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Diet Culture and the Media

Do you remember the first time you considered thinness to be an important attribute? Research suggests that this can happen as early as the age of three in girl children. According to the Objectification Theory (Fredrickson, 1997), girls and women are socialised to view their physical appearance as of paramount importance and as such, they view their appearance as their primary currency for success and happiness. The tragedy of this lies in the fact that the standard of beauty wrapped up in the thin ideal and diet culture is unobtainable, for most women, leaving many women and girls in a constant state of body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and low self-esteem.

The media is one of the greatest contributors to the perpetuation of the thin ideal and diet culture. In light of this, it is not surprising that time and time again research finds the media as one of the main culprits in the development of disordered eating and body image dissatisfaction in vulnerable women and girls. Many feminist authors argue that the perpetuation of the thin ideal and diet culture by the media is not innocent but an alarmingly political and deliberate ploy by a patriarchal world system to keep women and girls trapped.

There might be no better quote that more succinctly draws this point home than that by Naomi Wolf who famously wrote:

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty [it is] an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one”.

The realisation that the thin ideal and diet culture is not just a pretty little problem has prompted mass movement by activists on social media. Despite often coming from different backgrounds, experiences and motivations there is unity in the fact that the notion of the thin ideal and diet culture has harmed ALL women in one way or another. By creating a moral high ground linked to thinness, health, self-control, and fat phobia diet culture have disenfranchised many women to a less than satisfactory life which is at its roots patriarchal, racist and capitalist.

This point was most recently emphasised by an Instagram reel created by body confidence influencer Alex Light (@Alexlight_ldn) which featured harmful diet culture messages in common shows like Sex and the City, the X Factor, Real Housewives and celebrity gossip shows. The reel has 1,5 million views and thousands of comments by women sharing the harm

these messages have had on them. Newer shows like Pepper Pig continue the tradition of fat shaming and diet culture however now men are more included in the messaging raising questions about what the impact will be on their body image and relationship with food going forward.

It’s difficult navigating life under the weight of diet culture and the thin ideal. From the youngest age, we are almost indoctrinated to fear our natural bodies, calories, and fat. I am sure there are very few of us who cannot provide examples of diet culture-enriched TV shows and the like that had an early impression on us and which are permanently engrained in our minds. Sadly, for many of us, the result is a life of mental health difficulties and never just feeling fully okay in our bodies. This is supported by a large body of empirical evidence supporting the notion that the internalisation of the thin ideal is one of the greatest risk factors for the development of eating disorders. The internalisation of the thin ideal is also one of the leading causes of relapse in recovery because of how hard it is to break free from it.

Despite being hard to break free we can still make small changes in our lives to lessen the impact that the thin ideal and diet culture have on our lives on a daily basis.

Some ways of protecting ourselves include:

· Unfollowing accounts that embody the principles of diet culture

· Unfollowing people whose bodies trigger you personally

· Following accounts that promote body acceptance and support eating disorder recovery

· Telling Instagram, Tiktok and Youtube that you are not interested in posts that trigger you, in some way, by using the not interesting features available

· Using the new Instagram feature that blocks weight loss ads

· Reading up on diet culture and improving your media literacy

· Going to therapy

· Incorporating a practice of gratitude for your body into your daily life

· Getting rid of the scale (you don’t need to weigh yourself every day!)

· Finding a supportive network of people who you can learn from and support through the daily trials that come up in a world full of triggers

· Inviting self-compassion into your life

It is a battlefield out there, but the wonderful thing is that we are not alone. We can walk this road together, cheer each other on and cry with each other as we navigate this journey to true body acceptance and freedom. Making small changes can make a big difference. Take care of yourself and please never be afraid of asking for help.



Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. A. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women's lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of women quarterly, 21(2), 173-206.

Harriger, J. A., Calogero, R. M., Witherington, D., & Smith, J. E. (2010). Body size stereotyping and internalization of the thin ideal in preschool girls. Sex Roles, 63(9), 609-620.

Jovanovski, N., & Jaeger, T. (2022, January). Demystifying ‘diet culture’: Exploring the meaning of diet culture in online ‘anti-diet’feminist, fat activist, and health professional communities. In Women's Studies International Forum (Vol. 90, p. 102558). Pergamon.

Schaefer, L. M., Burke, N. L., & Thompson, J. K. (2019). Thin-ideal internalization: How much is too much?. Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 24(5), 933-937.

Wolf, N. (1900). The beauty myth: How images of beauty are used a

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