How TV shows and diet culture have damaged the psyche of a generation

When you’re carrying the weight of the world, you can think self-deprecation is funny
How TV shows and diet culture have damaged the psyche of a generation

Sarah Cullen

A clip has resurfaced from season one of America’s Next Model, which shows the judges body shaming contestant Robin Manning. They said America’s Next Model is not plus size, that she should work for a “car toppling company”.

I grew up in the 00s and I watched the show for years and agreed with the judges when they said Robin was just too big. At a UK size 12, I know now that she was nothing of the sort. 

I first joined a slimming group when I was 17. I was wearing my school uniform and was the youngest person there. My mam came with me, because I was too nervous to go alone, and she knew I really wanted to do it. I won a prize the first week, after losing a whopping six pounds. Of course, I lost six pounds: I was a teenager, with the metabolism of one.

I have been falling on and off the diet wagon since the moment I walked into that room. However, I can’t blame weight loss groups or a particular diet for why I’ve been obsessed with my weight for as long as I can remember. 

I’ve believed my whole life, whether or not I could admit it, that my worth is intrinsically linked to my size. I thought I was fat when shopping for my First Holy Communion dress, and it is disturbing to me that at eight years of age, this was part of my psyche.

The television show Ugly Betty came out when I was in primary school, and I watched it religiously every week. I was in awe of the idea somebody “ugly” and not stick thin could make something of herself and fall in love. I wholly believed these pursuits are reserved exclusively for the thin, which made me think “this is why Ugly Betty is so funny, because it’s so completely unrealistic.” 

Last week, I got an Instagram reminder that On This Day in 2017, I put the hashtag #chubcity on a holiday picture of myself. I believed that if I called myself out for my “fatal flaw”, nobody could use it against me. I thought that poking fun at myself was my ultimate line of defence against anyone calling me fat. What makes me really sad about that, is I obviously liked the picture of myself if I posted it, but I still pandered to what were my own fatphobic beliefs, that big equals bad.

The Instagram I posted in 2017
The Instagram I posted in 2017

Being called fat was the worst possible thing I could think of. "If I am fat, I am less than. If I am fat, I am ugly."

Because of this idea I had that I am lesser because I am bigger, I have spent over two decades making it a part of an act. I make fun of myself. When someone compliments me, I say, “oh shut up, the size of me!” and I have decided that is not the kind of example I want to set in the world.

I’m 25 now and I’m in the process of rewiring a brain that is completely at odds with my body. I’ve had mental health struggles but have never considered my body issues in the same vein, but they are. It is a pattern of abuse towards myself and we all need to have a toolbox of skills at hand to help us end the cycle. Therapy, open conversations with people you trust, and curating your media orbit so you aren't exposed to negative ideologies can all really help in the fight against hating yourself. 

I don’t want to believe that I can only be happy and love myself and how I look if I lose a few stones. I have milked the ‘fat funny friend’ trope for all it is worth, and I know now that while yes, I can be funny, I am not funny when I’m talking negatively about myself.

My friends don’t laugh at my jokes when they are at my own expense. Sometimes, I’ll make a self-deprecating joke, and someone will say “why would you say that about yourself?” and I’ll cringe because I don’t even know why I do it. It is like I am trying to preempt the worst possible thing somebody could say about me.

If a comment on my size is the worst thing someone has to say about me, I would consider myself very lucky.

Nobody is laughing when you are unkind to yourself.

You sometimes hear people say to wear the things you hate about yourself like armour, so nobody can use them against you.

I think your armour should be things you love about yourself. How you love your friends, how you stick your neck out for others, how you can cry. Embracing those things and disregarding what you look like is the best protection you can ever give yourself.

I truly hope the day comes when an eight-year old has no concept of size.
I truly hope the day comes when an eight-year old has no concept of size.

America’s Next Top Model is over now, and things are changing. There is a generation growing up now that is eager to learn from the mistakes of the past. I truly hope the day comes when an eight-year-old has no concept of size.

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