medicine for plastic surgery, but at this point, when someone getting a boob job or butt implants cannot even be questioned because “they’re doing it for THEM,” I feel like we’ve crossed the pale.

    They equate surgery, with the same basic risks as any surgery and the added risk of becoming addicted to the idea of “perfection” through surgery, with self-care and spa time. They suggest you don’t have to age (whatever the hell is wrong with aging. I opted to age, gracefully or not, Rather than fight it, when I was in my 30’s). They give you the same lie the diet industry does—if only you have that perfect butt you dream of, you will finally have the beautiful life you want!

    When I hear two coworkers in their 20’s, both with disordered eating and over-exercising habits, whose bodies very closely approximate the conventional ideal, discussing wistfully how much they want breast enhancement and tummy-tucks, I think it’s gone way too far.

    1. I know what you mean.

      I fully support reconstructive surgery, to fix something that went horribly wrong, such as a car crash, or flesh-eating bacteria.

      If you have a particular body part that you just hate SO MUCH that it is causing you real and perpetual anxiety, then it might be worth it to alter it (although I’d recommend therapy first!).

      But just undergoing dangerous surgery so that you’ll fit “the mold,” of what society tells you that you need to look like, that is horrible!

      I love the movie “Clueless,” and it always sends a chill down my spine how the heroine so casually mentions how her mother died during a routine liposuction procedure. She had not yet learned to think outside the box of fashion and shallowness, and because she was not yet old enough to know her mother, she was able to be casual about it. But the writer (if not the rest of the people involved in making the movie) clearly wanted to make a point about how people are so very willing to prioritize looks that they will “routinely” undergo dangerous surgery, risking death, just so they can fit the fashion, rather than making the fashion fit them. So casual! It was a small example of every-day horror that shows just how shallow the heroine, as an example of our culture, truly is. And although the topic was not brought up again in the movie, she did not consider getting surgery, herself, the fact that she grew and changed and became more concerned with more meaningful things, gives us hope that when she became an adult, and a mother, who might have a bit of pregnancy fat that does not want to go away, she might choose to keep it, rather than risk the same fate as her own mother, just for looks.

      1. I always remember the story of a woman who worked really hard to be thin, but couldn’t get the last two inches between the tops of her thighs to go away. She died form an infection after liposuction to remove what amounted to maybe a tablespoon of fat.
        That is a waste of a life.

  2. “Cheapening it” is right. Throw in cultural/social cause appropriation and now the monetary weaponizing of Body Positivity and you get the ultimate in crazy. First it’s: Have This! THIS is what The Elite want/are/buy/think. Now it is “We are all about YOU, your culture, your hair, your shape, no really, we just want to ‘Enhance the YOU that makes You YOU. For $179.50….
    Underlier: fear aging death. Never was an audience more inevitable or more gullible.
    Turn of that last few centuries, fatness was equated with glowing health. They hawked products guaranteed to “make children and adults fat as pigs”, ie youthful un-sick, immortal. Just change the music, the dance remains the same. Though the emphasis on personal responsibility and moral judgement is way stronger in the SELL now. On some level, people always blame the “other” who gets sick and dies. THEY did something wrong, therefore I AM SAFE!
    Inevitable, pointless, galling and very lucrative…

    1. “Throw in cultural/social cause appropriation and now the monetary weaponizing of Body Positivity…”

      That’s definitely the best part (for a certain value of “best”).

      Fatphobes: Fat people are lazy, weak-willed creatures who lack the intelligence or motivation to create anything.

      Also Fatphobes: Hey, fatty, I’m gonna steal that piece of art you created, say it’s mine, and just to rub salt in the wound, use it in a diet commercial.

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