My objection to "dieting" is threefold.
1. I think the whole "thin is healthier than fat so do whatever it takes to be thin" mindset of so much dieting does not actually promote healthy eating or even eating that is sustainable over the long term. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to eat well and healthy, but I think we can all just admit up front that most "diets" aren’t designed to be healthy in the long term, because the diet industry needs you to continue to regain weight you lose so that they can continue to sell you new diets.
2. I object to our cultural tendency to assign busywork to women. Woolf is right that women need space and time of their own to think about things and mull things over, to let our minds run free. And even now, it’s very hard to carve that kind of time out. Meals need to be made. Homework needs to be checked over. Dishes need doing. The dog needs out. Work not finished at the office needs to be finished this evening. A good friend needs a phone call. Bills need paid. The bathroom needs scrubbing. Etc.
The whole point of encouraging men to do their share of the housework is not just because housework sucks and no one should be forced to do it all*, but because women need leisure time, too, if they’re going to be creative contributors to society.
Dieting, with the calorie counting and the fat monitoring and the constant need to be vigilant about what goes into your mouth (and the mouths of your family members) and what folks weigh and whether they’re getting enough exercise, eats into leisure time.
3. I object to the idea that it’s a woman’s lot in life to suffer. And I think that Naomi Wolf, back before she seemed hell-bent on playing out her daddy issues under some feminist guise, had a brilliant point in The Beauty Myth, when she talks about how our food issues have clearly been hung on a frame of Christianity. We talk about food that tastes good as being "sinfully delicious." We talk about eating things we enjoy as overindulging, as "being bad." We join up with groups where we can meet once a week to talk about our efforts to improve our relationship to food. We confess how we’ve fallen short. We seek understanding.
But we’ve whole-heartedly accepted this notion that it’s so important to look right that a certain level of suffering is okay.
No it’s not.
It’s not okay that, in order to maintain the "proper" "healthy" look, you have to suffer.
And I’d love to believe that your willingness to take on suffering for whatever fucked up reason is okay, except that it does hurt all of us.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree with feminists who object to beauty standards on the level of "we are not the playthings of the world and reshaping ourselves to be, no matter how ’empowering’ the attention from men feels, it’s not actually really power, because it depends on conforming to constantly shifting expectations, which are designed to keep you chasing after them and never meeting them" though feminists who believe that usually put it more eloquently than I just did.
But I want to take a step back before that and say "women’s lot in life is not to suffer and anything that promotes and perpetuates that idea is bad for us." And the whole diet and beauty industry is based on our willingness to suffer**.
Let me say that again. The whole diet and beauty industry thrives on our willingness to suffer, our willingness to accept that suffering is an acceptable everyday state for women to be in.
Yanking out your body hair hurts.
High heel shoes hurt.
Getting breast implants hurt.
Too much exercise hurts.
Gastric-bypass surgery hurts.
Getting needles stuck in your forehead hurts.
Being hungry when you want to eat hurts.
But the whole point seems to be to look as if you’re thin and hairless with perky boobs and a perky bottom and long legs effortlessly. Or almost effortlessly, because lord knows that women who just naturally meet the beauty standard can be met with some cruelty, because, of course, they haven’t suffered.
(Hmm. So, maybe it’s about putting out this illusion to the rest of the world that we’ve put ourselves together this way with little effort, but with the acknowledgement from other women that we have indeed suffered enough to have earned this. Women who haven’t suffered haven’t earned the right to be conventionally beautiful. I’ll have to think on this.)
But we must both accept suffering as our lot in life, accept pain as our constant companion, in fact, willingly continually put ourselves in pain, and not project the visage of one who’s suffering.
This is crazy. Pain is a signal that something’s wrong. Suffering is a state to be alleviated, if possible.
My god, you know what just occurred to me?
This is the level to which this is fucked up. Pain is, you could say, a signal from one’s own body that something is not right, and suffering is pain manifest in an outward state that is noticeable to others, I think. We women willingly do things to ourselves that cause us pain and suffering and then we train ourselves to tolerate it. We accept a level of suffering as our lot in life, and we refuse to call that pain what it is, so that instead of making strides to stop suffering, we reinforce this idea that, no only is it our lot in life to suffer, it is our lot in life to suffer without ever expecting others to acknowledge our suffering.
In fact, where all other types of suffering cry out for justice, we perpetuate a type of suffering that is silent.
You can’t tell yourself that everyday–I must accept some level of pain as just the price of doing business as a woman–at the level of how you look and not have it seep into your ideas about what other levels of bullshit you have to suffer silently because you’re a woman.
But what I find more insidious about it is that we do it to ourselves. We police what we eat. We willingly go under the knife. We slip on the high heel shoes. And we’re silent about it. So that everyone else who does it and hurts thinks that either she is the only one who is suffering (and therefore an anomaly who should not rock the boat) or that such suffering must just be how things are. Or worse yet, that such suffering is worth it.
Being alive in a first world country should mean that we suffer very little. That should be a basic privilege of living in an industrialized nation. And yet, we willingly cause ourselves pain and suffer through grave discomfort, because we have this fucked up notion that suffering, for women, is okay.
Well, I reject that.
We have a right to expect that we spend most of our days pain and suffering free. Sometimes that’s not possible. But my god, we certainly have the right to live a life in which it’s not just expected that we will regularly inflict pain upon ourselves for the sake of… what? Reinforcing this idea that our lot is one of suffering?
*Unless you’re one of those people who loves housework, in which case, have I got a dream vacation planned for you!
**And again, I can already hear the objections from the whole "but being fat is not healthy. It’s not healthy! You’re all going to die!" crowd, to which I’d just point out again that I am not objecting to eating well. I am objecting to the diet industry.