What Will it Look Like When We’ve Got it Right? Understanding the “World Without Dieting” Campaign

So a little over a year ago after finishing my Cosmopolitan Magazine I rushed to the nearest Shopper’s Drug Mart and shame-faced, asked the cosmetician for a retinol cream – because I…had crinkles in the corners of my eye… and Cosmo said I should get on retinol creams in my 20’s. I thank my stars this woman had the sense to tell me that at 21 I really did not need a retinol cream. Sensing my eau de desperation she gave me a much cheaper, much more general cream and sent me home.


I want these “crows feet” it means I lived a happy life. Or squinted at the computer too much. Let’s hope they’re from joy. Source.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I recently started wearing lipstick, determined to try and make red my signature shade. Problem was that despite the fact that this stuff smudges on just about everything, getting it off all together is about as easy as melting a glacier with a blow dryer. So I went back to Shopper’s, and again shame-faced, asked the cosmetician if there was a specific remover for lipstick or if I could use my eye make-up remover? While I didn’t get a clear answer on that, she did, however, feel it necessary to inform me how to properly remove eye make-up:

So you press it gently on your eye for ten seconds, and then wipe in, because… you know at our age we have to start worrying about wrinkles…

Well jeez. She was honestly younger looking than I am, but apparently at 23, this is now something that must be attended to.

Last week I wrote about the fight against beauty stereotypes, that turned out to not be what I thought it was, but there are a number of great programs out there. Albeit it is a little odd that the industries blamed for the creation of this problem are now the leaders of the fight back campaign. Stranger things have happened I suppose.

But seriously guys, check it out at worldwithoutdieting.com - there's actually some seriously heartwarming oaths there!

But seriously guys, check it out at worldwithoutdieting.com – there’s actually some seriously heartwarming oaths there!

Recently, Cheerios really has been pushing their “World Without Dieting” campaign. (The whole scheme in case you never watch actual television, is that you should take the “never say dieting oath,” hoping that by not talking dieting, the future generations won’t care about the numbers.) Great idea, except I see two problems with this:

  1. Not caring completely can be dangerous. You need to pay attention to numbers sometimes; and
  2. Diet doesn’t, or rather shouldn’t be, used to describe efforts at weight loss – diet is what we all do on a daily basis. It is what we eat, not the modern definition of a modification of eating to prompt body changes. We don’t go on a diet, we change our diet.

And I think right there is the more important thing – don’t eliminate diet, eliminate dieting. We are all on a diet, what that diet consists of and the motives behind it vary, but diet is not a temporary thing, it is an every day thing. We shouldn’t be focusing on eliminating the term diet, we should be focusing on returning it to it’s original meaning. Medically backed weight loss efforts still have a place, because beyond genetic factors, we as a culture have not figured out a) what healthy eating actually looks like beyond the current quarter, and b) how to make healthy eating affordable and accessible to everyone.
A head of lettuce costs $2, a bag of carrots, a cucumber, and a pint of cherry tomatoes all cost about the same. I can buy a upsized combo at almost any fast-food chain for cheaper than the cost of the ingredients for a salad. And odds are, unless you’re like me and you genuinely enjoy eating salads (probably the result of conditioning over the years), you would probably enjoy the hamburger and fries more than the salad. (Blame it on your brain. Science backs this one. Legit.)

More nutrients=more money. Source.

More nutrients=more money. Source.

So it really sounds like I am saying that we should just give up, and accept this world with fad diets and eating disorders and obesity, and all these cardiovascular diseases that are highly correlated with our diets and lifestyles.
I’m not.
I think we have to start somewhere, and we have indeed started, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even if we never say dieting again, the pressures are still there, the economic difficulty associated with healthy eating is still there. Eliminating one word, won’t change an entire society’s view on the human body and nutrition. And let’s be honest, this will take generations to change. At least 5 generations have grown up with the notion of weight loss and dieting. You don’t eliminate that in a year or even a single generation. Even if I vow to never say dieting to my nephews (or my children should I choose to have them), I cannot guarantee that everyone else they come into contact has had the same exposure, and I can’t necessarily change my mindset. I still have healthy/unhealthy distinctions in my brain, and those are important. You can’t necessarily eliminate diet without eliminating these conceptions of what foods you should eat and should not eat on a routine basis to maintain a healthy body, mind, and soul.

Eek. I really do sound like I’m saying give up. I swear I think it’s a positive sign that we are trying to change. I’m just skeptical as to how that’s going to work. I sat back and thought about it, and really my questions are linked to – what does success look like? How will we know we fixed it?

When “ugly people” grace the covers of magazine? Not that we would call them ugly, because hey, we also rewired our brains to no longer find beautiful things attractive. We as a race are conditioned to be attracted to beautiful things. To things that glitter and catch our eye as extraordinary. We can’t change that we will find beautiful people beautiful. Would we stop buying face washes, toner, and $40 bottles of facial creams and wrinkle reduction creams, because it apparently no longer matters what we look like? Probably not.
Will we not really comment on people’s weights? Well that could get flat out dangerous – there a numerous risks associated with being overweight, so ignoring weight is not a responsible option. Especially since we humans are primed to eat hedonically – we eat sweets because they activate our brain like drugs.

What we can change is how we feel about ourselves, because a lot of the negativity comes from our evaluations of how we compare to others (in just about every area – money, friendships, love, success, weight, clothes, grades, you name it).

So I’m not saying give up. I’m not saying shame on these diet-associated industries for trying to garner sales off of the “pro-body-love” trend. I’m saying that change is possible, but you have to think about what exactly it is you are trying to achieve – what will success look like? It is only once you figure out concretely what the future will look like in your utopian world, that you can attempt to get there.

What solutions do I see?
We can change our understanding of what it is to diet, what the word originally meant, and what a healthy diet looks like. We can work towards making healthy living more affordable. We can teach children what healthy looks like from the people actually trained to know rather than the internet. We can regulate the claims a diet can make and how information is shared on the internet. There are a million and one small solutions that can be combined to make a big change. I just don’t think the #nomakeupselfie and never say dieting approach is the best possible combination. This will take time, it will take personal acceptance more than society’s, but eventually we can maybe make healthy living natural not a temporary, painful endeavor filled with frustration and deprivation.

P.S. Sorry for the delay on this. Ironically I was caught up writing a paper on – you guessed it – dieting. (The last paper other than my thesis of my undergraduate career guys! Serious stuff going on! Eep! I’m almost a big kid!)


#NoMakeUpSelfie: What This Means, What We Thought it Meant, and What it Means to Me

So there’s been a lot of this whole #nomakeupselfie stuff going around Facebook. Surprisingly no one has actually nominated me, perhaps because I am known for going out without make-up on a semi-routine basis, and half my “selfies” already feature no make-up. The sad thing was that I didn’t even know until Friday that the whole idea behind this trend started last year and was aimed at raising funds for researching a cure for breast cancer. Once again, we as a society have missed the mark. To correct for this error I propose that we keep our causes separate – you want to promote finding a cure for cancer go ahead post #nomakeupselfie, you want to challenge the beauty ideals – maybe try #mybeautyselfie.

For the record - this was the idea. For more information check out this site or tack on "and cancer" to #nomakeupselfie in Google.

For the record – this was the idea. For more information check out this site or tack on “and cancer” to #nomakeupselfie in Google. If you post a #nomakeupselfie, make sure you highlight the point.

But let’s just stop for 30 seconds and pretend, that as I (and I think most of my friends) believed, the campaign was about what it appeared to be – challenging the societal ideals about female beauty. Well that’s cool. Challenge away. But I think we’re challenging it all wrong. The choice to wear make-up is majorly personal. Yes, it is certainly influenced by societal ideals, however, just as with the whole Dove “Real Beauty” campaigns, and the “Real women have curves” propaganda, we are creating a false dichotomy. Being a normal BMI is not an indication of a better or healthier person, nor is wearing make-up an indication that you are hopelessly misguided by society’s ideals for beauty.

I recently started wearing lipstick. This was partially out of a “I should look like a big kid when I meet the actual big kids” motivation, but it was also out of a “when I wear this fire engine red lipstick, I feel like a total boss.” Does this mean I feel less whole or less powerful when I’m not wearing make-up? No, the other time that I feel the most powerful is when I wear my dry-fit and I am laced up for a run – I am aware of every muscle in my body as they vibrate with excitement, but I also don’t tend to have an ounce of make-up on, unless I already had it on and was too lazy to remove it.

Yeah, I take a lot of selfies - make-up or no make-up I am still me. #nomakeupselfie? No. #Ilookdifferentondifferentdaysselfie

Yeah, I take a lot of selfies – make-up or no make-up I am still me. #nomakeupselfie? No. #Ilookdifferentondifferentdaysselfie #mybeautyselfie

Translation: I feel whole with and without make-up. I am make-up-dexterous (if that can even be made into a term).

Does that mean I think that my cousin who I’ve rarely seen without at least mascara is a beauty industry sell-out or hopelessly confused about what it is to be beautiful? No. She is beautiful inside and out. She knows just when someone needs help and does what she can to help. She lives with her heart, and a dash of mascara.

This iconic image from Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign sparked a shift in attitudes, but did we shift in the wrong direction?

This iconic image from Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign sparked a shift in attitudes, but did we shift in the wrong direction?

“Real beauty” and “real women” are great in the sense that they challenge the thin and painted ideal in an effort to create self-acceptance and self-love. But they got a little lost on the mission. To me this whole thing isn’t about the specific behaviours and ideals per say, it’s about the North American “self-esteem crisis” (which for the record really is a bit of a North American thing). But creating self-acceptance shouldn’t come at the expense of discounting whatever you’re not.
Accepting your weight is great. Doing it by delegitimizing anyone who isn’t your shape isn’t.
Accepting your face without make-up is great. So is feeling powerful and beautiful with make-up.
Assuming people are doing everything because of society or that because they fit society’s ideal they must be happy, just doesn’t make sense.

Even the thinnest of models may have bad body image. We assume that if you’re thin you’ve got it made. We assume if you’re making six figures you’re happy, but even the richest men suffer depression. We assume a lot of things based on appearance, and we get jealous, so we hate. We hate people who look better than us or are thinner than us, more successful than us, whatever they are that we are not and we want to be. Just remember that we all do this regardless of what we have, we as a species focus on what we don’t have, no one has a perfect life. Hating them because they have something we don’t doesn’t make us better, doesn’t mean that our assumptions are correct, just makes us a little sad and angry.

People are people. No two people are the exact same in every aspect. Not even identical twins or clones…. maybe clones, but you can’t really guarantee their thoughts are the same. We all have things we would rather change. It’s part of Western society – we constantly look for what can be improved, and it’s great, except when it’s not, and it leads us to invent problems just so we can invent a solution.

The challenge we should be issuing isn’t “Real women” or “no make-up” (because that also assumes that only women face appearance pressures), the challenge we should be issuing is “What Makes You Happy.” Nevermind changing society, change you – do what makes you happy.
I was reading the TED blog (I know, coolest person ever) and in the article, Kelly McGonical talks about New Years Resolutions and explains that they fail because rather than asking ourselves what we want for the next year (i.e. sitting back on January 1, 2015, what would you want to say you achieved in 2014?) we focus on what we should want. Key word – should.Epic
So my proposal for this whole challenge society? Challenge yourself to be honest about what you want – if you want to lose weight, not society wants you to lose weight, you’ll probably be a lot more successful, and at the end of the day happier. If you want to wear make-up because it makes you feel epic, be f***ing epic, if you feel fake with make-up, don’t wear it, and still be f***ing epic.
It’s that simple. If we all did this than worried about attacking behaviours and judging them, we’d probably get a heck of a lot farther in this game.

As I mentioned – the #nomakeupselfie really is about cancer research, so go ahead and post the selfie, but I challenge you to also donate to fund cancer research.

If the whole beauty ideals and eating disorders domain is more your battle, I challenge you to post a #mybeautyselfie and donate to an eating disorders program, and tell someone they’re beautiful.

Let’s keep our messages straight and fight the fight we want to fight.

P.S. Check out Saturday – I will be posting a follow-up to this – “What Will it Look Like When We’ve Got it Right?”

What Did I Get Out of This?

So earlier this week I wrote about how being sad can be a good thing, and how I realized that in the face of massive disappoint I realized I had to put my big girl panties on and focus on the future. And I meant it. Sort of. I had pulled my big girl panties on, but I was still lounging in sweatpants.

No seriously. I went to class in dryfit on the grounds that I WAS doing a presentation in the evening on women and running. It was logically sound, albeit a little weak.

No seriously. I went to class in dryfit on the grounds that I WAS doing a presentation in the evening on women and running. It was logically sound, albeit a little weak.

Baby steps guys.

Today I really believed myself. Today I honestly accepted that this is a good thing. Not the thing I wanted, but a good thing.

I also rolled my eyes at how cheesy I was being.

What really hit me though was how my thinking had shifted from “this is what sucks” to “this is what I got out of this.”

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them”

― Denis Waitley

I realized how excited I was for this next year.

I thought about how my life would change, and how that was totally awesome.

What did I get?

  • I got time to think about what I want to do for the next seven years
  • I got the opportunity to fulfill my dream of a marathon before 25 without trying to balance it with school
  • I got the time to learn new skills that will make me a better candidate, researcher, and psychologist
  • I got the opportunity to start on a new project that is right in line with what I would like to do for the rest of my life.
  • I have a chance to volunteer – to give back to the community I have been a part of for the last 4 years
  • I have a chance to do a trial run of my big kid life
  • I can sleep once and a while (possibly the most exciting thing other than the marathon, but my priorities are a little scrambled right now)
  • I realized a lot about who I am – I realized how to answer all the questions I stumbled on in one of my grad school interviews, because in the face of disappointment, I was reminded why I was willing to face that disappointment in the first place and who I am when I do face disappointment
  • I now have a chance to explore what might interest me in terms of research. I can dabble in neuro, do a spell with eating disorders, and jump back to depression and anxiety – I can really explore outside a textbook what is cool and what I want to invest in

I went on and on in my head, but I highly doubt you decided to read this so you could hear how happy I was with myself. How I had figured out to apply my capitalistic values to disappointment, so that even though I was frustrated, my frustration paid dividends.

Enjoy the small stuff like a nap in the sunshine.

Enjoy the small stuff like a nap in the sunshine.

What I wanted to talk about, was that when the tears don’t work, the bright side can be a little handy. And how it’s easy to be disappointed, to feel sad about what you didn’t get, but it’s also easy to think about it in the reverse. Little things can make you happy, and we can’t have it all but we can get things out of anything if you work hard enough at it. Just might take some brain workouts – some testing of cognitions, balancing of thoughts with realities, and learning to reframe your world.

this sucks

source. (Actually a fantastic blog)

In psychology we talk about mental contrasting, the idea of contrasting what you want or who you want to be with what you have or who you are. This has been applied to a variety of areas, recently I’ve been reading about how handy it is in dieting (term paper bashing fixing the diet industry) – a study showed that when you just think about what you want, when you imagine the dieting outcome, you don’t get anywhere. What you need to do is look at where you want to end up and then compare it to where you are. The theory is that this will spur action, because it highlights the discrepancy and need for action.

And it’s the same thing here – realizing what I wanted and that I didn’t have it sucked, but comparing where I was to where I wanted to be, showed me how to get there. And then there was the realization that beyond the changes I would work on in the future, there was a hidden opportunity. All these dreams I ignored, I could have those too. I realized I had to slow down and smell the roses. I was focused on the me I wanted to be 10 years from now and sort of ignored the me I wanted to be now. Add it to the list of bonuses from this sucky moment.

We live in a culture that doesn’t particularly like to tolerate failure, we don’t like to be frustrated, disappointed, sad, or feel anything that doesn’t feel like a million bucks. But I realized today, failure isn’t the falling down… jokes, I’m not going to be that cheesy twice in one post. No today I realized that failure isn’t really a thing… it’s… oh goodness, almost went to the cheesy window analogy.
This is tough.
Being positive about crappy situations, is criticized and mocked, because while totally true, we as society hate failure so much that to call it anything but sucky just isn’t acceptable. You’re being naive, overly optimistic, blindly faithful. Which is what actually sucks.
I truly believe that failures don’t have to be failures, they can be good things, they can be a chance to change what you’re not happy about.

Story of my life.  Taken from this fine site.

Story of my life.
Taken from this fine site.

So I ended up cheesy. And not in a delicious creamy pasta sort of way. But in the end I also ended up in a blazer and skinny jeans, ready to talk about my successes rather than failures, what I did for the last year, and share with the world (or you know the honours programs and random people looking for snacks) that sometimes what you didn’t expect is even cooler than what you expected.

So I challenge you dear readers, to take the thing that sucks, and think about what rocks. Maybe not the bright side of the bad situation, but maybe just something unrelated that balances the books. It can’t be all bad, I challenge you to think about the small goods.

“Everything that is past is either a learning experience to grow on, a beautiful memory to reflect on, or a motivating factor to act upon.”

― Denis Waitley