“diet” — and other four-letter words

May 21, 2019

Diet culture seduced me young. Hearing and knowing from an early age that people with bodies like mine were less than gave me a particular resistance to my own flesh and a very particular relationship with language. Words like “exercise,” “health,” and “diet” only evoked images of the body and the punishment you must put yourself through to be accepted, to be celebrated.

Radical relationships with Black queer people at the forefront of the body positivity and fat movements forever changed my relationship with both my own body and my sexuality. It significantly transformed my relationship with space: how much I took up, how much of it belonged to me, how much I could request, how beautiful one with me in it could be (despite what society says). My life and body were bigger than a fad diet or a gym membership. Another thing that transformed once I changed my relationship with the toxic diet culture, was my relationship with language. Words that once evoked vivid images of torture, suffering, and inadequacy, now had me consider new meaning.

This was especially true for the word “diet.” It had been made out of leather and assaulted my flesh,  bringing on phantom feelings of hunger and deprivation; but inside this new world, with this new body, and this new language, diet became a softer word that meant discipline, not punishment.  It also had nothing to do with food, and everything to do with what my body — mind, spirit, and imagination — would consume.

In effort to process emotions and events, rather than deny them, I have to sit with how I’m feeling. In a moment of creative stagnation and casual melancholy — not depression, but a familiar sadness and boredom about not being impressed with life — I relaxed into the familiar emotional space. I began binging content.

During one of my binges, a Saul Williams video sandwiched between dozens of other videos echoed me to be mindful of my diet, and the word felt the softest it ever had in my ears, especially wrapped up in Williams’ poetic delivery, Although soft, the word still carried the same demand for rigor and awareness. It forced me to reimagine my relationship with the word “diet”: it now could mean what I read, what I watch, and what I listen to. Diet became a word that I associated with the facilitation of my wellness, not the restriction of my pleasure.

Working in media, in any capacity, makes you confront the realities that the content we consume and digest shapes us. It influences how you think, what you think about, how easily you can silence your mind’s thoughts, and changes your relationship with productivity. When you silence your mind’s voice in order to binge terrifying news about Trump, or when you use content as escapism but work that doesn’t necessarily enrich or satisfy your intellectual or creative curiosities — that shapes us. When social media feels like a sip water or to sustain myself (as it often does to me), it would be foolish to believe that when this behavioral pattern becomes ritualized, doesn’t have a major influence on how I would eventually think and feel. This thought pushed me into a routine that eventually distanced me away from who I know I am and where I wanted to be. And I noticed I would experience sadness more often when I didn’t watch my diet.

Now, diet is no longer a four-letter word that I resent. It doesn’t cause me terror, but reminds me that to be well in this world that has been molded to dominate the marginalized, we must unfortunately be relentless about our diets and what we feed minds. Our attention is precious. It shapes our interior worlds, which  influences our gaze onto their world and what our potential can be in it.

This is not a time to be passive about what you digest; this is a time to be intentional. We are destined to become what we consume.