Sizing up the diet culture

With an upwards of 41 million teenagers in the U.S., it’s no surprise that the complexities of the teenage years have transpired into a distinctive culture. Amidst ethical incongruities, today’s teens are expected to operate in conjunction with varying pressures including media, social standards, and cultural expectations. Amongst these evolving issues, one topic manages to consistently remain relevant: diet.
The simplicity of elementary food pyramids and heart-smart activities have all but disappeared in an era where 40% of girls ages 9-10 have attempted to lose weight and where levels of psychiatric morbidity are at an all-time high. As pressures continue to strengthen and innovate, concern for dieting in the high-school years varies per individual.
Dieting in a Positive light
Working out and eating healthy is a part of Morgan Lange’s everyday existence. Lange, sophomore, said dieting generally impacts MHS in a positive way.
“If people see other people working out and changing their eating habits, they would feel more motivated to go out and exercise for a bit instead of just sitting around,” Lange said.”
Luckily for Lange, she says she is a part of a friend group without a specifically desired body image.
“My friends are really supportive of everything and whatever we choose to do, they will be supportive,” Lange said. “I don’t think there should really be a specific body image; I think people should just feel comfortable in who they are.”
For Dory Pearlstone, junior, dieting has been a trial and error journey, but has ultimately been a pleasing experience.
“If you’re trying to make certain life changes, [dieting] can be good because you are trying to better yourself,” Pearlstone said. “But some girls diet to be skinnier when they already are skinny, which is definitely a problem.”
As a former vegetarian, Pearlstone learned that dieting can be successful when restrictions are not too overbearing and one pursues the process for the right reasons.
“I definitely have felt pressure from others, but really I don’t try to lose weight,” Pearlstone said. “I just try to eat healthy and to have a healthy lifestyle, and if that means not eating some types of food, then I’ll do that, if it’s my own decision.”
However, Pearlstone has encountered valleys in her dieting experience. Having tried methods, such as juicing, Pearlstone said she is glad to have pursued a healthy lifestyle, rather than fad diets.
“I think when you have the notion in your head that you can’t eat something, it makes you want to do it more,” Pearlstone said. “So I do [juicing] now, but I also eat. I ended up being crabbier and more tired. It might have made me lose a bit of water weight, but it wasn’t long term and it definitely wasn’t healthy.”
The Dangers of dieting culture
In response to the standards spawned by teenage society, some students stand out against the existence of dieting pressures.
While simultaneously interested in the idea of a healthy lifestyle, sophomores Nicole Jacobs and Kendra Kemenski find today’s teenage qualifications to be offensive and unnecessary.
“I like to try to eat as healthy as I can because I try to be nutritious for soccer,” Jacobs said. “But If I want cake I’m gonna eat it.”
Kemenski said a lot of people set unreasonable goals and are often affected by today’s media and trends.
“There’s definitely a pressure to be thin, but I don’t think they work,” Kemenski said. “Like on Tumblr, if you don’t have a thigh gap then you aren’t cool. It’s ridiculous. And Brandy Melville has that ‘one size fits all’ and it’s not going to fit everybody and that makes people feel like crap about themselves.”
Ultimately the pair said that dieting in the high school years can be rather unreasonable.
“Food tastes better than skinny would probably feel,” Jacobs said. “I’d rather be fat and happy than skinny and sad.”

The Male Perspective
In addressing the topic of teenage dieting, boys are often excluded from the issue, although many still claim that the significance of the subject lies more commonly with females.
Having attempted a variety of diets including low carb meal plans and all green diets, sophomore, Jacob Miller, says his experience was mostly positive.
“It was okay, but I let it slip a couple of times,” Miller said. “I was trying to cut weight and gain muscle and it actually worked out in the end.”
Having never attempted a culturally inclined fad diet, Miller said his dieting experience was certainly a challenge.
“It was hard because I had to change a lot,” Miller said. “But I was happy because the effects lasted and I stayed strong.”
Being a part of the high school dieting environment, Miller says he mostly witnesses females following diet trends.
“Everybody has a diet but mostly girls are intense about it,” Miller said. “Sometimes it seems a little crazy, but I guess it’s up to them.”
Miller also said teenage males are usually not as involved in dieting culture because they are not as collectively self-conscious, partially because it can be far easier for males to lose weight than females.

Finding Balance
Anzel Khan, junior, has been both scorned and triumphant in her dieting experience.
“Some people like to diet where they don’t eat at all. Like a day they don’t eat and they eat all of these things together,” Khan said. “I used to do that because I would think like ‘hey if I don’t eat, it’ll make me lose weight faster.’”
Having now discovered her own way to diet in a successful and manageable manor, Khan said finding the right path can be very difficult and stressful.
“I went through this phase where I would throw up,” Khan said. “I would eat something and then I would throw up and I thought that was a healthy diet; but I realized that that’s not good for me. So now I just eat healthier than what I used to.”
Khan said special events, such as homecoming or spring break, can often spike overall interest in dieting and body image.
“I feel like everyone does it,” Khan said. “I definitely start trying more, I work more. Like everything that a normal girl does.”
Inspired by cultural pioneers, celebrities, like Jennifer Lawrence, have encouraged Khan to find a diet and lifestyle that suit her personal standards.
“People are trying to show that you don’t have to be perfectly skinny or have abs to be perfect,” Khan said. “That’s why I stopped doing all the stuff I used to do. You can be yourself; just be happy with who you are.”