Most days, I find good reasons to be optimistic about the way diverse figures are celebrated in the media. Or at least reason to feel like it’s getting better.
But then there are the times when I come across a story so toxic and oblivious to its possible effects that I spend the rest of the day wallowing in cynicism.
Recently, I had one of the latter days, thanks to an article on a prominent website that glorified a reality star’s consumption of just 500 calories a day.
Seriously — she was celebrated for taking time to “focus on herself” after a breakup by adhering to the extreme restriction diet. (“I gotta look my best, right?”)
It read like a caricature of diet stories, emphasising the worst possible messages. Exercise? Yuck! Restrict calories until the body responds like it’s in starvation mode? What willpower! Doctors’ warnings? Haters!
There were a few vague disclaimers, but nothing that made the point as strongly as it should. Speaking to U.S. News & World Report in 2011 about a 500-calorie-a-day diet, Harvard Medical School assistant professor of medicine Pieter Cohen said, “It's reckless, irresponsible, and completely irrational.”
In other words, it’s not something to be celebrated with professional before-and-after glamour shots.
Still, sadly, I know why it was written. Just like post-baby body reveals, diet transformations offer low-hanging fruit for entertainment writers. There’s a good chance the publication even got money on both sides of the deal: first from the D-lister’s public relations firm, and again from the views of incredulous people like me.
The problem is, the story wasn’t just promoting some harmless diet. In no uncertain terms, it was exalting extreme disordered-eating behaviours — with just enough of a mask put on it to confuse vulnerable readers.
The explicit statement that it was a good or even healthy form of self-care to engage in disordered eating is what upset me more than anything else.