In case you missed the media tirade, Demi Lovato recently called out local LA frozen yogurt store, The Bigg Chill, for having sugar-free, fat-free labels. She took to Instagram to say, "Finding it extremely hard to order Froyo from @TheBiggChillOfficial when you have to walk past tons of sugar-free cookies/other diet foods before you get to the counter." She went further by coining the hashtag, "DietCultureVultures," remarking that the experience was triggering and she would be willing to work with them to "do better." The store defended itself in her messages, saying, "We carry items for Diabetics, Celiac disease, Vegan and of course have many indulgent items as well." Lovato then posted screenshots of the conversation, where she switches gears to discussing their poor customer service. Fans and the like were quick to see some flaws in Demi's logic, as well as some blatant hypocrisy when compared to the backdrop of her previous weight loss posts and overdose reenactment music video for her latest single, "Dancing with the Devil." Demi Lovato later posted an "apology" video, which is objectively cringe-worhty. While steeped in unnecessary drama, there was actually a lot of harm done here to the diet culture corrective cause, and here's why.
Here is the full video for all interested parties.
Those with dietary restrictions and diseases asked the pop star why she had a personal problem with the store carrying options for them, and furthermore, why in an effort to take down what she called "diet culture vultures," she went after a small business during a pandemic? Lovato kept digging her ditch. She states in the video address that she was offended by the sugar-free and fat-free labels, and that she would have preferred they be labeled based on their medical necessity. When the public called out the ableism in neglecting the privacy of diabetics, celiac suffers, lactose intolerance, and many more, she dug back into the company's Instagram to an old photo of an ice cream labeled "guilt free." Maybe this would have been a problem; after all, associating food with morality is a symptom of diet culture nonsense. However, the photo was 5 years. The conversation quickly stopped being about diet culture and started circulating around her.
When the store staunchly state that they are not "#DietCultureVultures," as she suggested, she began discussing their poor customer service well and telling them it was their responsibility for triggering her. In a portion of the video, she says,
"I left that yogurt shop....and....I didn't get the yogurt that I wanted. And then I had a
hard time the rest of the weekend."
What's even more disheartening is a blatant body checking (when someone makes a post indirectly asking for validation for their body\ ) not even a month ago in which Demi Lovato highlighted her weight loss due to her rejection of diet culture. The message felt a little odd to me, but at the time I didn't have the words to articulate it. Now, I can see how implying that the way to be your "best self" (usually tied to some story about weight loss) is through forgoing diet culture actually does more to assert fat phobia and stigma than to eradicate it. The roots of diet culture must still be there if the motivation to "ditch diet culture" as the saying goes, is effortless, accidental, but happily celebrated weight loss. It felt hypocritical and tone deaf to make a case about triggers and diet culture in one context while posting an incredibly number-centric, weight loss fetishizing post directly before.
Unsurprisingly, social media is having a frenzy with clipping portions of the video and discussing the "Karen-esque" quality of her call-out. Others have begun to sarcastically remark on the nature of her recovery and sobriety in a completely misguided and inappropriate conversation around triggers.
Triggers are valid, and we should not be using this instance as an opportunity to mock or make light of them. Issues arise when we experience individual triggers, and then project them onto others, making it their responsibility to ensure we are never triggered again. Let's be careful here, because I am not implying that behaviors by offending parties, whether intentional or not, cannot be addressed and corrected. In this particular situation, Demi Lovato expected this small business to cater to her trigger, and when they didn't she painted the scenario to be a larger diet culture misstep, when in reality, she had a triggering experience seeing diet options, and a bad customer service experience as well that led her to project onto The Bigg Chill.
So why write an entire piece about this event? Well, instances like this actually harm the cause of correcting diet culture in palpable ways. I'd like to move the conversation off of Demi in particular. After all, I do believe that women should support women, and I don't want this to become a war on her necessarily. She was very out of touch, but it definitely came from a place of hurt. Her experiences both in recovery and in continued sobriety are valid and monumental. I have no interest in discussing her as person, but rather the commentary on diet culture call-outs this event circulated. Instances such as this reduce actual efforts to examine diet culture into bells and whistles. Instead of activists, leaders, politicians, public figures, educators, and allies, the public may begin to perceive us as tantruming victim baters or disgruntled customers. Seeing a celebrity with significant influence make such a blatant display of ableism and entitlement is genuinely disheartening when I think of future circumstances where actual calls to end diet culture might be dismissed with an eye roll. The utter ridiculousness of this situation trivializes the real dangers of diet culture. I assure you, it's not sugar-free yogurt. It is however companies like Thin Bars, Skinny Pop, Skinny Cow, corporations that use "guilt-free" selling angles to market their product. These examples should be discussed and re-examined in an effort to produce a more compassionate, healthy relationship with mind and body. Magazines that continue to retouch beyond recognition, modeling agencies that still enforce rigid weight/height requirements, and clothing companies who refuse to sell merchandise beyond a size XL should most definitely be brought to light. This was an infuriating example of privilege and entitlement, not diet culture. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't make the effort to be vigilant, self-aware consumers.
As a woman in eating disorder recovery, I decided to venture to the yogurt shop itself for bit more context. Of course, I am in no way suggesting that my triggers are the same as someone else's or could speak for anyone else's. Nonetheless, I was curious to see if I too would feel triggered in anyway, or find remnants of diet culture latent in this particular store. To my surprise, it was one of the most "ma and pa" places I have been to in a while. There was a line out the door, and the parking lot was the one of those tiny, anxiety-inducing cubbies with people camped out waiting for a spot. There were only two people working. The store itself was incredibly humble, with a section of bakery items to the immediate left, most of which were sugar-free or vegan. My friend and I tried their dairy-free cookies and creme ice cream flavor and many of their assorted vegan cookie doughs. All in all, it was a very pleasant, simple experience, with nothing too spectacular, out-of-place, or exclamatory, good or bad. I asked the worker if their business had been affected at all by the incident, and they told me that business was pretty unaltered. I was happy to see this local, hole-in-the-wall thriving.
The biggest take away I want any reader to have is that diet culture is real, and there are marketing methods and infrastructures laced into advertising, social practices, and yes, even labeling, that perpetuate it. Demi Lovato came from a place of hurt and projected onto a third party. It does happen; it's inappropriate, but it does happen. This is bigger than just one person or one instance. Most importantly, we each need to do our own work on an individual scale to deconstruct internalized fat phobia, thin idealism, and extreme dieting masquerading as "health."
We push on.