Almond Moms and the Generational Trauma of Diet CulturePhoto by Diana Polekhina/Unsplash Food Features food culture
Have you ever heard of an “almond mom”? In the past several months, TikTokers have taken to the platform to shed light on a common phenomenon: mothers, wracked with trauma from diet culture, encouraging their daughters to eat “healthily,” i.e., not very much at all. The trend was at least partially inspired by a clip of Yolanda Hadid and her daughter, Gigi, who starred in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. In the clip, Gigi complains about feeling weak after eating, “like, a half of an almond.” Her mother (who says the video was taken out of context) told Gigi to eat a couple of almonds and to “chew them really well.”
Regardless of whether Hadid was actually perpetuating diet culture or not, many young women recognized a similar theme in their own lives. Their mothers, who have been conditioned by society to achieve thinness at all costs, instilled the idea that “health” (read: “thinness”) was of the utmost importance. This phenomenon has been widely understood as a symptom of diet culture, which researchers Natalie Jovanovski and Tess Jaeger have described as “a moral hierarchy of bodies fuelled by health myths.” White, Western culture has an overwhelming bias in favor of thinness—sometimes taken to an extreme. For years now, rates of eating disorders have skyrocketed, especially among girls and young women. Many experts agree that diet culture plays a major role in these troubling statistics.
I, as a younger millennial, along with many of my peers, have been born into a time in history where questioning the overarching white, Western beauty standard of “thin is in” is finally at least somewhat acceptable. Many of us have come to understand that a preoccupation with thinness is nothing more than fatphobia, or “the implicit and explicit bias of overweight individuals that is rooted in a sense of blame and presumed moral failing,” according to Boston Medical Center.
But our mothers, generally Boomers and Gen-Xers, grew up in an even less size-inclusive world than the one we live in today. Just think of all of the objectively thin celebrities that were considered fat as recently as the 2010s. Living in a larger body, particularly as a woman, does come with a social and medical stigma that can be personally painful on an emotional level and even lead to poorer medical care. It’s no wonder that so many mothers, traumatized by their own experiences with diet culture, would push the same values onto their daughters in an attempt to save them from the discrimination fat people face in our society.
I think many young women and femmes have now realized that the best way to beat the ill effects of diet culture and fatphobia is not to bend to societal expectations of thinness but instead to push back against the structures that hold this kind of discrimination in place. As many have pointed out before me, diet culture is a tool of the white supremacist patriarchy. By insisting that women and femme-presenting people maintain a certain size to be deemed attractive to cis, heterosexual men, these systems of oppression keep women preoccupied with exercising and eating (or not) instead of actively participating in their own lives. How can women and femmes achieve happy, successful and productive lives if they’re spending all of their time counting almonds instead of focusing on their passions, their work, their social circles?
I’m sad for the generations of women and femmes who came before us who were subjected to diet culture in its most virulent form, who were forced to view themselves with the same cold, objectifying gaze as the men in their lives did. It’s not their fault that these problematic views were forced onto them by the same systems of oppression that have caused so much pain and suffering for everyone who isn’t a cis, heterosexual, rich white man. But their daughters are right to question them, to call them out for their views, and to imagine a world in which women and femme-presenting people don’t have to limit their daily caloric intake to a handful of almonds or its equivalent, all in the pursuit of an ultimately unattainable body type.
Fatphobia is still very much present in our society today, and fat people, particularly fat women and femmes, are still victimized for not conforming to problematic expectations of how a woman’s body should look. We still have a long way to go to free ourselves from the shackles of diet culture and the patriarchy, particularly as the rights of people with uteruses continue to be stripped from us on a daily basis. But if a few TikToks can get some of us, any of us, to change the way we look at women’s bodies and food habits—the way we look at our own bodies and food habits—I have some hope that we’re at least starting to move in the right direction.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.