What Planes Can Teach Us About Body Liberation

I’m writing to you from a plane on my way to a much-needed vacation, and my tray table barely has room to balance my laptop and a glass of water, so I’ll try to make this a quick one.

It’s not just the tray table, actually—it’s the whole seat that’s cramped and narrow, barely able to contain my body, shoulders and elbows protruding at awkward angles into the aisle on one side and my spouse’s arm on the other.

And it’s the aisles, not wide enough for any adult to walk down without turning 30, 60, 90 degrees to dodge fellow passengers’ elbows, knees, feet.

And it’s the bathrooms, whose ridiculous dimensions turn the already delicate operation of doing your business while hurtling through space into a game of pee-roulette.

I’m someone with thin privilege, and yet I’m uncomfortable and anxious every time I fly because of the egregious lack of personal space.

And it’s SO MUCH WORSE for people in larger bodies, who sometimes have to purchase two seats just for the right to get where they need to go, and still can’t get enough space to truly be comfortable.

Who have to endure stigmatizing sighs and glares from seatmates, and occasionally even suffer outright physical abuse because of their size.

Who sometimes forgo water and end up horribly dehydrated in an effort to avoid a trip to the bathroom.

Who often feel too scrutinized to eat, and have to endure gnawing, all-consuming hunger.

Plane rides are a microcosm of how weight stigma functions in our society at large, and how it affects different people in different ways.

This stigma, manifesting in an egregious lack of consideration for and accommodation of larger bodies, makes things uncomfortable for people like me, who feel hemmed-in and policed and unable to be truly free, truly embodied.

AND, the experience of those of us in smaller bodies pales in comparison to the discomfort, shame, abuse, and lack of access that higher-weight folks face every single day in diet culture.

This pain is only compounded by other systems of oppression. On planes and in everyday life, larger-bodied people of color, trans folks, disabled people, and those with other marginalized identities not only have to deal with weight stigma but also racism, transphobia, ableism, and other forms of discrimination that are at play in our society—not to mention lack of access to the spaces and services they need.

And multibillion-dollar corporations benefit from excluding far too many people from those spaces and services.

This inequity has to stop.

*

One important path out of this system of injustice is dismantling diet culture, which is what this week’s episode of Food Psych is all about.

It’s a replay of a fan-favorite episode with Joy Cox, a fat-liberation activist and researcher who’s experienced the pain of living in a society that devalues bodies like hers on many levels.

We discuss how intersecting identities (such as, in Joy’s case, being fat, black, and female) can affect body image; how to fight back against internalized weight stigma and body shame; why refusing to conform to cultural and societal expectations can help change the world; the racist roots of diet culture and why fighting it is an important part of creating a more inclusive society; the problems with framing larger body size as “obesity” and labeling it a disease, and so much more.

Plus, I answer a listener question about intuitive eating for athletes.

Check it out right here, and be sure to subscribe so that you never miss an episode!

(OK, so this ended up being a much longer note than I’d set out to send—and as soon as I started writing about systemic injustice and the fact that this irritation I’m feeling about air travel is a lot bigger than just me, I got so heated that my discomfort actually lessened a bit. Sometimes connecting with larger cultural issues will do that.)

Here’s to creating more space for ALL bodies in all areas of life
Christy

P.S. Exciting update about my book: I landed an additional book deal to have Anti-Diet published in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand by an awesome imprint called Yellow Kite, the UK cousin of my US publisher! So now folks in those countries can get the book through their local retailers (and avoid the steep shipping costs they would’ve incurred otherwise). You can pre-order both the UK and the US/North American versions right here, and pre-orders are a great way to help build buzz about the book and spread the anti-diet message far and wide!

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Anti-Diet Does Not Mean Anti-DietER

The anti-diet movement isn’t about shaming individuals for wanting to lose weight, or for wanting to eat “perfectly.”

Instead, it’s about dismantling the oppressive, fatphobic, food-phobic system (aka diet culture) that uses lies and manipulation and fear to make us want to lose weight and eat “perfectly” (as if there were such thing as perfection in eating).

This system is built on a foundation of racism and misogyny, and it compounds these oppressions even while denying that it has anything to do with them, pretending instead to be all about “health” and “wellness.”

So in working as an anti-diet dietitian and activist, I don’t begrudge anyone the desire to lose weight—that desire is SO understandable in this culture, especially for the highest-weight and most-marginalized folks.

Anti-diet doesn’t mean anti-dietER. It means anti–diet culture, and pro–intuitive eating, Health At Every Size®, and fat positivity.

If you’re dieting, I get it—AND, I’m hoping to show you that diet culture isn’t safe, sustainable, or nourishing for any of us.

I’m hoping to change the culture so that you don’t feel you have to diet ever again.

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What Thin Privilege REALLY Means

The term “thin privilege” has been a hot topic lately, with some very vocal people claiming that it doesn’t exist.

These thin-privilege deniers argue that because some thin people get body-shamed for being *too* thin, and because people in smaller bodies also can (and often do) have body-image issues and insecurities, that being thin isn’t actually a form of unearned cultural privilege.

But here’s the truth: Having thin privilege doesn’t mean that you’ve never had any body-image issues, or that you’ve never struggled with disordered eating, or that you’ve never been bullied or shamed by individual assholes for your size. You can have thin privilege and also hate your body.

Hell, having thin privilege doesn’t even mean that you feel thin—and in fact I’d wager that the vast majority of people in diet culture NEVER feel thin, even those with thin privilege. As the anonymous writer Your Fat Friend brilliantly put it in a recent essay (CW: size and weight numbers, examples of weight stigma) “thinness is always distant, unattainable, a punishing standard that few feel they can meet.”

You can have thin privilege and also hate your body.
— Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN

I know it took me a while to get my head around the term “thin privilege” myself, because I always used to think “thin” was a word reserved for waiflike models, never for someone like me—even though I’ve always lived in a relatively small body.

But like any other kind of privilege, thin privilege actually just means that by virtue of some characteristic of your body—in this case, being below a certain size—you have greater access to resources and face less discrimination in society than people without that characteristic.

People in larger bodies (i.e. people who wear plus sizes) face consistent, systemic oppression—not just body-shaming by a few individual assholes, but an asshole culture that makes it difficult or impossible to find clothes and spaces that fit, healthcare that’s effective and non-discriminatory, equal access to employment, and all of the other basic human rights that we all deserve.

The term “thin privilege” is meant to highlight this systemic disparity, and to call out the fact that dignity and respect and equitable treatment shouldn’t be privileges reserved for smaller-bodied folks at ALL—they should be universal rights afforded to everyone, no matter their size.

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The Truth About Weight Stigma

The medical establishment is starting to pay attention to the harmful effects of weight stigma, which is great—except that this type of stigma often gets framed as a “barrier to weight management.” 🤦🏻‍♀️

But the truth is that “weight management” IS weight stigma.

It frames larger bodies as a problem and tells people that they need to shrink themselves in order to be okay, which is the very definition of weight stigma (aka anti-fat stigma, weight bias, or weight-based discrimination).

Weight stigma is part of the fabric of diet culture, the toxic system of beliefs about bodies and food that's endemic to Western culture.

And in fact we have scientific evidence (CW for some weight-stigmatizing language) that diet culture's framing of larger bodies as a health hazard to be "fixed" via weight loss actually CAUSES weight stigma.

So if someone says they're against weight stigma but they’re still recommending weight loss...then they’re not really against weight stigma.

Or as my guest on this week’s episode of Food Psych, Jeffrey Hunger, puts it, “you can’t be anti-stigma in one breath and advocate for weight loss in another.”

Dr. Hunger (which is an amazing name for a weight-stigma researcher!) joins me to discuss how diet culture and weight stigma show up even in weight-stigma research, how his own thinking on weight stigma has evolved over the years, his experience of diet culture within the gay-male community, what intentional weight loss and the harmful practice of “gay conversion therapy” have in common, and so much more.

Check it out right here, and be sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode!

Here’s to ending the stigma against ALL bodies, 
Christy

P.S. If you’re ready to break free from diet culture and its weight-stigmatizing ways, come check out my intuitive eating online course. It’ll help you learn to accept and respect ALL bodies (including your own), so that you can stop obsessing over your size and start living the life you truly want and deserve.

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False Pictures of Health

Here’s something the “wellness” world never tells you: Many people who look like the supposed “picture of health” are actually struggling with seriously disordered eating and exercise behaviors.

The “wellness gurus” you see on social media sharing photos of their green juices and workout routines and visible abs are often incredibly sick and suffering under their restrictive regimes—even if they don’t talk about that part publicly.

And then diet culture, in its new modern manifestation as The Wellness Diet, makes these struggling people out to be icons of what we “should” all aspire to look like and be like, locking them and us into a losing battle against our bodies.

It’s time we all stopped believing in this bogus version of “wellness.” 

It’s time we started questioning and pushing back against everything diet culture has taught us about food and movement, including the idea that well-being has a certain “look.”

Because when people are running themselves into the ground in order to achieve some mythical ideal of health, that’s anything but “healthy.”

My guest on this week’s episode of Food Psych, Tiffany Roe, used to be one of those people.

She shares how, in the throes of an eating disorder that was consuming her life, she got treated like a health and wellness expert and had friends emulating her every (disordered) move.

She also shares how she ultimately recovered, and we discuss the connections between religion, shame, diet culture, and eating-disorder recovery; why we need to fight fatphobia in the eating-disorder-treatment field; the importance of learning to sit with feelings of distress and discomfort; and so much more.

Plus, I answer a listener question about how navigating emotional eating fits into the intuitive eating process.

Check it out right here, and be sure to subscribe so that you never miss an episode!

Here’s to smashing diet culture’s supposed picture of health
Christy

P.S. If you’re ready to break free from disordered ideas about “wellness,” come join my intuitive eating online course. It’ll help you tune out all the toxic noise from diet culture, so that you can tune back into your body’s needs—and your soul’s true desires.

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