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Food Psych #196: Diet Culture’s Racist Roots with Sabrina Strings

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Sociologist and author Sabrina Strings joins us to discuss her new book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia; the history of how “race science” led to the development of diet culture; the many problems with using weight as a measure of health; how culture influences science; and so much more! Plus, Christy answers a listener question about how to tell the difference between diet-culture rules and intuitive observations about foods that help us feel our best.

Sabrina Strings is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Berkeley Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology and the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Women in Culture and Society, The Feminist Wire, and Feminist Media Studies. Find her online at uci.academia.edu/SabrinaStrings.

This episode is brought to you by Poshmark, the fun and simple way to buy and sell fashion, including lots of plus-sized options. Download the free app and enter invite code FOODPSYCH for $5 off your first purchase.

We Discuss:

  • How Sabrina’s grandmother influenced her relationship with food growing up, as well as her current sociology work

  • What is considered a “desirable” black body

  • Her decision to become vegetarian, and now pescatarian

  • The role of cooking in her and Christy’s relationships with food

  • Sabrina’s grandmother’s reaction to diet culture

  • The life-and-death situation that inspired Sabrina’s graduate studies

  • The problems with conflating weight and health

  • Her experience with fatphobia in the medical system, despite being within the “normal” BMI range

  • How weight stigma in healthcare worsens health

  • Her book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

  • Why BMI continues to be used as a measure of health, despite evidence proving otherwise

  • Weight research, and its ties to the weight-loss industry

  • The racist roots of diet culture

  • The history of “race science”

  • The links between “race science”, politics, and capitalist interests

  • Why science is not completely objective

  • How culture influences science

  • Spreading the Health At Every Size® message to the mainstream medical community and education

  • The need for cultural competency in healthcare

  • The increasing acceptance of HAES® and anti-diet work

  • The role of religion in the establishment of diet culture

  • The coded ways we talk about race

  • How the racist origins of fatphobia affect white women, too

  • Intersectionality, and how racism reinforces other oppressive hierarchies

  • Why all body ideals are unattainable

  • How beauty is both empowering and oppressive

 

Resources Mentioned

Some of the links below are affiliate links. Affiliates or not, we only recommend products and services that align with our values.

Listener Question of the Week

How can someone tell the difference between a diet-culture food rule, and what makes their body feel their best? How can someone figure out how much to eat without restricting, and also without eating too much so that they don’t feel well? What are some of the ways that diet culture can co-opt intuitive eating? Can our physical symptoms always be traced back to what and how much we eat? What are some other potential reasons why a “large” nighttime snack might leave someone feeling tired the next day? Where might diet mentality be showing up in self-judgments of eating “large” amounts of food? What are some coded words that diet culture uses to mean “fat” and reinforce fatphobia? How can internalized fatphobia and diet-culture beliefs contribute to struggles with intuitive eating? What are some of the subtle differences between unconditional and conditional permission to eat? Why is it normal to eat to the point of discomfort in the early stages of intuitive eating?

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Food Psych #184: Why Diet Culture Is a Form of Oppression with Virgie Tovar

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Activist and author Virgie Tovar returns! We discuss her newest book, You Have the Right to Remain Fat; the intersections between fatphobia, sexism, and diet culture; how dieting is a form of oppression and assimilation; the influence of American history on diet culture; body liberation as a collective movement; and so much more! Plus, Christy answers a listener question about how to navigate the dating pool while working to accept your body and maintain your feminist values.

Virgie Tovar is the author of You Have the Right to Remain Fat and is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help women who want to break up with diet culture. She started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight and in 2018 gave a TedX talk on the origins of the campaign. She pens a weekly column called Take the Cake on Ravishly.com and is a contributor for Forbes.com. Tovar has been featured by Tech Insider, The New York Times, NPR, Al Jazeera and Self. Find her online at VirgieTovar.com.

This episode is brought to you by NurX, the game-changing company that’s here to make getting birth control easier. Visit nurx.com/foodpsych for a $20 credit, and you can get birth control delivered securely and confidentially to your door in less than a week.

This episode is also brought to you by Blinkist, where thousands of non-fiction books are condensed into key takeaway information that you can read or listen to in just 15 minutes. Start your FREE 7-day trial by going to blinkist.com/foodpsych.

We Discuss:

  • What Virgie has been up to since her last appearance on the podcast, including her new book, You Have the Right to Remain Fat and other writing projects

  • Diet culture as a barrier to feminism

  • How weight-neutral messaging is being co-opted to market weight loss

  • How fatphobia, sexism, and other forms of discrimination have not gone away, but have only become subtler and sneakier

  • Internalized inferiority, and what it looks like in our culture

  • The effort required to pinpoint subtle forms of marginalization

  • One strategy to help bring a different perspective to diet culture

  • The link between diet culture and fatphobia

  • The dietary reform movement of the 1800s as a precursor to present-day diet culture

  • Dieting as a form of oppression and assimilation

  • The National Fitness Test and its nationalist roots

  • Common narratives in American culture and history, and why they are problematic

  • Gaslighting, and how it shows up in the body-positive movement

  • Why body liberation is a social justice movement rather than an individual pursuit

  • What was lost when fat liberation morphed into body positivity

  • How seeking personal relief often brings people to anti-diet work

  • The link between internalized inferiority and unexamined privilege

  • Gentrifying vs. pupil energy

  • Why collective liberation is important

  • How separating ourselves from our thoughts can help with liberation

  • Virgie’s latest project, Camp Thunder Thighs

  • Her five principles/practices for meaningful change in our relationship with our bodies

 

Resources Mentioned

Some of the links below are affiliate links. Affiliates or not, we only recommend products and services that align with our values.

  • Virgie’s previous Food Psych® episodes #45 and #100

  • You Have the Right to Remain Fat

  • Sander Gilman’s work

  • James Baldwin’s work

  • Camp Thunder Thighs

  • Virgie’s website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

  • This episode is brought to you by NurX, the game-changing company that’s here to make getting birth control easier. Visit nurx.com/foodpsych for a $20 credit, and you can get birth control delivered securely and confidentially to your door in less than a week.

  • This episode is also brought to you by Blinkist, where thousands of non-fiction books are condensed into key takeaway information that you can read or listen to in just 15 minutes. Start your FREE 7-day trial by going to blinkist.com/foodpsych.

     

Listener Question of the Week

What are some tips for navigating the dating scene as a person in a larger body? How can a person stop feeling hurt by being rejected for their size? How does one reconcile their feminist critiques of dating culture with feelings of loneliness? How does dating culture reinforce patriarchal ideals? Why is it important to work on self-acceptance in the context of dating? What are some qualities to look for in a potential partner?

(Resources Mentioned:

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