Typically, as we start a new year, we reflect on our lives and reprioritize our goals. A new year can feel like a fresh start, so it’s no wonder that it’s also the time of year when many people sign up for gym memberships and grueling diets. The messages, products, and programs—also known as diet culture—teach us that our bodies are not good enough and that we should change them. But what if this year, instead of trying to “fix” our bodies, we embrace them as they are? You don’t need a new body; you already have a great one! So perhaps instead of working on a “New You,” you just need to work on accepting the YOU that’s already incredible.
Here are some things to remember:
Diet culture created a problem so they could offer solutions.
When companies want to sell their products and services, they need to solve a problem. It’s no surprise then that diet culture became a multi-billion-dollar industry by telling people that they needed to be thin and beautiful to be valued in society. They also created a problem that is impossible to solve for good. If diets actually worked, they would be one and done. Please know that your body is not a problem to be solved. Our bodies are constantly changing, and it’s wrong to believe that they should be or always remain thin.
Health is subjective.
There are a variety of body types that exist in the world; some fat, some thin, and everything in between. In our society, being fat is seen as offensive, just as being thin is a compliment. This is because we’ve been socialized to believe that to be fat is to also be considered ugly, lazy, and gluttonous. But “fat” and “thin” are just words that describe someone’s appearance. Over the past few decades, the fat community has been working hard to reclaim and reframe the word “fat” because fat is not a feeling, nor should it be an insult.
We have been taught that thinness equals health and health equals worth, but the truth is that not everyone has the privilege of being healthy as the media and diet culture define it. For example, some people suffer from illness, disease, and limited mobility. It would be unfair to say that those people are less valuable than thin, able-bodied people. On the other hand, plenty of thin people are very unhealthy because they struggle with eating disorders (anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness).
You’ve likely heard that fat people are unhealthy and therefore more at risk of health issues but there are no diseases or illnesses that ONLY affect fat people. Many studies indicating that being fat is a health problem are funded by diet culture (as well as drug and insurance companies). Any links that were found between being fat and having health problems have more to do with the fact that fat people are oppressed, which leads to their health being negatively impacted because of weight stigma.
Health has to do with a person’s overall well-being, including physical, mental, and social well-being. You cannot look at a person and determine their health. This is why health is so individual. It’s about how well a person feels!
Think critically about what you see in the media!
What you see in the media is rarely indicative of real life. We are constantly exposed to curated content (especially at the start of each new year) that makes us feel like we don’t measure up. Remember not to compare yourself to someone else’s highlight reel. Many of the images we see in the media are heavily Photoshopped and manipulated to look perfect. You can find several examples online of how easy it is to make these changes. While you should never feel guilty for enjoying media, practicing good media literacy is essential. Finding a nice balance between enjoying entertainment and challenging what you see is critical for combating negative self-esteem and body image.
Do things that feel good.
This new year challenge yourself to write down all the fantastic non-physical things about who you are. Be thankful for what your body does for you, not what it doesn’t. Participate in things that make you feel good, like eating a chocolate bar, buying bigger (and more comfortable) pants, or taking a walk! The more you restrict yourself from foods that taste good, the more you obsess about them, which is why intuitive eating is an important practice to learn. Forget about diet culture’s idea of what health is and focus on your mental health. If you want to make some changes, so many body-positive nutritionists and therapists can help strengthen your mind and improve your overall health!
Instead of New Year, New You try New Year, New Mindset!
You don’t have to pay for a gym membership or do grueling exercises and diets for the sake of improving your appearance. You also don’t need to update your look or spend thousands on beauty procedures and products. Instead, let your new mindset take you places you’ve never been before, like body positivity!
Emily Lauren Dick is a body image expert and activist who is committed to making girls feel comfortable in their own skin. Her book, Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body, is the number one resource for young adult women who desire to redefine and understand true beauty. Emily believes that educating young people about body image, teaching resiliency, and normalizing real bodies is critical in combating negative thinking and improving self-esteem.