This post was written and submitted by Emily Taylor, RD, LDN. Emily Taylor works as an outpatient clinical dietitian in the Greater Boston, MA area. She is a generalist with interests in eating disorders, diabetes management, and IBS/GI symptom management. She is also a recent alumna of the University of Connecticut Coordinated Program in Dietetics, where she completed an Honors Thesis examining attitudes related to body weight in food insecure adults. She shares her food photography and nutrition musings on Instagram @eatswitheat.
It’s no secret that many of us deal with some kind of body image issue. But what keeps these thoughts from going out of control? What values do we hold that pull us back down to Earth? I’ll share my story.
Back in 2014, before feminism was quite so mainstream and before conversations about the wage gap or #MeToo were as visible, I was in high school, chronically dieting with poor body image. I was starting the capstone poetry project for senior AP English, when I came across the work of Marge Piercy, a feminist poet. Though my teacher told me to pick someone more “complicated,” her work spoke to me. She wrote about the pressure that girls are under to look a certain way, in her words, “advised to play coy… exercise, diet, smile, and wheedle.” She wrote about her belly, how it shrunk and expanded and changed with her throughout her life, in a positive, admiring way.
The idea that the terrible ways that I felt about my body were a side effect of a culture that still tries to keep women down instead of a personal shortcoming was reassuring. The idea that it was possible to regard one’s own belly in a positive manner was life-changing.
When I got to college, I continued to take courses in gender and sexuality studies. I learned about the concepts of hegemony, the ‘powers-that-be,’ often white, male and able-bodied, as well as intersectionality, the idea that our different identities such as race, gender, class, sexuality, background, ability, and more combine to alter our experience of the world. I wrote a paper on body dissatisfaction, dug into the scientific literature and learned that body dissatisfaction profoundly affects health. It is not only implicated in heightened eating disorder risk, but it also decreases condom use self-efficacy, likely because body image is so closely intertwined with how we value our physical selves.
Feminism allowed me to expand my thinking beyond even the ‘normative discontent’ that women feel with their bodies, and the cultural pressure for women to diet. With intersectionality in mind, I dug into the weight stigma literature and gained a greater appreciation for size as an axis of oppression. I learned about how cis-normative beauty standards harm transgender folks as well. When I changed the way I saw the world, the way I saw myself changed too. I’m a human vulnerable to diet culture, and a woman vulnerable to sexist messaging. When I look in the mirror and decide for a moment that I don’t like what I see, I ask myself, “Who benefits from this? Who profits off of this? And is this productive towards making the world a better place?”
I’m a feminist, I’m a dietitian, and I want this world to be a safe place for people of all identities. Fighting diet culture and thus helping prevent eating disorders is an important part of that.