This year marks the 100th anniversary of diet culture as we know it. Compared to the span of human activity and the arc of civilization, the propagation of the idea that fatness should be shaming is a relative blip on the historical calendar. Yes, diets have been around for millennia. St. Augustine of Hippo dieted. Lord Byron dieted. But diet culture itself—the widespread dissemination of the idea that bodies (specifically female ones) have a civic duty and moral imperative to reduce themselves, with tips for doing so—has its origins in 1918.
That year, Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters, a U.C. Berkeley-trained physician published Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories. In the book, Peters explained the concept of the calorie for the first time. She decried fatness as unpatriotic, declaring that it was “a crime” to hoard food, “a valuable commodity,” by storing vast quantities of it on one’s person in the form of excess weight. She drew comical doodles of blob-shaped people next to stick figures, and cartoon coffins awaiting the obese. She offered regimented diet plans. And she encouraged dieters to fine themselves if they failed to lose weight and donate the money to the Red Cross. “How any one can want to be anything but thin is beyond my intelligence,” Peters wrote. Diet and Health sold two million copies over the next two decades. Diet culture was born.
I thought about Peters’s drawings while watching Dietland, Marti Noxon’s AMC series about a reclusive woman named Plum who learns, over the course of 10 episodes, how to reject the world’s conception of her and her body. One of the ways that Dietland conveys Plum’s sense of self-worth is by portraying her in cartoon form, a circular figure shrouded from head to toe in black wearing a downcast, mournful expression. The animated world around her is flat and monochrome; when cartoon Plum moves around it, she’s sometimes accompanied by her own weeping raincloud.
But at the end of the season’s final episode, animated Plum’s heart begins to glow bright red. The ground beneath her turns yellow. She runs through landscapes of pink trees and color-saturated cityscapes. For 10 episodes, Dietland has shown the ways in which the world tells Plum that she’s the problem: that she’s too large, too greedy, too conspicuously present to people who would rather not see her. In its final moments, Dietland suggests an alternate possibility …
Source:: The Atlantic – Culture