Is dieting a "choice" for women?

In last week's post, I posted a video from Anita Sarkeesian about "choice feminism." 

She mentioned this idea that we live in "systems." While it feels like we have space to make some personal choice, these choices have parameters.

She says:

"Choice feminism also obscures the fact that women don't have a real choice. Women have a very narrow set of predetermined choices within patriarchy. Women can choose from a preapproved palette but we cannot meaningfully choose liberation. We cannot choose a way out of our constraints, at least not without ending these oppressive systems that limit our options. So, when we talk about free choice in today's world, we're really talking about the spectrum of choices that are amenable to patriarchy" 

She is saying that choice feminism doesn't really offer a choice at all. The choices available to us don't actually provide us with the agency that we are hoping to possess. They don't liberate us from the problem of having a limited choice. It's kind of like saying you can get ice cream but only the vegan kind. 

But, what does all this have to do with body image? 

One of my favorite lines from Naomi Wolf's book, The Beauty Myth is about the paradox of the female condition and the supposed "choice" of trying to be thin.

Trying to be thin begins "as sane and mentally healthy responses to an insane social reality: that most women can feel good about themselves only in a state of permanent semistarvation," writes Wolf.

This paradox demonstrates the constraints of the female condition and the limitations of "choice" when it comes to body image.

Before we even get to the clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, most women are expected to be small. Women are expected to achieve something inherently unachievable. Faced with the choice to be "ugly and fat" or "thin and accepted," women make the choice to diet: to restrict, to purge, to obsessively pay attention to every calorie taken in, every calorie burned. 

But when you "choose" to be thinner, the cruelty is that making this choice is often pathologized. We are told to be thin to a standard that's unhealthy for us and then, when we take the extreme action required to get to that size, it is considered "disordered."

Don't get me wrong. I will agree that restriction and purging are unhealthy behaviors, but is it fair to tell someone that they need to take action to be smaller and then call them crazy when they take that action? That's social entrapment

How messed up is that? The few women who do get the help they need are constantly surrounded by the very message that led them down that path. 

The line that really sticks with me: "most women can feel good about themselves only in a state of permanent semistarvation." 

In lieu of trying to be big and convince the world to accept us as we are, many women opt for choosing to be small because it's just easier that way. We can spend our time on the stuff we really care about instead of trying to fight this fight. 

To me, it parallels women's experience in the workplace. I'll just conform to the way that people expect me to be so that I can just get my paycheck and feed my family. I don't feel like #banningbossy.

I know many feminist ladies who just straight up don't have the time to tackle the whole beauty bullshit. They've got other fights to fight: the fight for reproductive rights, the fight for the LGBT community, for maternity leave, for closing the wage gap, etc.

It seems like this beauty conversation could be tabled. "Yeah I'm starving but...we got to get to the next thing." 

And, girl, honestly, I don't blame you. Until I worked at an eating disorder treatment center, it seemed like a #firstworldproblem. This was my beef.

I didn't care until I realized all the time I was spending on my body: the time at the gym, the money on the expensive ingredients, on the visits to the RD to fix a problem that didn't exist. 

It's a drain on resources in the fight for everything women are fighting for. 

Do you think that dieting is a choice? Let me know in the comments below. 



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