Better Body Image in the New Year


Artwork by Solas Sampson

Sophia Elizondo-Bean (she/her), Staff Writer

Andrea Patton was bold, honest, and kind. She made her classroom a safe place for students and didn’t hesitate to call out anything that threatened the community she created. Patton once told her 5th-period English class about her frustration in a staff meeting when she had to explain why it’s counterproductive to refer to all 8 days as a relief because they are “skinny”. She was adamant about dismantling fatphobia and calling out thin idealism in our society. Patton understood how those comments impacted the body image of staff and students and fulfilled her commitment to advocating for community members. Now, her students wish to be as strong and influential as she was. 

The pressure to change our bodies arrives every year around mid-December when New Year’s Diet ads pollute our phones and TV screens. These messages crowd every area of our lives from social media to friends and family. Some of diet culture’s most prominent promoters include companies such as Noom, Weight Watchers, and Nutrisystem. 

Diet companies heavily rely on remarketing, a system of sharing and resharing. They capitalize on insecurity by targeting their ads toward those struggling with disordered eating and body stigma. The guilt response to these ads leads to a bad body image and a negative perception of oneself. Not to mention, that these programs often encourage dangerous eating habits and overexercising. 

Social media is one of the main formers of how teens perceive themselves. Internet users are held to the unrealistic body ideals of influencers and celebrities. Meanwhile, people in those professions are judged and harassed when their bodies change. “It’s a different subject from health. It’s downright degrading and doesn’t help anything,” said Jasmine Stange, a junior at Ida B. Wells. When students never see people who look like them in the media and who aren’t relentlessly bullied, their natural response is to change their bodies. 

We live in a society where body types trend and go out of style. “It’s really confusing for a lot of people because once they have the ideal body type, the next year it changes and they start hating themselves again. It’s a repeating cycle,” said Daphne Sturgill, a junior at Ida B Wells High School. 

The spread of thin idealism and villainizing other body types is most prevalent on social media platforms such as Instagram and Tik Tok. These ads play a significant role in causing children to develop eating disorders since the minimum age requirement for apps like Instagram is only 13. 

In August of 2022, Instagram added “body weight control” to the list of ad topics users can block. However, users should know there are many different topics under the umbrella of dieting and weight loss that need to be blocked individually. Users have questioned how effective this method is because if one topic falls through the cracks, these ads will still be in your feed. 

Students agreed that making ad blocks more easily available on social media would prevent eating disorder relapse and bad body image. “I think that would be really helpful especially for young girls seeing ads for diet pills,” said Sydney Antonini, a junior at Ida B. Wells. 

While the internet holds a significant impact, these pressures also stem from the people closest to us. Around the holiday season, everyone is encouraged to enjoy delicious food and spend quality time with family. But the moment January 1st hits, you are expected to restrict and punish yourself for the time spent with the people you love. A lot of this pressure stems from families themselves. When a parent is heavily influenced by diet culture and criticizes their own body, their children will find similarities and judge themselves. It sets the standard that family would not accept you if your body changes. Bad body image results from the fear of ostracization and being seen as unsuccessful by the people they care about. 

Teens also live in a world where peer pressure is rampant. According to Choosing Therapy, 85% of teens report experiencing peer pressure of some kind. And while body image is based on how we perceive ourselves, the people around us are significant contributors. “The people I hang out with are very into bodybuilding, which sets a standard. If you feel like you don’t meet that, it causes problems with body image,” said Pierce Meyers, an 11th grader at Ida B. Wells.

So, if these ads are so harmful then why are they polluting your ‘for you page’? Ultimately, this method is a money grab for diet companies that diminishes consumers’ self-esteem. The 142 billion-dollar diet industry capitalizes on the insecurities of its customers. 

While the aim of New Year’s resolutions is to become a “better” person, the tradition becomes toxic when your goals take your mental health for granted. Instead of buying into these marketing techniques or judging yourself, find what will help you feel better. “Don’t focus on what your body looks like on the outside, but what you can do to make yourself feel better as a person,” said Antonini. Read a book once a month, start going on runs, drink more water, or compliment yourself each day. 

Let’s make this year’s resolution to abolish diet culture.