The Truth About Modern Day Diet Culture And The Obsessive Desire To "Look Good in a Bikini"
Updated: Feb 12, 2022
I’ve let my weight, pant size, and ab definition determine my worth for as long as I can remember. Some may lie awake at night thinking of ways to organize, or planning for their day, or watching porn—but, me? I’ve spent hours combing the internet for “before and after photos” of other women with similar body types as mine for “motivation”—or rather, like some sick form of punishment for not being at their level. I’ve hired personal trainers, drank meal replacement shakes, gone vegan, given up sugar and alcohol and caffeine and comfort and grace and joy.
I’ve dabbled in keto, paleo, clean eating, high fat, low fat, no fat, good fat, and everything in-between. I once got so sick from the cabbage soup diet that I had to quit halfway through—but not before losing three pounds in three days eating like a rabbit trapped in a human’s body.
I’ve cried over ice cream cravings, sulked over wine not being “diet friendly,” and gotten so sick of sweet potato that I could barely put it in my mouth without wanting to vomit.
I’ve also missed out on life. I’ve gone out to eat with friends and refused to eat. Sorry, I’m on a diet. You enjoy it, though! I turned down opportunities to spend quality time with people because I was too worried about missing a workout. And last year, I sat in a lovely restaurant for my cousin’s baby shower and watched everyone eat delicious looking sandwiches and salads that I declined because I had already eaten the food I brought (from my home, four hours away) in the car. I genuinely cringe when I think about that last one. Did I believe a turkey avocado sandwich was going to turn me into an Orka? Was I that insecure, that vain, that lost? Yes, I was.
Of course, I cloaked it under a different name. This diet isn’t vanity or insecurity; it’s determination and self-restraint! Look how marvelous and healthy I am!
That is where the demons lurk, and danger lingers. In the “look at how great this is!” while slowing dying inside. The “check out my bikini bod!” while sobbing into a container of cookies I’ve been smelling in hopes of tricking my brain that I consumed them. All I want is to be healthy, and strong, and look good in a bikini. But after years of trying to prove myself to myself through various diets, programs, etc., I’m hungry and tired.
Nobody ever told me that loving myself would be this hard and I’m guessing I’m not alone because the diet industry was estimated to be worth over 68.2 billion dollars in 2017, and it continues to increase. Let that sink in for a hot second: $68.2 billion was made off of our combined insecurities and desires to be healthier. There is a new juice cleanse, fast, meal replacement shake, pill, wrap, food restriction challenge, and so on popping up daily. The popular verbiage that sparks people’s interest these days is diet masking as a “lifestyle change.”
Let me make something hydrated-pee-clear here: Nourishing your body with whole food and regular exercise is vital for your mental and physical health. When I see someone take control of their wellness by moving their body and listening to its cues for food and hunger, I do a celebration dance in their honor. Yay, you!
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthier, or stronger, or even to want to feel more confident on the beach. The issues lie in the methods we are being fed to try and achieve these goals.
We are all so desperate to be an overnight sensation like so-and-so who “lost 60 pounds in two weeks!” that we stop listening to our bodies and frankly, put them through hell. The industry is setting us up to fail because, of course, they are. Dolla dolla bills, ya’ll. If fasting, or juicing, or eating less than 1200 calories a day, or not eating chocolate ever again, or hermit crabbing in our houses for the rest of our lives so that we don’t have to be tempted by social settings or the world, in general, were sustainable methods of weight loss then the diet industry would go bankrupt overnight.
The truth is that there is a giant boardroom somewhere filled with lavishly wealthy men and women. I picture them business on the top, Lululemon on the bottom and all they do is sit around an oval table eating cake with 24k gold flakes and laughing maniacally at me, at you, at all of us. Kevin just snagged another 2,400 people with his “fast guide to weight loss!” And Shelly’s new 72-hour detox tea sold out in 20 minutes! With the relapse rate climbing every minute, we’re already on track to hit over $80 billion this year, and it’s only January! Then everyone cheers and they get burgers and fries, and salads and milkshakes delivered, and everyone eats what sounds good to their bodies because they all know the 68.2 billion dollar secret: Diets are bullshit.
They are the O.G. false prophets of our time, you guys. Promising us big things like a tiny waist, abs, lifted butts, and worthiness. You’ll be so worthy once you’re thin! Look how worthy you’ll be!
I’ve looked good in a bikini and still felt disgusting. I’ve hit my goal weight and still agonized over my thighs. I’m here to tell you that worth doesn’t exist in a jean size. You won’t discover it in a meal replacement shake or a dairy free, gluten free, nut free, meat free, sugar-free, air diet. You won’t find it in the food you’re eating or in the food you’re not. Worth cannot be found here, in dietland.
Friends, if you’re hungry and tired like me—eat and rest. Reevaluate your relationship with food and reacquaint yourself with the living definition of health and wellness. If living doesn’t fit into your “lifestyle change” then you may want to take the blinders off and really look at what you’re doing. Is this sustainable? If I died tomorrow, would I be proud of the way I spent my last day or would I regret not meeting up with that friend for lunch or having that glass of wine on the balcony with my husband?
Stop looking at life as some marathon you get to jump in and out of as you please. Tomorrow doesn’t exist yet. It has yet to be determined. It may come or it may not, so how do you want to live today?
Eat the salad that leaves you feeling fresh and just the right amount of full. Go on that walk or do that circuit training that calms your mind and makes you feel strong. But don’t sit in your car crying outside of Wendy’s drive-thru because you want a frosty, but you’re “trying to be good.” Don’t fall asleep at your desk because you’re on day 3 of this juice cleanse and you “really want to lose 5 pounds.” Don’t put your body and your mind through hell and call it wellness, because it’s not. It’s a joy-killing hell that you will yo-yo in and out of for the rest of your life while suits in Lululemon eat the cake you’re crying over because they know the 62.8 billion dollar secret.
Diets are bullshit. And once we realize this—once we really understand that our bodies and minds are unique and powerful and worthy of being trusted—then we will find freedom. Freedom to discover what works for us. Freedom to break away the shackles of restrictive living in the name of “health.” Freedom to live our lives in true wellness, both mentally and physically.
You can get the body you dream of by doing something extreme, sure. But at what cost? And are you willing to keep it up for the rest of your life to maintain those results?
The other option, of course, is to allow your body to show you where it feels best. To give a big middle finger to the scale and realize that number does not define you and it doesn’t determine your worth, either. To let those extra few pounds linger if it means you get to participate in life.
My struggle with this is palpable. I don’t write these words from the other side, showing you everything I’ve done and how “you too can succeed!” NO. Quite the opposite. Two days ago, in the middle of writing this piece, I had to pull myself off the ledge of another diet masked as “lifestyle.” I went as far as to buy the prep materials (you’re welcome for the extra $25, diet industry) before catching myself dreading the nutrition plan filled with things I know make me want to ugly cry into a platter of double fudge brownies.
Not giving in to the temptation of a quick fix often takes just as much, if not more, effort than going for it. Seeing Jessica, Jimmy, and Jane all lose 10 pounds in a week can be enough to send even the strongest of us straight into the arms of discontent. But I urge you, I urge us, to stop looking outward for our worth and instead, dig a little deeper inside. Let’s have enough faith in ourselves to go against the grain. Say yes to salad, yes to cake, yes to balance, yes to joy, yes to taco Tuesdays, yes to wine nights, yes to smoothies that make us feel like a goddess, yes to rest, yes to exercise, yes to the things that breathe life into us and call us home to our true worth.
Your bikini body already exists, but tomorrow doesn’t. The vessel your soul resides in wants you to live your best life, however long or short it may be. So throw it a bone and maybe a cheeseburger too, if that’s what it wants. We can do hard things, friends. Even if those hard things are letting go of the expectation that a “worthy body” should be hard to achieve.
May we never go hungry in the name of beauty again.