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Sexuality: Diet Culture and What Being Plus Size Truly Means

Sexuality: Diet Culture and What Being Plus Size Truly Means

Through a series of interviews I talked to different people about their various experiences with the media, fashion, and beauty industries and how they believe those affected their view of the world we live in. I started by asking them a few questions surrounding sexuality and our perception of what “sexy” means in society. These conversations lead each one of them to different places and answers yielding intriguing conversations about what it means to be a member of our changing world.

Peyton Wilson

Peyton Wilson has an air about her that radiates with confidence. As her friend, I know this isn’t always and hasn’t always been true. But as an objective outsider I would never know. When we started talking about what sexy means our conversations formed into a focus on how the media chooses to represent women of plus size and those who don’t fit a mold of sizing. From a young age we’re conditioned to believe that body types are a one size fits all issue. You’re either a size zero or you’re overweight. We spend an exorbitant amount of time critiquing women who don’t fit the societal ideals of size and shape. The imagery given to plus size women is still a Photo-shopped and a false portrayal of the average American woman. To contribute to our strict standards of body and femininity we also create a narrative that any woman who is even slightly overweight or appears to be is unhealthy. That they must not be taking care of themselves and don’t care about their health or their bodies and appearances. We put emphasis on the representation of the characters which makes them abnormal in the framework of media.  The shows that we mainly talked about were Dumplin’ and Insatiable.

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(Photos courtesy of Netflix)

Both Netflix series received backlash for their portrayal of plus size women and the emphasized femininity these women are forced into. Emphasized femininity refers to the phenomena of women conforming to the male gaze, or what men have established as desirable. These television shows received criticism for their portrayal of how women only break out of their plus size, or undesirable, molds by fitting into the confines of this emphasized femininity. There is little to no depth to overweight characters outside of these representations (or even in these). This reflects the representation we see for LGBTQ+ characters on television who are almost always portraying a stereotype and the token best friend character. And while both areas are making strides to improve this, they still have major flaws: almost all plus size or LGBTQ+ characters are white (LGBTQ+ also has a majority male). Peyton and I also got onto how the “diet culture” we live with influences our personal experiences with weight loss. This obsession with weight loss in media and American culture is harmful and detrimental to health.

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(photo courtesy of Empowered Eating)

The diet culture influences a lot about your views of sexuality.

“Everybody’s doing it”

Diet culture is promoted everywhere on the internet, through flat tummy teas and waist trainers to healthy, low calorie cookbooks to the promotion of children counting calories in school. Our conversation turned a bit intense when we discussed this ides of diet culture, the impact of which Peyton and I have both felt in our struggles to maintain and secure healthy body weights. The average American female wears a size 16. The average model, spokesperson, and actor is a size 2. The disconnect between these two groups creates a society that thinks they always need to lose weight. Even those who eat healthy and take care of themselves are still pushed to be thin because it’s perceived to be “unhealthy” to not be thin. A huge part of why this exists within our culture is this male gaze that we conform to. The male gaze refers to societies lean toward creating and promoting images pleasing to the patriarchy. Essentially women are portrayed in a way to please men rather than other women. In this case, we have promoted that women who are above a certain size are not appealing and when you see them in sexual contexts they are not portrayed as sexy.

“To me sexy is about how the person you’re with views you”

While Peyton’s opinion has a lot to do with feeling confident with the person you’re with, it also plays into this idea that we as women perform our sexuality for a male audience. The performance of femininity is often encouraged more heavily to fit thin, white, women. This makes a culture focused on diets and quick fixes rather than acceptance. The solutions to this are to put more women of color, of varing sizes, and different representations of femininity in advertisements and media. We don’t need to glorify women for being plus-size in a major role, we need to normalize these movies and actors.

Peyton’s “hell no” response when I asked her if she believed she was sexy isn’t really surprising after our conversation. She knows she is beautiful and strong however she is constantly pushed out of the box of beautiful by societal standards. Ironically, almost everyone is pushed out of this box and encouraged to lose weight, to become the perfect imagery of beauty, and to completely ignore their safety and health in order to appear “sexy.”

Listen to my interview with Peyton:



About The Author


Tara Sahli is a junior musical theatre and communications major at the University of Tampa. She hopes to attend law school and eventually work in entertainment and sports law.

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