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Women's Campaign to End Body Hatred and Dieting

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What do you think would happen if women stopped hating their bodies?!

We would...

  • Learn to eat when, what, and how much our bodies need.

  • Overcome our fear of not dieting.

  • Look in the mirror and like what we see.

  • Decode our fat talk to reveal our real concerns.

  • Stop trying to measure up to society's ridiculous and impossible standards of female beauty.

  • Learn to accept ourselves—our bodies as well as our feelings—unconditionally.


At the beginning of the 21st Century, we live in a world that has seen an upheaval in consciousness concerning the position of women. Yet, despite dramatically changed views and expanded lifestyles, many women still place dieting and body shaping ahead of life shaping and world shaping on their lists of New Year's resolutions. Once again, we are planning to spend billions of our dollars trying to transform our natural shapes.

Not too long ago, the tide seemed to be turning. Study after study proved the inefficacy of dieting. Newspaper and magazine articles made the link between the pressure to be thin and the epidemic of eating disorders; advertisers leaned on magazines to use larger models; and the anti-dieting movement got enough attention to scare the diet industry into concealing its programs under other names. It became common knowledge that even the models don't look like models after all that airbrushing and retouching and that the average American woman wears a size 14. Finally, dieting was justifiably blamed for its invariant result, uncontrollable bingeing and the fattening of America.

Yet, here we are again. The idealized image is meaner and leaner and younger than ever. The tabloids scrutinize our Hollywood icons to see who has lost and who has gained. The doctors hawk their programs, vying for space on bestseller lists. And many of us are ready to die for all those new pills and surgeries.

We believe that the pressure to diet and bodyshape is part of the ongoing backlash against the changes in the status of women. It seems that the more space we occupy in the world, the more pressure there is to reduce ourselves. The larger our presence, the narrower and more childlike the idealized images become, starting with Twiggy and culminating in Kate Moss.

Given that we've been there, seen it, done all those diets, why do grownup, capable, sexy, smart, beautiful women continue to buy into the pressure to make ourselves small, smaller, smallest? What exactly is so wrong with us the way we are in our great, infinite variety?

As we see it, women succumb to the pressure to diet and bodyshape because we ourselves are unclear about how much space we ought to take up in the world. After centuries of inequality between the sexes, we have internalized the sense that we are not good enough the way we are. And, of course, the problem goes further than the lingering effects of our legacy. Despite our impressive strides—more of us in elected positions, more economic clout, more access to education and jobs—women are still struggling for the basic rights of economic parity, safety at home and on the streets, reproductive freedom and affordable childcare. In other words, in a number of ways we are still treated as "less than."

Mostly, we women don't speak about our shaky sense of entitlement directly. Instead, raised as girls, we speak endlessly about our bodies and our need to transform them rather than the world. Women today suffer deeply from a condition we describe as "Bad Body Fever."

It goes like this: Millions of us wake up every morning, make our way into the bathroom to shower, look in the full-length mirror and say, "Yuck!" Every moment of every hour of every day, millions of us of all shapes, sizes and ages utter some variation of the phrase "I feel fat." A woman may catch a glimpse of herself reflected in a shop window and gasp, "God! My stomach is huge." She may be daydreaming while waiting for an appointment only to find herself thinking that her thighs are disgusting. Or she may be walking to her car when she suddenly feels huge. These "fat feelings"—bad body feelings—occupy the minds and hearts of the vast majority of women and even little girls.

Because we live in a society in which fatness and the femininity it connotes are denigrated, each time a woman says, "I feel fat," she is saying, "There is something wrong with me." She is feeling self-hatred and self-contempt. Sadly, her subsequent heroic efforts to transform her shape never impact the source of her real problem—her lack of parity in the world.

Sometimes we wonder what would happen if women simply stopped having these bad body thoughts. What would happen if each time you made a self-abusive remark about how you look, you let the reproach go, challenged your thinking—"Who says there is such a thing as a perfect thigh?"—and instead focused on whatever you were thinking about before you made the thought-detour to your body. Just imagine the $60 billion diet industry crumbling, taking several others along with it! What would we do with all that time on our hands? Imagine how we would use all the energy! The possibilities dazzle!

Granted, we have a long way to go. Hopefully, your daughter's daughter's daughter will wake up in the morning, secure in her value, knowing that her female body is absolutely perfect and lovely exactly as it is. She'll smile at her reflection, choose clothing that pleases her that day and walk out the door. She might even drop into a museum to see an exhibit of relics from our dieting past.

As a start, let's scratch all references to achieving an unreal body shape from our list of resolutions. This year, let's resolve to stop the dieting that has become such a life-long, life-draining preoccupation and instead embrace and enjoy our bodies in all their diversity. Let's happily reclaim our appetites, our bodies and our lives.


RANKED BY 1993 SIZE ($millions) 1991 1992 1993 1994
Diet Soft Drinks $14,300 $14,380 $15,100 $15,480
Artificial Sweeteners 1,300 1,330 1,390 1,438
Fitness Clubs (non-residential) 6,700 7,500 7,900 8,410
Commercial Weight-Loss Centers/Programs 2,110 2,090 1,990 1,690
Medically-Supervised Weight-Loss Programs 1,600 1,640 1,724 1,586
Low-Calorie/Diet Foods/Entrées 2,200 2,340 2,430 2,480
Retail Meal Replacements and Appetite Suppressants 1,500 1,113 1,173 1,210
Diet Books, Videos, and Audio Cassettes 196 209 260 380
Total Industry $29,800 $30,600 $31,967 $32,680

*Marketdata Enterprises, Inc., News Release


  • In 1970, the diet industry was a $10 billion industry. Today, it is a $60 billion industry. The fatter the diet industry, the fatter the American population; the fatter the American population, the fatter the diet industry.

  • On any given day, 48 million Americans are dieting.

  • Each year, 65 million Americans choose from 30,000 diet plans.

  • In 1992, the National Institutes of Health held investigatory hearings and concluded that diets do not work and may even be dangerous to one's health.

  • Recently, the Institute of Medicine found that those who lose weight on diets regain two-thirds of the weight they lost within one year, and almost all of it within five years.

  • In 1993, Consumer Reports did a study that demonstrated that more than a quarter of dieters in commercial weight loss programs did not meet the medical criteria for even moderate overweight.

  • The average fashion model is 5'9" to 6' tall. The average American woman is 5'4" tall. The average fashion model weighs 110-118 lbs. The average American woman weighs 142 lbs. The average fashion model is 17-26 years old. The average American woman is 44 years old.

  • In the early 1990's Americans (mostly women) spent:

    • $1.75 billion dollars on cosmetic surgery
    • $33 billion on diets and diet products

How Has This Thinness/Dieting Mania Impacted Our Lives?

  • Americans grow fatter every year.

  • More than 1 in 3 Americans weigh at least 20% more than their "ideal" weight according to standardized height/weight charts.

  • 27% of children aged 6-11 and 22% of teenagers also weigh more than the "ideal" on standardized charts.

  • 1 out of 200 girls aged 12-18 is anorexic.

  • 1 out of 4 college women is bulimic.

  • 6.7% of 8th to 10th grade girls buy over-the-counter diet pills.

  • In a study of 4th-grade girls, 90% were on some type of diet.

  • More than 75% of American women "feel fat."

  • We are a food phobic, fat phobic nation and millions of us have become driven, compulsive eaters.

How To Join The Women's Campaign to End Body Hatred and Dieting

  • When you wake up in the morning, prepare to greet your reflection in the mirror in a kind and gentle way. If it helps, take your lipstick, magic marker, or your kid's crayon and write on all your mirrors, "You're just fine the way you are!"

  • Go through your closet and remove all the clothes that no longer fit. On May 6th each year (International No-Diet Day), donate them to a battered women's shelter in your area, to the homeless, or to your favorite charity. You may be startled by the sparseness of your wardrobe once you've completed this activity, but remember that staring at a closet full of clothes that no longer fit is no way to start your day. Saying, "No more," to body hatred means moving into your body in style—no matter what size you are.

  • Throw away your scale. Why should a number determine how you feel about yourself on any given day? And besides, scales are appropriate for fish, not women!

  • Each time you notice yourself having a negative body thought put it aside. You've had the same bad body thoughts hundreds if not thousands of times. Have they ever helped you change in a real and lasting way? Think about the cruelty of your remarks. Would you speak to anyone else in such a malicious way?

  • Bad body thoughts are very tenacious—they keep returning. But if you persist in refusing to entertain them, they'll get the message and eventually leave you alone.

  • Once you get the hang of putting your bad body thoughts aside, try noticing what you were thinking or feeling right before you clobbered yourself with the thought. Believe it or not, bad body thoughts are never about your body: they are always a way to disguise some thought or feeling you are having trouble facing and accepting in yourself. For example, if you are bemoaning the fact that your stomach protrudes, think about what else about you protrudes in a way that upsets you. Are you "out there" in the world in a way that you both like and don't like? Do you enjoy being the center of attention but give yourself a hard time about taking the spotlight? Do you speak up a lot but have trouble accepting the fact that you're a person who makes noise? When you call yourself "huge," or "too big" or "enormous," remember that centuries of women have been taught not to take up space!

  • Practice looking at yourself in front of a full length mirror. No judgments allowed, only neutral observations. "Oh, my stomach is round." "Look how I go in here and out there." Size acceptance means growing into yourself out to the edges. Think about moving into your body rather than renovating it. Who says that stomachs should be flat? Who says that waists should be small? Who says that being thin is the best way to be? Who says that one woman's body is more interesting or beautiful than the next? Just who came up with that crazy idea?

  • Take a trip to the nearest museum. Amble through the centuries and find a body that resembles yours. If the museum has a postcard of her, take it home to remind yourself just how lovely you are and that standards of beauty are culture bound.

  • Resolve never to diet again.

  • Make a list of all the things you've put on hold until you reach your ideal weight and consider doing a couple of them now.

  • When you hear a woman talk about what she shouldn't eat or what the rules are on her latest diet, consider saying one of the following:

    1. "Why do you think we all spend so much time trying to keep ourselves from eating? I've come to think that all this talking women do about what we shouldn't have to eat is about much more than food."

    2. "I understand how desperately you want to lose weight, but I want to tell you how great I feel now that I've decided never to diet again."

    3. If you are larger than the woman who's talking about diets: "I understand that you're talking about yourself and not about me, but what you're really saying is that being fat is bad. I want you to know that I'm trying to combat that attitude in myself and in the world. I no longer believe that fat is bad and thin is good. And what's more, I think the time has come for women to stop hating their bodies and start living their lives more fully."

    4. If you're thinner than the woman who's talking about diets: "You may think that I don't understand how hard it is to live large in a fat-phobic world, but I do know that diets never work and I feel very strongly that women need to develop new ways of seeing themselves and each other. If you could look at yourself and at other large women without making snap judgments, I think you'd see that this idea that only thin bodies are beautiful is really nuts!"

  • When you hear a woman say something derogatory about her body, consider saying one of the following:

    1. "Ouch. That hurts."

    2. "It's painful to hear you say that. Have you ever thought about how cruel you and all of us are being when we talk to ourselves in that way?"

    3. "I know you think your hips are too big, your stomach is too large, your thighs are gross, your ______ is _______. Have you ever wondered why you suddenly pick on some part of your body? I've discovered that when I have a bad body thought, something else is going on with me that's unrelated to my body.

  • Invite a few friends over to your house to have a discussion about body hatred and dieting. Here are some topics you might discuss:

    1. When ninety-five percent of dieters regain the weight plus some, why do we still go on diets? Who has a problem? The ninety-five percent of women who rebel against diets or the five percent who are able to live on them?

    2. What do you think life would be like without diets, without ever calling anything fattening or non-fattening? If you knew with certainty that you would never put yourself on a diet Monday morning, what would Sunday be like?

    3. You were born knowing how to eat—knowing when you were hungry and when you were full. What happened? How might you find your way back there?

    4. Why do almost all women look in the mirror and say, "Yuck?" What's going on?

    5. What would it be like to live without bad body thoughts?

    6. What do you think would happen if all women stopped hating their bodies?

  • If you belong to a women's organization or work in a setting that hires women or serves women, suggest that they join with other groups in the community to sponsor a speakout on body hatred and dieting.

  • Work against the diet industry. Dieting is the major cause of obesity in this country as well as a major threat to our physical and mental well-being. Write to magazines, newspapers, and TV stations protesting diet articles and programs.


How many sizes hang in your closet? How long have they hung there? Do you really think you're going to wear them again someday? We know you'd like to. We'd all like to be thinner than we are. That's the nature of being female in the last half of the twentieth century. But think about it for a moment. You tell yourself each and every day that it's time to do something about your weight. After you've reproached yourself in this way, what happens? If you're like most of us, when you have what we call "bad body thoughts", you end up feeling depressed. And often, when you feel low, you head for the fridge. You eat something you don't need and don't really want and then the next day the cycle starts again: "Oh, nothing fits. What am I going to do? I've got to do something about my weight."

In our experience, when a woman is willing to look at the evidence objectively, she sees very clearly that all her negative body thoughts have never gotten her anywhere and that all the diets she and everyone she knows have been on have never produced lasting change. If she takes her evidence seriously and resolves to start living well in the body that's hers right now—swearing off bad body thoughts and dieting—her life changes in very radical ways. Take Liz, who told us:

"It was a sad day when I went through my closet and took out all the clothes that were too small. There wasn't a lot left. I had to go shopping, and that was hard. I've always waited to shop till I lost a few pounds. But I forced myself. I looked long and hard because I'd promised myself I would only buy clothes I loved. Each time I'd start making faces in the mirror about how I looked, I'd intervene and stop myself. I don't care how big I am, I'm finished with that kind of self-contempt. It's such a dead end. Anyway, now I have a closet full of clothes I really like. I have a long way to go in terms of liking my body as is, but it makes a big difference to enjoy what I'm wearing each day. I didn't know that I could feel this good at this size. I'm not saying that I don't want to lose weight, but I'm beginning to have a glimmer of what life could be like without thinking constantly about changing my body."

Women have made great strides in the last few decades. However, the fact that millions of us still grimace when we look in the mirror is a sign that we don't feel as good on the inside as one would think. Evidently, we still feel "not good enough". It's time to catch up! It's not enough to act entitled—we need to feel entitled.

Together let's clear away all the old ideas about how we should look and what we should eat. Let's fill our cupboards, literally and figuratively, with clothes we like, food that's nourishing and delicious, and self-talk that's appreciative and admiring of our bodies in all their remarkable shapes and sizes.

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