Jordyn Calderon gets startled looks — as well as some thumbs-up — when she wears her favorite sweatshirt. It reads “Fat Babe.”
She thinks that its sassy, self-confident message sums her up.
“I’ve learned to love the way I already look, not the way I could look. Meaning, thinner,” said the 26-year-old human resources professional.
This year, unlike many previous years, Calderon didn’t make the expected New Year’s resolution to lose weight.
“I’ve gone to ridiculous lengths in the past, but I’ve decided weight loss is not a goal for me, and that’s been very powerful,” she said.
Calderon experienced what she called “my aha moment” to ditch dieting after reading Cat Inspired, a blog by Cat Polivoda, last year.
Polivoda, 30, a Minneapolis style and body image consultant, posted a manifesto about rejecting what she calls the “New Year! New You! BS.”
“Although toxic weight loss & diet culture surrounds us all the time, it seems to run even more rampant each January,” Polivoda wrote. “This year, I want to share as many voices as possible expressing why they aren’t focused on losing weight.”
Polivoda was inundated by comments from scores of women who chimed in to speak out against the demand to diet. She posted photos of the women who joined her pledge to abandon the calorie-counting, restrictive food plans and meal-replacement shakes.
“I’m a woman on a mission,” said Polivoda. “Diets don’t make a lot of people healthier or happier.”
Plus, most New Year’s diets fail.
According to research from the University of Scranton, a tiny fraction of people — only 8 percent — achieve their New Year’s resolutions. And the diet-fail-diet cycle can be particularly tricky for those who have a complicated relationship with food.
“Extreme dieting can lead to binge eating, and that could trigger the onset of an eating disorder or a relapse for people who struggle with this,” said psychologist Heather Gallivan, clinical director at the Melrose Center, an eating disorder program in the Twin Cities.
Research confirms that yo-yo dieting and restricting food intake slow the body’s metabolism, ultimately making weight loss more difficult, Gallivan said. She’s concerned that this time of year, with its endless commercials and articles pushing diet plans, is particularly threatening to the vulnerable.
“We’re bombarded with messages about weight loss, and people with eating disorders personalize that,” she said. “We know that dieting makes things worse for anyone who’s ever dealt with eating disorders.”
Beyond the scale
Raised in La Crescent, Minn., Polivoda was a high-achieving high school leader whose weight didn’t sink her natural buoyancy.
“I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, and one reason is because I’m not focused on losing weight, which robs you of a lot of time,” she said. “I spend my energy improving my actual health. I focus on activity, rest, self-reflection.”
A Hamline University graduate, Polivoda has a master’s degree in training and development and has worked at the community college level, teaching students to manage their time and stay motivated.
“I love goal-setting and working every day to pursue plans. It’s too bad when people limit those options to a number on the scale. That keeps us from doing other meaningful things,” she said. “What about using your brainpower to push your personal and professional goals?”
Polivoda has been propelling the body acceptance movement with Body Brave, an organization she co-founded with Ani Janzen, a dietetics graduate studying to be a registered dietitian.
Body Brave helps people “embrace your body as it is today” and consults with businesses on eliminating weight stigma and being more welcoming to customers, clients and employees of all sizes.
“Dieting is terribly demoralizing,” said Janzen, 32, of Minneapolis. “People believe losing weight is a matter of willpower, but many people with great willpower try to lose weight and can’t. There is a biological imperative that some bodies resist weight loss in a way that science can’t explain.
“We challenge the assumption that living in a larger body is inherently unhealthy,” she said.
The diet resisters
There’s no doubt that Americans have become larger. A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education found that the average American woman is a size 16; it had been a 14. Plus-size women, typically classified as size 14 to 34, now account for 67 percent of the population.
Many in the younger generation, however, are no longer willing to avoid horizontal stripes or don baggy clothes to disguise their curves. The internet is full of their Tumblr photos, Pinterest pages and Instagram accounts that illustrate “fatshion,” stylish outfits on larger bodies.
There are more high-profile, plus-size celebrities walking the runway and posing for magazines, including film stars Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer and Rebel Wilson, singers Adele and Queen Latifah, model Ashley Graham and “Saturday Night Live” cast member Aidy Bryant.
“I want to see more diverse bodies that look like me represented in the media,” Polivoda said. “I’m OK using the word fat as a descriptor for myself. It’s a radical act to make people come to grips with the stereotypes they have about fat people — that they’re lazy, not pretty, not stylish. I am not those things.”
In October, Polivoda opened Cake, a plus-size resale shop in south Minneapolis. In addition to racks of garments that start at size XL, she’s using her retail space as a place to build connections with like-minded peers. She’s filled a series of January workshops that focus on goal setting, free from discussions about weight or diets.
“Clothes are a part of style and confidence, but it’s really an inside job,” she said. “I want to help people brainstorm about what they envision for themselves that is not about the way they look.”
Polivoda and her band of diet resisters represent a small force compared with the billion-dollar diet industry. But Gallivan believes that their voices are part of a growing chorus that could spark sizable changes.
“I firmly believe the body acceptance movement is strengthening and the message is starting to get through,” she said. “We put a lot of our self-esteem into our body image. I applaud her [Polivoda] for the reminder that we are more than that.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.