I’ve lived in England 29 years. USA 9 years. These two countries are culturally very different in many ways. They are culturally similar in some ways. One cultural similarity that they share, is the belief that thinner is better. That belief effects everyone I ever met in some way or another. Not just women. Not just vain people. Not just fashion victims. The belief that thinner is better effects everyone: Men. Women. Children. Doctors. Dietitians. Therapists. Web developers. Scientists. Yogis. Teachers. Priests. The person who sold you your coffee this morning. Cowboys.
The belief that thinner is better is so ingrained that most people don’t even recognize it as a bias they hold. It’s an unconscious bias, which means you are not conscious of it. So if I were to ask you “do you think that thinner is better?” you might say “no,” but then you would still act and think and make decisions as if thinner were better.
It’s not your fault that you hold this bias/belief that thinner is better. It has been taught to you from an early age. You have been swimming in fatphobia all your life, so it is inevitable that you swallowed a lot of it. You probably started absorbing it in the womb, when you were a captive audience listening to your mother tell people about how she intended to lose the baby weight as soon as you were born. You’ve been hearing the words “lose weight” since your ears were developed enough to pick up sounds. You’ve been watching images of thinner people in books, on billboards, on screens, since you first opened your eyes.
Fun game, go sit in a newborn intensive care unit in a hospital and count the number of times weight loss is mentioned per hour by the mothers, fathers, doctors and nurses in there. Now imagine all those newborn ears listening to that crap. I bet you that weight loss is mentioned more times in a newborn ward than religion, politics, and Pepper Pig is. (Okay, maybe not Pepper Pig — but it would be a close contest.)
Now play that same game everywhere in life. Listen to the talk between shopper and cashier at checkouts. Listen to the talk between people sitting drinking a glass of wine after work. Listen to the talk on the bus. At the hairdressers. Sure, you will eavesdrop on a load of things you probably didn’t want to hear, but ignore all that and count the times you here a reference to weight loss as something to be aspired to. Your Lyft driver may even mention there diet as a form of small talk. That’s right, small talk. Diet talk is right up there with talking about the weather on the list of things to say when you don’t have anything to talk about.
Celebrities and Netflix series come and go. Political dramas hit the news then melt away in a matter of weeks. Even Trump and Brexit will stop coming up in conversations over the years. But weight loss will still be there. It is the theme that runs through our culture, it does this because we are all actively keeping the belief that thinner is better alive multiple times a day, every day.
Most people live the belief than thinner is better multiple times a day in the words that they use, the way that they treat others, the way they judge others, the prescriptions they write, the diet advice they give, the diet foods they buy, the gyms they join, the shops they feel drawn to, the adverts they pay attention to. The thoughts that they think.
And it’s making us all really fucking sick.
Here are three reasons off the top of my head why this is a problem (for everyone, not specifically people with eating disorders).
1. The belief/bias that thinner is better silently and ferociously puts us up against our own bodies by causing us to mistrust and question hunger and desire for certain foods. Moreover, this belief causes us to eat according to judgement rather than truth, and therefore causes us to eat in a dishonest fashion that, if we do it for long enough, can cause a mind/body communication breakdown.
2. The belief that thinner is better makes us give more respect to, and therefore pay more attention to, the words that come out of the mouths of thinner people for no reason other than because they are thinner so therefore we assume they are more right. Thinner people talk just as much bollocks as anyone else.
3. The belief/bias that thinner is better causes our doctors to attribute any and all health problems to their patient’s weight, which causes them to become blind to the symptoms that their patient is actually describing as their brains automatically catergorise the problem as a weight problem. This bias causes misdiagnosis which can lead to increased health issues due to the real cause of the symptoms being overlooked.