Diet culture can often make women feel like the skinnier version of themselves is the best version, but that isn’t always the case.
Lingerie influencer, Elly, learned that lesson the hard way.
Elly dropped weight when she was going through a divorce, and while she was the thinnest she’s ever been, she wasn’t feeling great and didn’t even feel like she looked great.
“When I separated from my husband, I dropped weight, but it was stress weight loss, and I looked and felt haggard,” Elly told news.com.au.
It’s only since she regained the weight that she’s started feeling better. “I feel more like myself now. I can look back at photos and see how gaunt my face was and the pain in my eyes,” she explained.
Interestingly, when she was at her smallest she found people were eager to celebrate her smaller body rather than be concerned. “I can still remember all the compliments, I was getting,” she explained.
Elly dropped weight when she was going through a divorce.Laceandhaze_2/Instagram
Gaining weight back made Elly feel happier and healthier.
See? Diet culture has bite, and far too many people get bitten and believe that losing weight is exclusively a sign of success and couldn’t be for negative reasons.
That kind of thinking makes Pat Gaele’s job so nuanced.
Gaele is a personal trainer and coach and finds that he is constantly dealing with clients that are laser-focused on weight over health
“There is always a lot of pressure from clients that just want to lose weight and it is where most of my income comes from,” he explained.
However, Gaele finds this mentality dangerous because he doesn’t see weight loss as a blanket solution.
“People often think losing weight will make them happier! However, they don’t address what is really making them unhappy in the first place, and it is more complicated than they realize,” Gaele said.
Elly didn’t feel healthy or that she looked good when she was skinnier.@laceandhaze_2/ Instagram
In response, Gaele tries to help his clients focus on health, “If people are happy and healthy, then let them be happy and healthy. We don’t all have to be or look the same.”
Still, the idea that weight loss will make you happier is a deeply culturally entrenched belief, and who can blame us?
Who hasn’t seen a weight loss ad? Where the before is always a sad-looking bigger person and the after is always a smiling happy person. It sends the message that if you are thinner, you’ll be happier.
Even if you managed to avoid weight loss ads, it would almost be impossible to avoid the backlash of celebrity cops if they dare to gain weight.
Recently, singer and actor Selena Gomez spoke out about gaining weight because she was getting trolled about it.
Elly says she feels more like herself now.@laceandhaze_2/ Instagram
It’s the kind of messaging that leads people to believe weight loss will be the secret to feeling better and plenty of women fall for it.
A quick poll of some Aussie women found that losing weight doesn’t equate to happiness.
Rachel revealed that losing weight just made her feel worse about herself, “I lost 65 kilos, and now I obsess over weight and how I look constantly. I have no confidence,” she explained.
Similarly Jess shared, “I lost 25 kilos and was the most insecure I’d ever been, and I ended up with an eating disorder trying to maintain it.”
Amy revealed that losing weight just worsened things, “It didn’t fix squat! If anything, I was more depressed, plus my health was worse,” she explained.
Jordan revealed that weight loss just made her weaker. “I lost 10 kilos due to a family tragedy, and I was just cold all the time and looked unwell.”
Meanwhile, Alexis found that when she gained weight during the lockdown, people were negative about it even though she was healthier.
“When I gained weight, I was the healthiest I had been in terms of I was walking 20 kilometers a day (had nothing better to do) and was eating really well, but I was about 20 kilos heavier which I was fine with, but I was constantly getting comments on it.”
Alexis’ body changed again when she was put on medication for her ADHD, and she began to shed weight, and she was horrified by the comments people made about her body.
“I lost weight, and I had so many people compliment me on my weight loss and even when I said it’s not healthy for me to receive positive reinforcement about my weight,” she explained.
Alexis puts the positive comments down to people’s warped views on weight.
“I had women at the gym constantly approach me saying how much better I looked and how good I looked and asked what I was doing.
“I would be super honest and say at the moment I haven’t been eating, and it’s been something that I’ve been struggling with, and then they would be like, ‘Keep up the good work!’” she said.
While weight loss might still be sold to women as the pinnacle for success, that isn’t true and blindly complimenting women about weight loss is only helping diet culture get a firmer grip on vulnerable women.