A Case for Fitness Instead of Dieting Culture in Lebanon

Lebanese Women and Diet Culture

In Lebanon, women often partake in an unregulated and highly problematic diet culture in order to look attractive. Whereas there is no singular particular aesthetic that women try to achieve as being curvy is also desired here, the culture of calorie restriction, long stretches of cardio and diet plans is the first place women look to in order to lose weight.

woman doing exercise routine
Students in a yoga class in a downward dog position.

Thinness as An Ideal

Thinness as an ideal is predominantly backed by western influence, with the bodies of American celebrities and singers largely what Lebanese women aim to emulate. While our culture also celebrates curves, meant to indicate fertility and her family’s ability to “feed her”, the problem lies when our culture does not emphasise physical health and fitness over thinness.

Collectivism and Self Esteem

Lebanon being a collectivist society means that we are a “we-centered” society. The topic of beauty and body image becomes a “we-centered” discussion, therefore, your body becomes my business in the sense that if I am related to you, I can freely share my thoughts on how I think that you should look.

This often leads girls to have low self esteem, especially if they are larger than the average or if they deviate the norm in a less than desirable way. Weight is often topic of family discussions, with weight loss being celebrated and weight gain to be avoided at all costs, often to the detriment as girls go through extreme measures like calorie restriction, use of diet pills, liposuction, etc in order to lose weight.

group of women doing yoga
Fit women working out in a group fitness class.

American Culture and Fitness

Upon trying to compare my culture to one like the US, I found that the “I-centered” (individualist) context held no importance as to why American culture tends to value physical fitness and movement.

My original theory was that our culture does not fully understand the benefits of a physically fit lifestyle. Furthermore, I am inclined to believe that fitness attitudes have just not been thoroughly examined. I mean, I see a lot fit men and women at my gym and I go there every day. Regardless, maybe there are some misconceptions about what fitness is that need to be cleared up for more Lebanese people to encourage it.

I find that the American emphasis on movement and physical wellbeing is a good ideal for Lebanese people to strive for.

Social Influence on Beauty

Upon reading about the factors that contribute to eating disorders, which more often than not are attributed to things like emotional eating, social anxiety and depression, I find that emphasis on exercise (in moderation) for women can alleviate social pressures by making them more process-oriented, health-centered and less focused on social comparison via an unreachable and harmful thin ideal. On the opposite end of the spectrum, overweight women can focus on the benefits of movement, strength and wellbeing as opposed to aiming for that same ideal.

woman in white training bra scratching her back
Blonde attractive female stretching while wearing a sports bra.

Curvy and Fit

Additionally, I find that our culture has always embraced a feminine ideal, with curves being a sign of wealth and fertility. I find that curvy is both desirable and healthy to maintain provided that our culture encourages women to love themselves and work out for the sheer benefit of movement and wellbeing.

Becoming Critical Consumers of Media

A critical lens of social media is becoming ever so important in what seems to be a more globalised ideal for women. I would also advocate for a critical lens of media by women and men as Lebanese media tends to depict Lebanese women in a negative way and objectifies them.

Fitness for Building a Strong Self-Concept

Gaining self-esteem and self-respect is also a byproduct of fitness which is why I recommend it for more than just over-compensatory reasons that our diet culture promotes.

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