Ah, game shows! I have memories of watching game shows, especially in the summer, as a kid. I remember getting the Game Show Network channel and feeling like this was the best idea ever. It showed old, classic games I had never even heard of. Fast forward to today, and I still watch an occasional game show. I go through phases of watching some shows, but if I need something “light and fun” or “in the background,” a game show is a fun option. One thing that is fairly consistent in game shows is the brief, very brief, introduction of the contestants. We usually get a name, where they are from, and then some quick snippet of information. “Welcome Alexander Hamilton, from New York. It says here you are one of our founding fathers?” And the contestant takes the cue to elaborate briefly and engage in a little banter with the host. Sometimes it is an interesting hobby, something about their occupation, or any interesting factoid.
I believe the contestants are interviewed and these interactions are planned and perhaps even scripted. The other day I was watching a fun, fairly new game show. Once the host said her name and where she was from, the contestant said something like, “Yes, it was hard growing up. I was made fun of for being over XXX pounds. But now, I’ve lost XX pounds.” The host goes on to be amazed and says how great that is and “How’d you do it?” She says something about “diet and exercise” and he makes a joke about how someone should write a book about this. Blah, blah. It’s over, just like that, and if you aren’t paying attention, that interaction can invade your subconscious, feeding any beliefs you may have been conditioned to have about bodies, weight, and food.
Why does it bother me?
- Diet culture is everywhere. So many are directly impacted and harmed, not trusting their bodies, hating their bodies, and negatively impacting their relationship with food. Eating disorders carry the highest risk of death of any psychiatric disorder. As an eating disorder therapist, I continually work to challenge distorted beliefs perpetuated (if not created) by diet culture.
- The contestant started her 15 second bio with, “It was hard for me growing up because kids made fun of me….” She gave a specific number, which I purposely left out for several reasons. First and foremost reason….it literally doesn’t matter. NO MATTER WHAT—her weight is not justification for being made fun of or bullying. The kids’ behavior needs to change, not her body. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and there is no justification for being okay with being made fun of. If we were short or tall and being made fun of, would we just accept that this is okay and we just need to change our height? If we were being made fun of for having curly hair, would we just say we need to change our hair?
- The last thing I want to point out, although I could keep going but do not want a ginormous blog post, is that this was either what she deemed an important enough part of her life to share in her allotted 15 seconds, or the producers of the game show did. I don’t want to knock her for this choice, as she isn’t my target. Society and diet culture need to be challenged, not this contestant and only maybe the producers of the game show. Diet culture would have us believe our body and our weight are the most valuable aspect of who we are. That is a lie! Weight is literally the least interesting thing about a person. Our bodies are amazing aside from the size and weight. If we are stuck believing weight is and constantly focusing on changing it, we are wasting so much energy that could be channeled into many other things.
What do we do about it? Because I like being clever to make things memorable, I have 3 A’s—awareness, arm yourself, and action.
Many would have watched that game show and the information would have just been glossed over and seeped into our subconscious. Awareness of diet culture messages may exhaust you, because when you start becoming aware, you will notice it daily and often multiple times a day, unless you isolate yourself in a corner with no connection to media or people. One way to keep this exhaustion at bay is to turn it into a game. A couple months ago I heard about the hashtag “I spy diet culture” and I think this is brilliant. If you want to use social media to your benefit, post when you catch it, using a hashtag of your choice. I have a friend who snapchats a buddy who gets it. If social media isn’t your thing, text a friend or keep a detective notebook of things you observe.
. Make no mistake about it, we are in a war of sorts. This is totally counter-culture thinking. For so many of us, it can almost feel like an attack. We can try to do things to avoid diet culture, but it is not realistic to believe we can avoid it all the time. Arm yourself with information, so the sneaky disordered thinking doesn’t find its way into your psyche. Look for articles, books, podcasts, social media accounts, groups (in person or online) that support the anti-diet-culture movement and/or promote body trust and acceptance and positivity. Know who your people are….people that get it. This might be an area to find a professional. Quick note to make sure they are trained and following principles of Health at Every Size or Intuitive Eating.
There are many ways to take action. If you are so inclined, you can get involved in advocacy groups. From changing laws to educating others on eating disorders, there are big actions you can take. Also, know that the action can be smaller and more personal. Try finding a way to do something counter to the messages received in the awareness portion of these steps. Journal your feelings, thoughts, reactions to diet culture. In the example of the game show, maybe come up with your own 15 second bio that would be on a game show, even if that is a fantasy.
Here’s Jamie English, from Texas. I understand you are a self-proclaimed Cat Lady?
Here’s Jamie English, from Texas. It says here that you love adventure and would like to visit the Hogwarts Castle in Scotland?
Here’s Jamie English, from Texas. You are on a mission to help others love themselves and see that all bodies are beautiful?