Idolizing Thin Bodies Means Glorifying Deprivation

Hello, everyone!

Recently, I came a cross a TikTok that really rattled my brain. It was a young woman displaying her weight loss in a before-and-after video. In the “before” portion, the woman’s body appears to be conventionally thin. In the “after” portion, she has lost a significant amount of weight, revealing an even thinner body. Her secret? Walking 40 miles a week.

If we do the math, we can infer that this woman walks 2-3 hours per day to meet her weekly walking benchmark, depending on if she included rest days. In total, that’s 14 hours of walking per week for weight loss. There is nothing inherently wrong with exercising for 3 hours a day. Many athletes train for hours a day to achieve their fitness goals. While I wouldn’t bat an eye at a marathoner running 40 miles a week, I was struck by the idea of a non-athlete exercising for 14 hours a week, not in pursuit of physical performance, but in the pursuit of weight loss. The word that kept floating through my head: obsessive.

This TikTok made me think of that viral Gwyneth Paltrow interview that came out a few weeks ago, where Paltrow describes a daily wellness regimen of coffee, bone broth, vegetables, and one hour of movement, which could include anything from walking to the infamously exhausting Tracy Anderson workout. She also mentions “intermittent fasting” (aka not eating) until noon, and spending 30 minutes a day in her infrared sauna. Taken together, one can see Paltrow’s daily wellness routine as a series of actions intended to further weight loss. From the low-calorie diet, to the restricted eating periods, to the intense exercise and 30 minute sweating session, most of Paltrow’s day is spent in excising any extra calories that might threaten her already thin frame.

After seeing the internet’s backlash to the video, Paltrow clarified that her low calorie diet was a way of treating the “inflammation” from long-covid, and that “it’s not meant to be advice for anybody else.” Entrepreneur and former Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel, also a notorious promoter of thinness, stepped in to defend Paltrow, saying, “why does anyone care what Gwyneth Paltrow says if she drinks bone broth for breakfast and intermittent fasts? […] Her base is a middle-aged mom, her base isn’t tweens.”

Gwyneth may be making money off of wealthy middle-aged moms, but she’s been selling thinness to all of America since she launched Goop. One could argue that there is a straight line between Paltrow’s “wellness” (thinness) routine and a TikTok video of a thin woman walking 40 miles a week to lose weight. They are both participating in a shared culture of obsessive weight-watching disguised as wellness.

And both videos prompted the question lingering in my head: Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Lately, my social media feeds and internet landscapes have been drowned in thinness. Celebrities who may have indulged in the 2010s trend of “slim-thicc” have retreated to the safety of heroin chic. Influencers who once praised weight-lifting and “bulking” to gain muscle are reverting to cardio-only exercise plans and diets of greens powders and oatmeal. Starlets are hollowing out their cheekbones in imitation of consumptive Victorian maidens, millionaires are shooting up Ozempic, and fit-fluencers are once again hawking products that will “sculpt” and “de-bloat.”

Curves are out and thin is in. One could argue that thin has always been in within the scope of our lifetimes, as even shifting body trends all conform to the standard of thinness. Thinness has always been promoted as a personal journey. The idea of American policy contributing to our extra weight, from the subsidization of cheap sugary foods, to geographic food deserts, to nutrient-deficient school lunches, and woefully underfunded SNAP benefits, is decried but never acted upon. Instead, we’re bombarded with individualistic fixes: diet food, apps, and programs, weight-loss drugs and unregulated supplements, and invasive and non-invasive plastic surgery inviting us to find the best (thinnest) version of ourselves.

Studies show that heavier Americans face systemic discrimination in the workplace and throughout their lives. One famous 2006 survey found that out of 4,000 respondents, nearly half “said they would give up a year of their life rather than be fat.” Fear of fatness and being fat is so pervasive, so ingrained in our society, that many of us would rather sacrifice a year of our lives than be fat. And it’s not hard to see why we feel this way. Whether it’s the nation’s cruel and misguided decades-long war on obesity, or the non-stop bombardment of digital and print media that not-so-subconsciously promote thinness, we can’t escape the mandate of thinness.

For celebrities with personal trainers, personal chefs, and money to blow on the newest weight-loss treatments, getting thin is just part of the job. For the rest of us, getting thin is a lifetime of deprivation. Whether that’s walking for 3 hours a day, or volume eating 30 slices of cucumber instead of a cup of pasta so you can trick your stomach into being full, it all boils down to deprivation. We renounce the sin of hunger and subscribe to the mantra of “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” We waste our precious and limited time on this earth in pursuit of a smaller body, spending our entire lives restricting our caloric intake, purchasing diet products, and hating our flesh. And for what? We don’t get thinner. We just get unhappier.

Current weight-loss research shows that “95% of dieters end up regaining the weight they lost within two years.” Fad diets especially are good at helping people lose weight in the short term, but are unsustainable in the long term. When we restrict calories, our bodies literally fight against us, using all of the tools at their disposal to keep us eating. It’s not, as the diet industry would make us think, a struggle of personal willpower, but a battle between our desire to lose weight, and our bodies’ evolutionary survival instincts.

When diets fail, it’s not simply because of a lack of willpower or moral character in the dieter. Our bodies are wired for survival, and they interpret less energy availability (through dieting) as a threat to survival. Therefore, our bodies react to calorie deprivation with countermeasures that include metabolic, hormonal and neurological changes that overwhelm willpower.

Jen Carter, PhD, That diet probably won’t work long-term — here’s what to focus on instead

When society mandates thinness, it’s not asking for us to be thin for two months, it’s asking for us to be thin forever. So why does the diet industry and our society as a whole push a diet culture that doesn’t work? And why are we twisting ourselves into knots to deprive ourselves in service of a vision of thinness that will never be a reality?

Experts with far greater insight than my own have been investigating this question for years, and it’s not easy to find the answer. Weight stigma is more than skin deep, and it affects how we see ourselves from very young ages. Society wants us to be thin so that we can be “healthy,” even though one could hardly say that the celebrities who model this vision are paragons of physical health. What I really think is that society wants us to be thin so that we can be controlled. Hating ourselves is our favorite past time. We spend so much of our waking hours practicing negative self-talk, learning to hate our bodies from an early age, and depriving ourselves of the things that bring us joy. We eschew delicious food, perform tedious exercises, spend money on useless products, and when that doesn’t work, revert to plain old starvation (sorry, I meant iNtErMiTtEnT fAsTiNg) to slim down our bodies. When your populace spends much of their time hungry, fatigued, and body-obsessed, they have less time and energy to devote to other important matters, like policies that chip away at our civil rights.

If losing weight is important to you, then forget restricting, and practice common sense. Eat good food in moderation, exercise because you like to, and practice body neutrality. Be grateful that your body works and that you’re alive. And most importantly, please stop hating yourself. We spend so much time pursuing thinness, and so little time experiencing it. If it was attainable, it wouldn’t be promoted as a beauty standard, and the diet industry wouldn’t be raking in billions from our self-hatred. Don’t sacrifice your happiness to the pursuit of corporations who use your hunger to line their pockets.

2 thoughts on “Idolizing Thin Bodies Means Glorifying Deprivation

  1. Hello, great blog post! Your analysis of the thinness culture and its effects are spot-on. I found it interesting that you brought up the concept of deprivation, how people deprive themselves in different ways, and for what end-result. You mentioned that some approaches, like fad diets, are unsustainable, and people tend to regain weight, even if they had initially lost it. Do you have any suggestions on addressing this issue, such as how people can form sustainable lifestyle changes rather than focus solely on losing weight?
    Jen Owens

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Jen, thank you for your comment! I’m not a nutrition expert, so I can’t give any advice. I just think that lifestyles that make people feel unhappy, deprived, or obsessed with food restriction and weight loss are bad for our society as a whole. Focusing on enjoying life and eating and exercising in moderation seem like more sustainable goals to me than restricting.


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