Voices: The constant pressure to ‘love yourself’ is exhausting

·5-min read
I don’t want it to be a defiant act of radical self-love not to diet, nor do I want that decision to be shamed by a culture of fatphobia (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
I don’t want it to be a defiant act of radical self-love not to diet, nor do I want that decision to be shamed by a culture of fatphobia (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Like clockwork, the mark of a new year has transformed my targeted ads across all social media platforms. From YouTube to Instagram, adverts for weight loss programmes, coaches, supplements and hacks wedge themselves between every piece of genuine content on my feed. It’s the most body-conscious time of the year.

This far into my social media life (about 11 years), it’s to be expected. January is the diet industry’s most popular month. Google searches for “diet” have spiked over the last 30 days along with signups for online workouts, and companies have the opportunity to weaponise all the festive eating we did throughout December. So, it makes a lot of sense that they’d spend some extra cash on a bunch of ads.

But it doesn’t sting any less. Every January, I do my best to resist the temptation of a “quick fix” or a magical smoothie that claims I’ll drop five pounds in a heartbeat upon drinking (spoiler: I won’t and neither will you) but I have my slip-ups.

With a history of disordered eating, laxative addictions and full-blown obsessions with my body, I sometimes still look at my wobbles and creases and wonder if spending a few pounds really means I can drop a few of them too. The return of the diet industry’s favourite season to recruit, ironically, feels like an unbearable weight every year.

Thankfully, body positive influencers and fat liberation activists like Megan Jayne Crabbe, Grace F Victory and Nyome Nicholas-Williams have come to the rescue annually like my personal superheroes. And this year, it seems like they’re putting in more effort to drown out the noise of diet culture than ever.

For 2022, they set up camp right after Christmas, posting their images of what “realistic” bodies actually look like, recommending we block and report ads that bring our self-esteem down, and encouraging us to truly love ourselves. A valiant effort in the war against the diet.

The hard work of these activists is always appreciated, especially during this challenging month. And It’s necessary, particularly when 61 per cent of people feel negative about their bodies while the UK diet industry thrives on £2bn per year.

But this time, a new and unexpected challenge has caught me. Loving myself (as some fat-acceptance activists ask) feels just as overwhelming as the idea of “fixing myself”. It feels impossible to do either, when diets are known for failing (they’re kind of designed that way), but plus-size women are also directly associated with insecurity.

I understand why fat-acceptance activists want plus-size women to join the cause and revel in self-love in the face of diet culture, which has long worshipped thinness and conflated fat with a lack of value. Enjoying our bodies and our meals in the face of an industry that doesn’t want us to is a perfect kind of justice. But loving myself is exhausting – I’d rather not think about my body ever again, than take on the monumental task of learning to adore it.

Despite the perseverance of the companies who profit from it, all diets have a 98 per cent failure rate (another reason why exposing them is so integral). But I think my failure rate for loving my body is somehow even higher. I’ve been on as many journeys to love my body as I have fad diets, and all seem to end the same: tears, disappointment, and wondering why I can’t do it the way everyone else seems to have managed to. It just doesn’t feel feasible.

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I will always work hard to debunk the myth that thinness equals health and support the end of fatphobia and discrimination against people with larger bodies, but I’m blocked from applying this to my own body.

Instead, I’d love to eat whatever I want and have the body I have without it feeling politicised in any way at all – good or bad. I don’t want it to be a defiant act of radical self-love not to diet, nor do I want that decision to be shamed by a culture of fatphobia.

The concept of body neutrality was introduced at some point in the 2000s. A few different people are credited with coining the term, but it’s often linked to intuitive-eating counsellor Anne Poirier. Body neutrality is the idea that you can exist without having to think too much about your body one way or another, positive or negative. The point, I think, is to exist in your body without making a big “thing” of it. And that’s exactly what I need.

This month, I’ll be trying to practice neutrality – or even indifference – towards my body. I’m making a conscious effort to drop body talk from my dialogue, and redirect conversations others have with me which become body-focussed. I’ll be listening to my body, rather than judging it, and not berating myself for any negative thoughts that do come up. Instead, I’ll acknowledge them for what they are, sound them aloud, and dismiss them.

While others give up meat or alcohol or try their hand at going vegan, I will give it my best shot to go the whole month without fixating on my body. And if I can even make it one day, that will already be an improvement on last year.

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