These feelings of failure can set off a cycle that affects overall well-being in the long run, according to Dr. Diedrichs. “People can have unrealistic expectations of what they can achieve with weight loss, especially if it is advertised as a result of managing diet as well as exercise. This presents a very simplified view of how a person’s weight is determined. And she notes that a person’s weight often boils down to factors as diverse as genetics, biology and socioeconomics, things that are consistently glossed over in marketing and other online conversations about weight. “If influencers or different people are sending the message that we can change our bodies simply through exercise and diet,” adds Dr. Deidrichs, the science just doesn’t support that.
“Science” proves that most dieting practices don’t lead to sustainable weight loss (if any weight is lost at all), so those of us who see a celebrity lose weight and try their described regimes for ourselves immediately get on the bandwagon. in an amusement park self-loathing that we can’t shake. “The primary dietary response can be to limit what you eat, to set unrealistic rules that are impossible to follow, that don’t get you the results you want,” explains Dr. Diedrichs. “It makes you feel lazy and undisciplined or feel like those standards are impossible to maintain and that your body isn’t good enough.” From that point, she adds, dieters are more likely to overeat out of a sense of dissatisfaction, which leads to more feelings of self-loathing, which leads back to square one with the food restriction. In the most extreme cases, “it can mimic or be a symptom of an eating disorder.”
And to see someone who once looked like you suddenly adhere to slim beauty standards does they subconsciously encourage you to try to lose weight, whether or not you ever cared. “Just by having images [featuring unattainable beauty standards] there, even if we don’t think it’s achievable, it still sends a message that it’s something to strive for. And if we don’t achieve that, we don’t meet the requirements,” explains Dr. Diedrichs, citing image retouching as a common case where understanding reality is not enough to combat the effects of an unattainable standard of beauty. Just because young people know that most media images are retouched, she explains, doesn’t change the fact that they can feel affected by their presence.
I’ve spent much of my life training myself to notice the way these things negatively affect my own body image, and yet they still do—hence why I had to leave the room when I recently caught my roommate watching reruns of The office. Just having Kaling’s inadvertent before and after in my head felt like a message that I needed to lose weight. I could do it just as easily as she could, so I should, right?
In a screwed up way, I feel like I’m losing teammates with the “loss” of certain big celebrities. Those of us who don’t meet this lower-than-average standard of beauty already struggle with a lack of fair representation in the media we consume. When some of our core pillars of performance fall, it can also negatively affect how we see ourselves. “By having a lack of representation, you’re sending a message that these people are not welcome or not ambitious or not attractive,” explains Dr. Diedrichs. “The more likely we are to internalize these ideas, the worse our body image will be.”