Diet Culture in Department Stores

When M asked me to go shopping with him, I assumed he meant to Target or our favorite thrift store which are our go-to haunts. I was very surprised when he said he wanted to shop department stores or the mall. I will admit, there is an alluring luxury of walking into a store and seeing all of your options neatly laid out before you in seven different colors and patterns. What?! I don’t have to hunt for a sweater my size in a decent color? The experience felt like a different world.

Especially when I couldn’t find my size. In any of the five stores we browsed. With each new store we entered, the message became abundantly clear: if you don’t wear a size 00 through 10, you can’t sit with us. You don’t belong.

As you might imagine, this launched me into a cadre of emotions. Anger at an industry that only includes people in smaller bodies who can afford these clothes. Disappointment in myself for no longer fitting into that mold. Sadness for feeling like a fat fucking failure of a human being. Inevitably my emotions turned on me and directed all my negative thoughts and blame on myself. I tried to hold on to the anger at the vague “man” figure whom I envision owning these companies and making decisions, but that sometimes isn’t enough to silence that internalized hate.

There was a time in my not so far past when I would react to this feeling by burritoing myself in my comforter and canceling all my plans for the rest of the weekend. However, I’m working on keeping my promises to myself and one of those is to be kind to my body. Here are some strategies that actually helped me direct my focus back outward where the blame actually rests with our society and diet culture:

1. Speak your shame: the almighty Brene Brown taught me to speak my shame. Because of the shame associated with being in a larger body, I hardly ever communicate exactly what’s happening in my head during these moments of self loathing. Let your loved and trusted ones know what’s going on inside you. Tell them you’re struggling with body shame and remembering that diet culture is the culprit, not my body, mind, heart, or spirit. Resist the urge to cancel on your friends and yourself. If they really deserve to be on your personal baseball team, they will remind you of how badass you are in your moment of overwhelm. We’re all in this together.

2. You are not a size, you wear a size: Speaking about size as what we “are” (e.g. I am a size 22, I am a size 31, etc.) instead of what we wear has always bothered me. My size does not define my worth, and neither does yours. I wear a Large, not I am a Large. My size is not my identity. Neither is yours.

3. We are all in this together: (Is it obvious that this is my new mantra?) I’m Maegan and I’m here to give you permission to unfollow the accounts on any social media that only serve beauty in the form of white, thin bodies. I now almost exclusively follow body positive accounts that remind me that being thin isn’t always the norm. And that’s okay. If you fill your feed with images steeped in perpetuating diet culture, you will feel bad about yourself. You may be thinking, but that’s what I aspire to, that’s my goal. I’m wondering if you’ve ever stopped to ask yourself why is that your goal? To be healthy? To feel as good as the person in a small body feels (or what we assume is good)? Or is it because we were told that is the most desirable body by society? Maybe sit with that for a while before deciding to alter your social media content. If you can get to that point, the next step is finding community and leaning on that community in moments such as the one I experienced this weekend. I immediately returned home, sat on my couch, and pulled up body positive accounts exclusively to remind me that I’m not alone. Neither are you. 

That was hard for me to share. This diet culture runs so deep into my psyche, and everyone’s really, that it’s hard to get some distance to dissect diet culture for what it really is. I’m new to this journey, and I already feel so liberated. I’m finally beginning to get out from under the weight of what society says my body “should” look like.

Thanks for letting me share!

Maegan

2 thoughts on “Diet Culture in Department Stores

  1. Jen

    Wow, I can feel the depth of this as I read, and it brought me to tears. I don’t know a woman that has not experienced this pain, frustration and doubt surrounding their body at some point in their lives, if not on a regular basis, regardless of the size they wear. Thank you for sharing your perspectives and experiences, you are helping me to open my eyes and ask myself some serious questions about how I view my own body.

    1. Mae Goes West

      Reading your response brought me to tears. A lifetime of pain that most of us collectively share. We’re all in this together. Thank you for reading, dear friend.

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