If you put on a blindfold and wander through the virtual world right now, chances are you’ll crash into some stories about dieting. It’s spring, after all. Our bodies are emerging from bulky wool sweaters and the sunny beach awaits. Wednesday morning there were two such pieces on the Cut, one a photonegative of the other, both part of the site’s “Spring Diet” package. In the first, Allison P Davis interviewed the anonymous blogger behind You Did Not Eat That, the Instagram account that calls out lithe-bodied women who post pictures of themselves with jumbo ice cream cones and cheesy Big Slices. “A pink frosted doughnut in front of an eight-inch thigh gap is really, really hard to stomach,” says this cool, mysterious vigilante. “If you’re a size zero, and you’re frolicking in a tiny bikini on the beach, you probably did not eat the doughnuts that you posed with the sunglasses.” The blogger's lighthearted message to “I Ate This” Insta-frauds? Cut the bull. “Nobody’s really actually saying, Get real,” s/he tells Davis. “And we should.”
The companion piece, by Véronique Hyland, is actually more of a companion plea. “I Don’t Want to Hear About Your Diet,” she (and her headline writer) protest. Hyland describes how she attended a fashion dinner and shocked everyone at her table by ordering steak with fries instead of kale with kale. As the curtain of invisible judgment began its descent, she says, a “healthy cookbook author” had thoughts:
You know what I like to do. … My children and I like to take carrots, and radishes, and other yummy veggies, and we fry them up and we eat them just like French fries!
These two pieces—one telling skinny people to stop posting glamor shots of their cupcakes, the other imploring people to quit preaching about their healthy lifestyle diets—are two sides of the same coin. Through the food you put into your mouth (or don’t), you must attain both Hollywood-levels of slenderness and Pharrell-levels of bliss. So you either a) pretend that your abstinence is a deeply fulfilling and joyous experience or b) pretend that you, though thin, are not on a diet at all. No, you indulge in cheeseburgers and decadent brunch fare all the time. Here are the photos to prove it.
Why can’t we just acknowledge that dieting is not as fun as not dieting? Committing to yogurt, lean protein, and salad greens for a sustained period of time may help you secure the body you want, but it means a trade-off in the “Look at this amazing cookie I’m eating” department. People might possess good reasons for watching what they eat, and for not doing same, but the illusion that you can “have it all” food-, appearance-, and health-wise serves nobody well. It makes you look foolish or contemptible for ordering regular pizza, not gluten-free, or for splurging on a buttery dessert. It also means that perennially diet-conscious people are missing out on pleasurable experiences—ones they may have convinced themselves that they are getting via sugar-free sorbet cups but which, actually, they are not.
If we want to shift beauty standards in a saner direction, we need to be more open about the fact that the price of a whisper-thin physique is often a degree of misery (and sometimes poor health too), and that the price of eating whatever you want is usually being not whisper-thin. (Of course, that’s not true for everyone! But it is true for most.)
Plus, whether you’re pretending not to care about what you eat or pretending that your all-organic paleo regimen hits every last craving, you’re still putting on a show. Staging that big, counterintuitive production 24/7 is a waste of time and a distraction from all the interesting stuff you could be learning, discussing, or posting to your social media stream of choice. As we enter the season of short shorts and spaghetti straps (and ice cream and barbeques), I wish we could all just feel comfortable in our skin—but at the very least, be honest about how much we don’t.
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