Culture Columnist


Ciara McAliden is tired of relentless diet culture.

Trigger warning: body image

Hi, I’m overweight. Today I’m here to tell you (and myself) why that’s okay, and why we need to stop with these relentless updates on weight loss progression and post-Christmas fad diets.

At 21 years old, I have, sadly, spent around half of my life obsessing over a number on a set of scales and the bits of chub on my tummy, hips, back, chin, thighs, arms… you get the picture. Even more sadly, I think I’m in the majority of women my age when it comes to this. You’ll understand, then, why Instagram is my least favourite place to be in January. It’s encouraging to see people posting their Goodreads and Letterboxd goals for the year, but any notion of self-improvement is immediately steamrolled by the onslaught of weight-loss goals and comparison pictures. I’m sure you’ve seen them, the posts that focus on how fattening the Christmas period is, the posts that swiftly move from Christmas to Keto. Though I’m sure those sharing these messages mean no ill-will, it’s quite hard for me to grasp how they don’t understand the harmful sentiment of what they post. It is difficult to think of something more disheartening than seeing a “before” picture that looks like you, only to see that the caption details how disgusting the person felt, or how awful they looked. It’s even more upsetting to see that their starting weight was the same as yours is now.

In ordinary circumstances, these posts are harmful and frustrating, but in the middle of a pandemic? During the most draining and traumatic year, that most of us have experienced? It’s just a kick in the teeth for influencers to show us all how “disgusting'' they were at a size 16, and for Weight Watchers to invade every ad break on TV. We’ve all been stuck in our homes for a year, working, studying, watching the government make one fuck-up after another – who hasn’t been eating more than they usually would? We have had no access to gyms, we have been encouraged to support independent takeaways and restaurants, and, in a lot of cases, we have found it difficult to even get out of bed most days. And now Slimming World wants to let us all know that for the small price of more-than-I-can-afford, we can drop all of that disgusting fat that’s consuming us?

10 years of my life have been shrouded by this fat stigma. Fat isn’t a bad word, and being fat does not make you a lesser person than Instagram Adonises. We shouldn’t be lectured about our health by strangers with fatphobic values (if you don’t know what I mean by that, just look through Lizzo’s comment section on any social media platform). The pandemic has paved the way for me being the heaviest I have ever been, and you know what? Who gives a shit? Even if this wasn’t an immensely stressful and draining year, weight gain is a natural fluctuation that doesn’t diminish your person. But the fact remains, this has been a brutal year. Even if you are simply surviving, you are thriving – no amount of physical change can remove that fact.

It’ll take more than an article in a university newspaper to change opinions on this, and even as I write this, I am scrutinising my appearance – but the fact remains, the post-December diet culture is damaging, and painful to witness, and we have to stop buying into it. Eat what you like, and find other paths to self-improvement that don’t damage your self-worth.


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