Diet Culture, Jameela Jamil and Kim Kardashian: Double Agents of The Patriarchy.
When Netflix first released the trailer for its dark teen comedy, Insatiable, it caused an almost instant commotion. The trailer depicted the main character, Patty, as a fat slob who did nothing but eat and get bullied all day. Patty, played by Debby Ryan in a fatsuit, then gets into an accident which causes her jaw to be wired shut for months, leading to an almost instantaneous weight loss. When she returns back to school, she’s skinny, hot, and ready to wreak havoc on those who made her life miserable. This isn’t a review of the show — in all honesty, I watched a few episodes and I couldn’t stomach it. But I think that the response to the trailer is a phenomenon worthy of analysis in itself: When Insatiable’s trailer came out, nobody had even seen the show or knew if the events depicted in the trailer were out of context — but still, there were literal petitions calling for the show to be taken down. As many argued, the blatant and unapologetic fatphobia depicted in Insatiable is thought to be something ‘of the past’, and the growing popularity of Body Positivity during the last decade has caused a major shift in how we think about weight loss. In fact, many would say that we’ve gotten too ‘politically correct’, and the swift backlash against Insatiable is proof of the reactionary ‘cancel culture’ of our time.
The response to Insatiable does speak of how we think of weight loss and body shaming today. Body Positivity in particular has been a growing movement both online and offline, due to many people simply having had enough of feeling ashamed of their body and weight. Alongside that growing movement we have seen the term ‘Fatphobia’ gaining popularity to describe how plus sized people are treated due to their weight. Fat positive blogger Stephanie Yeboah goes even further with her definition:
“Fatphobia is seen as an inherently overt type of discrimination: calling people horrible names relating to their weight or overtly bullying them for their weight etc, but it’s a lot more nuanced than that. Fatphobia can be extremely subtle: bringing up health as a means to shame someone about their weight, brands who often sell slogans featuring stupid weight loss memes or phrases (a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips kinda shite). The medical industry refusing to take fat people’s injuries seriously by always putting everything down to how much they weigh, when it’s not necessarily the issue.”
But, as many body positive writers and thinkers have pointed out, ever since the movement for acceptance and inclusion of fat bodies started to move to the mainstream, these ideas have become more and more commodified. Body positivity has been overtaken by average, skinny and ‘fit’ people; reducing its message of radical acceptance to, as Jessica Lindsay puts it, “fitness bloggers ‘learning to accept’ their barely-there belly roll rather than changing attitudes.”
Earlier this week, presenter and actress Jameela Jamil stated in a podcast episode with Channel 4 that the Kardashian clan and any women who support purging products and appetite suppressants are “double agents of the patriarchy”. This, of course, caused quite a controversy.
The use of social media has made it extremely easy for fans to monitor our favourite celebrities. We know everything about them — everything that they reveal to us. We know where they like to eat, their favourite clothing brands, what music they listen to, who are the people they hang out with, and we also know how they lose weight. Particularly how they lose weight quickly.
Flat Tummy Co. is one company that’s particularly masterful at using their #HelloFellowKids social media team to promote products such as appetite suppressant lollipops and the infamous ‘Flat Tummy Tea’ to young women. They do this by using celebrities (particularly the Kardashian -Jenner clan) and Instagram famous models. It has become so commonplace that there are various jokes about how the second you become famous online you have to start selling teeth whiteners and diet products to stay relevant — and it’s true. Some even argue that Instagram’s intrinsically superficial nature means that we can’t be shocked or outraged by this phenomenon — and yet, it doesn’t sit right with me that this is a ‘common’ occurrence.
But I do think that saying that Kim and Co. are agents of the patriarchy is somewhat disingenuous. Kim’s entire career in fact seems to go against that claim. Her sex tape, which was released without her consent, catapulted her into stardom and Kim turned a rather traumatic experience into an opportunity to build her brand. We live in a culture that does in fact shame women for their sexuality, where anything from leaked intimate nudes to working as a lingerie model can ruin a woman’s professional and personal life. Many have argued that Kim taking the violation of her consent and her privacy, refusing to be shamed for it and building an empire on the aftermath of this event, is a subversion of patriarchal expectations. After her leaked sex tape, Kim’s taken complete control of her public image. Looking at her with this perspective, Kim isn’t a double agent of the patriarchy — in fact, she’s the only one who controls when and how her body is seen. It’s hers and hers alone, regardless of the hordes of women and men who always rush to critique her, her body and her choices.
And, of course, Kim Kardashian isn’t the inventor nor the sole promoter of diet pills and laxatives. These products aren’t anything new, nor is the idea of media promoting a certain body type that we must attain. The Kardashian-Jenners and the Instagram models who promote these products and ideas aren’t creating a new oppressive framework, just working within one already existing, one that’s been in place for ages and has simply updated for the modern times. Compare any magazine cover from the early 2000s, all showing thin models alongside fad diets and ways to lose weight to ‘get the guy’ — Instagram just sweetens the message with words of female empowerment and slaps a “love yourself!” slogan to cater to the #BodyPos crowd. And what’s more ‘empowering’ than making money off of the insecurities of young women?
But, like Jameela Jamil’s interview, this article isn’t about the Kardashian-Jenners or about Instagram models, it’s about a cultural problem. If you didn’t see the entire “Ways to Change The World” episode, Jamil explained how she dealt with anorexia as a teenager until she broke her back in a near-fatal car accident, which forced her into gaining weight again. This resounded particularly with me as, earlier this summer, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. Whilst the diagnosis wasn’t shocking to me, it served as a reality check. I’m a compulsive overeater and, when I binged, I purged. I did this by starving myself during the next days, using laxatives, appetite suppressors, detox teas, and anything else I could use to stop feeling like I wanted to eat. I can tell you that the only thing these products do is destroy your health and your relationship with your own body and with food.
Neither Jamil nor I are exceptional cases. Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a result of an eating disorder. In the UK alone, over one million people live with an eating disorder. Of course, many argue that we should place the blame for this ‘epidemic’ entirely on the companies selling dieting product, and not on the celebrities and influencers promoting them for money. But, why can’t we do both? Yes, these companies should not be allowed to sell these products to young audiences, and they are ultimately to blame, but can we really say ‘don’t blame the messenger’ when it comes to promoting unhealthy weight loss? Can we say they’re innocent when the influence that media has on eating disorders has been proven time and time again?
Do I blame Kim entirely for the diet culture we’re so desperately attempting to separate ourselves from? Of course not. She didn’t create it, she’s not solely responsible for sustaining it. But with the influence she has, she should’ve known better, and we must demand that she do better.
Edited By: Andrea Merodeadora