San Diego has been my home for basically my entire life. When I was a kid, I had no idea there were certain seasons for my favorites fruits and vegetables because they were always available. The only issue was which of the two grocery stores (both less than a mile away) to go to. Maybe “out of season” produce was sold at a higher price, but the option was always there. In fact, many options are always there. Big cities like San Diego offer such a variety of cultures, ideas, and products that you almost get overwhelmed with the choices in front of you. I’ve never had to struggle with not being able to find fresh produce and nourishing foods due to season; and I do realize how fortunate I am for that. Big cities cater to so many different lifestyles – vegan, gluten free, Latino, Thai, the doughnut diet (with all of the fancy shops opening up, that has to be a thing, right?), Cuban, Italian, you name it, it’s somewhere within the city limits. Only eat organic? No problem. Gluten free and no added sugars? No biggie. These cities cater to the fast-food junkies, the health conscious, the Atkins dieters, the pizza lovers, and it is great. And then there’s the beach! And running by the beach, IN JANUARY. How could you complain, right? I mean, anytime it rains everyone turns into a crazy person on the road, but we really have it made here. No, we may not all surf and chat it up with celebs over coffee, but there is definitely a micro-culture here that the majority of us personify. We San Diegans love our sun, our gyms, our workout attire, and our green smoothies. There’s a “healthy” option at every corporate lunch, a plethora of vegan cafes, and a Pilates/yoga/cycle studio or gym on every block. You can’t hide from health here; and while that offers a great solution for our growing obesity epidemic and childhood type 2 diabetes rate, it’s also supporting and creating a mindset and lifestyle consumed by ingredient labels, calorie-counting, and fasted cardio.
Earlier this week I was watching an old Ellen episode, where she was hosting comedian and actress, Amy Schumer. Amy stated she could never live in LA because “I don’t fit in here. Just straight up body type. Like in LA, my arms register as legs.” The crowd was roaring (admittedly so did I) because it’s always comical when someone can make fun of himself or herself. Let the laughter die down though, and unfortunately, she makes a good point. San Diego, LA, Miami – these cities scream “THIN. RUNNER. TAN. MODEL. BEAUTIFUL,” and if you aren’t those things, you’re reminded of it daily. Either by the billboards picturing a hot girl with a six pack drinking some new protein shake, or the tourists in line at Starbucks giving you that second look for a nanosecond, or maybe your aunt back home who asks, “what do you mean you don’t surf, everyone in California surfs!” The market and the stigmas associated with these big cities is saturated with unrealistic and irregular body types, lifestyles, and expectations; and if you think for a moment that doesn’t resonate with the majority of the people living there, well, (quite frankly) you’re wrong.
It’s also not just the beach cities. New York, Seattle, San Francisco, they feel it too. In 2011, a study was released stating Boulder, Colorado ranked number five for “overall well-being.” Then, that same month the American College Health Association issued a study independent of the Well-being Index and found that UC-Boulder reported nearly triple the national average of eating disorders among women, and almost double the national average among men. On a secret website platform, one student confessed, “Boulder has stripped me of all confidence.” The micro-culture at UC-Boulder places health and fitness as top priorities, and while that lifestyle alone isn’t enough for the onset of an eating disorder, there are certain extremes that can and will be taken in order to fit into it.
The Western Culture already places an extreme emphasis on a person’s physical looks, and as countries around the world begin to “westernize” themselves, the rates of eating disorders rise alongside the cultural shift. This “fear of fat” and “thrive for thin” attitude only creates a culture of even more discontent and satisfaction. Eating disorders are not going away, they are increasing; and while on the one hand there are many ‘love your body’ types of campaigns popping up, we do need more integrative approaches to the underlying issues.
Ultimately, it’s about awareness. It’s about the language and attitude we express when talking about a certain place, group of people, or even our own bodies. You may not be able to (legally) change the billboard ads, or your aunt’s assumption about surfing, but you can certainly work at trying to change your own beliefs and judgments. San Diego is a wonderful place to live, but from the girl who doesn’t surf, who isn’t struttin’ in her bikini everyday, and who shouldn’t feel guilty for skipping a workout – I urge you reconsider your assumptions and encourage someone else to do the same.
Written by Madeleine White