No matter your size, shape, or weight, chances are, you feel an extreme amount of pressure to force your own body into an impossible ideal every single second of every single day. It's friggin' exhausting.
A large part of that pressure comes straight from "diet culture," the pervasive force of advertising, media, movies, television, and more that constantly perpetuate the idea that policing your food intake in extreme and unhealthy ways is not just an effective means of weight loss but a necessary one.
Even if you want to, shedding the ideal of diet culture takes a lot of active effort, time, and emotional labor. One woman on Instagram is trying to make that process more normal.
This is Ashlee Bennett, otherwise known as @bodyimage_therapist.
She's a Melbourne-based therapist who specializes in body image.
On her Instagram account, she shares daily words of affirmation and explains the psychology behind Internalized Weight Stigma.
This week she posted a list of "how to bail on diet culture" tips, which are a must-read for anyone who feels they need to police their own body.
Which, come on, that's pretty much everyone, and a lot of us don't even know we're doing it.
The first step is to address how diet culture, or the idea that what you eat is directly tied to your worth, makes you feel about yourself.
Even I, a person who writes about loving our bodies for a living, still has that "I SHOULDN'T BE DOING THIS BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO GAIN WEIGHT" jerk reaction when I reach for snacks or eat junk food.
And that thought makes me address the fact that I've been taught via a lifetime of body shaming that being fat is bad. And the thought that I still haven't completely unlearned those negative connotations of being fat is even worse than the thought of actually being fat.
So yeah, diet culture makes me feel pretty damn terribly about myself.
Bennett's next step is diversify your social media feeds.
Following and befriending as many plus-size influencers as possible has completely changed the way I see my own body. You shouldn't just be following women who look exactly like you, either — seeing women of all different sizes, shapes, skin tones, and hair textures will indirectly train you to see not just your body as beautiful but all bodies.
Next? Address your positive values and ask yourself how those have been damped by diet culture.
Do you see yourself as a bad bitch who has no time for bullshit? I certainly do, but I also know that succumbing to societal pressure to look a certain way might be making me less so.
Maybe you've been missing out on important career or academic opportunities to obsessively meal prep or hit the gym. Maybe expressing hatred for your own body has caused your loyal friends to criticize their bodies.
The fourth step is to "redefine your values about social, mental, and physical health with life more broadly."
Is your reasoning for exercising, dieting, and the like to make your body look better? If so, it's helpful (or at least is has been for me) to think of these things as a form of control and self-care that can relieve stress when needed but are not strictly necessary tools for life improvement.
Wanting to be healthy and lose weight, I should clarify, is not a bad thing! But your reasons for wanting to do those things can heavily affect whether or not they're damaging to your mental health.
Bennett's fifth tip is to focus on your strengths that have nothing to do with your body.
One big downfall of the body-positive movement is that, at times, it fails to see that though all bodies are beautiful, humans are worth far more than their bodies. It creates another kind of pressure — not one to be thin, but to be actively body-positive, which can be equally mentally damaging.
Are you hella artistic? Are you a queen in the boardroom totally crushing your career? Are you surrounded by people you love who love you back? Own it! Even on the days you aren't feeling great about your body, you still have those things to celebrate.
Step six, probably the hardest but also most important, is to give up the "fantasy" image of yourself that diet culture allows you to have.
In order to fully move past diet culture and all its bullshit body policing, you have to understand that your body cannot physically reflect the hyper-edited images of models and actresses that are constantly put in front of us. And if it ever did, it wouldn't make you any happier than you are now.
Finally, Bennett advises finding other people who've ditched, or are working to ditch, diet culture and talking it out.
There are probably way more of those people around you than you think! And if they're hiding, there are always those people on Instagram I was talking about earlier.
Just know that no matter what your body looks like or what you plan to do with it, you're still valid and beautiful and all that good stuff.
Don't let the body-shaming bullshit get to you.