Cult of thinness

I had ice cream twice this week—not just any ice cream, but Vic’s and then Gunther’s. They were double “kiddie” scoops—approximately half the size of regular scoops. But still, that’s a lot of ice cream.

Of course it was damn good—creamy and cold and deliciously sweet—but I felt a twinge of guilt after I finished each cone.

Guilty because I’ve gained 5 pounds in the last year. Guilty because I’m supposed to be on a diet.

Guilty because, as a good ol’ red-blooded American girl, that’s what I do.

Some days I feel great about myself. Other days? Not so much. So I eat and diet and then don’t diet and, always, explore the complicated dynamic between body image and reality—often with mixed results.

Of course, I’m not alone.

A new study from the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that those who dieted for personal reasons—such as feeling confident or to improve health—were more likely to lose weight than those who did so for “external forces,” such as a high-school reunion or the desire to please a loved one.

I thought of that this week as I ate the ice cream. I thought about that after I read about actress Sara Rue’s recent 50-pound weight loss through the Jenny Craig diet program.

Rue, best known for her roles on the TV shows Popular and Less Than Perfect, recently talked about how happy she was to have finally reached her goal after seven months of diet and exercise.

While the plan was “easy-ish,” she said in a video blog, “What wasn’t easy was all the stuff going through my head.”

Rue, it seemed to me, was admitting that weight loss wasn’t necessarily the most fun experience—regardless of the outcome.

The bloggers at, however, heard different and criticized the actress for projecting a “sad” message about body image and also for admitting that being overweight made her feel “not normal.”

“It’s a shame that programs like Jenny Craig insinuate that happiness comes from a number on a scale, as opposed to something deeper.

“If we sold positive image as aggressively as we sell diet plans, maybe more women would stop trying to be ‘normal’ and start enjoying simply being themselves.”

Indeed, it is a shame. But it’s also a reality. In a society that not only adheres to but also is obsessed with the cult of thinness, body image and emotional health are often inextricably linked.

To judge Sara Rue for admitting that isn’t fair.

In a perfect world, diet programs would come with a personal therapist, self-esteem coach and physical trainer—a team put in place to not just teach you about healthy diet and exercise but also to help one work through any messy feelings.

But the truth of the matter is that sometimes we eat for the “wrong” reasons—because we are bored or sad or angry or depressed.

And sometimes we just eat to be social, and sometimes we eat because we are hungry, and sometimes we eat because the food just tastes really damn good.

For those of us with slower metabolisms, any of these reasons can produce results that are often less than socially acceptable.

How we learn to deal with those results is deeply personal, and, unless those coping mechanisms veer dangerously into eating-disorder territory, none of it should be up for judgment.

I’ll probably never weigh what I did when I was 25—not without being hungry most of the time, not without relentless exercise, not without forever giving up even the kiddie-sized scoop of ice cream.

Is it worth it? For me, no. For others, perhaps. And who am I to judge if someone wants to do that? Who am I to judge if they don’t?

Congratulations, Sara Rue—have a double kiddie-scoop ice-cream cone for me, please.