Everyday Semiotics

Friday, December 15, 2006

A diet to end them all

I'm going to try something new. Rather than make really long entries occasionally, I'm going to make really short entries regularly. To accomplish this, I'll turn to seemingly random topics and quickly puzzle through their apparatuses and ranges of meaning.

Today: Diet

There is perhaps nothing so simultaneoulsy self-effacing and self-loathing than placing oneself on a diet. To be on a diet is to forbid oneself certain foods; and since eating is so often a social activity, it is very often the public refusal of certain foods. To diet is therefore at least in part to perform, to make an act of a goal (better health, lower cholesterol, a slimmer figure) as well as to demonstrate one's self-control in (selectively) not giving in to the desire to break this pact with the self.

The boundaries meted out by any diet are necessarily permeable, especially during that nebulous time called "the holidays" during which any number of factors can be cited as contributing to the permissible (at least tacitly permissible, or permitted under protest) breaking of the diet.

Unlike religious devotion, a sort of discipline that has an extensive societal support for prohibitions and lifestyle choices, dieting's support mechanism is narrow. Its tenets can only be upheld by the dieter (and possibly his or her dietician or physician). Beyond that, the imperative to diet is scarcely reflected, much less enforced. Friends on similar diets may band together, and may just as easily agree upon excuses to break the diet for a special occasion, and then, to complete the cycle, offer commiseration and mutual support in re-initiating the diet. For a non-dieter to insist a dieter maintain his or her diet would be to step out of bounds. Politeness and considerateness dictate that this is the dieter's business and no one else's.

Of course there is a tremendous social force that makes obesity, extra padding and round bellies taboo or undesirable; and yet this societal pressure does not include a directive toward dieting. It is rather assumed that leanness is the natural state, and fatness is the transgression. This is almost to suppose that the desired state is maintained through inactivity, where activity (e.g. overeating) yields the undesirable state, where of course the opposite is often more true.

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2 Comments:

At 7:31 PM, Blogger caddy jeanne said...

does this mean you feel that your life is lived in a state of self loathing due to voluntary dietary choices like vegetarianism and veganism? hmmm....

 
At 11:30 AM, Blogger M.H.F. said...

To a certain extent, yes. To diet is to change one's behavoir in response to a disliked behavoir or condition of the body -- in short, a loathing for some aspect of the self. And since the boundaries of any diet are necessarily transgressed, there is a self-loathing that comes with the transgression.

 

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