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New Year, New You: Skip the Diet Fads

By Bailey Shoemaker Richards

The start of a new year brings around the time for resolutions, and for some reason, the collective cultural resolution seems to be weight loss – for women.

Every ad for Atkins or the latest diet fad that promises women to help them shed pounds at an unhealthy rate reminds women and girls that our job is to be skinny so that we’re more attractive. According to the magazines and companies that tell us skinny and attractive are practically synonyms, weight loss should regularly be women’s number one goal.

One of the major problems with weight loss ads around the beginning of each year — and throughout the rest of it — is that the weight loss they promote is rarely healthy. Atkins, for example, has an ad that offers up to 15 pounds of weight loss in just two weeks. If that sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Losing that much weight in such a brief period is beyond unhealthy. Any weight loss beyond 2 pounds per week is damaging to the body in a number of ways. Additionally, weight loss promoters like Jillian Michaels advertise weight loss as a way to be “hot” first and “healthy” second.

SPARKteam Blogger Kaye Toal has already handily dispatched the notion that weight is intrinsically tied to beauty, and Seila Rizvic has covered some of the most egregious ads from this New Year’s not-so-new attack on women’s bodies. These articles highlight some of the reasons for fighting the idea that thin equates to beautiful. Attractiveness doesn’t depend on a number, but culture constantly reinforces the idea that being skinny is essential for being pretty and successful.

It also sets women and young girls up to regard their bodies as objects to be looked at rather than focusing on what they can accomplish. This cultural obsession with weight loss leads to serious health problems for many young women and increasing numbers of young men. According to ANAD, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.

According to the same source, 69 percent of young women in middle and high school said that magazines influenced what they thought a perfect body should look like, even though the bodies shown in magazines don’t actually exist. Women are being trained to chase after a body type that is unattainable without a Photoshop brush.

Eating disorders are frequently made the butt of jokes despite the fact that they ruin and end lives, as we saw in the recent Disney debacle. Demi Lovato, an actress who recently left a show in order to recover from bulimia, caught a joke on Disney’s show “Shake It Up” where a character playing a supermodel told the other characters that she “could just eat you up. Well, if I ate.” This promotion of forgoing food for the sake of being skinny reinforces the notion that it’s okay to starve as long as you look like the cover of a magazine. After Lovato’s ferocious criticism of the “joke,” Disney pulled two episodes of the show and promised to reevaluate them. While this is progress, it’s not enough.

With weight loss ads showing women losing weight at a rate that is more likely to make them sick than slender and magazine covers, and images touched and retouched beyond the point of realistic representation, the only people benefitting from weight loss resolutions are the people selling them to us.

I propose a new resolution for women and girls this year. Instead of vowing to lose weight, take Kaye’s advice and learn to love yourself. Refuse to support companies that try to sell the notion of thin as the only way to be beautiful and join Beauty Redefined’s 2012 Body Hate Apocalypse. Focus on developing your interests for their own sake, rather than avoiding foods you love for the sake of conforming to a social ideal that can’t be reached. Make 2012 the year without diets, without shame, and with enough body positivity for everyone.

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