For many years, Sophie Forster-Vogelsberger (33) had a disturbed relationship with her body and food. She always felt inadequate. Until she realized that no diet in the world would make her happier and more satisfied…

Sophie Forster-Vogelsberger always spent the days before her vacation starving herself completely. Just so she could go to the pool in a bikini – and to compensate for the food that she felt guilty about allowing herself to eat on vacation. Before going to a restaurant, she looked through the menus online to check whether she would find anything on the menu that met her own eating rules. She canceled dinner meetings with friends or only came back later so that she could say: “I’ve already eaten.”

Sophie Forster-Vogelsberger had disordered eating habits for more than 15 years of her life and, in the worst phases, even had an eating disorder. The 33-year-old from St. Florian near Linz blames the so-called diet culture, which tells us every day that you can only be happy with a slim body, as the main reason for this. In her new book, she describes how she managed to develop a relaxed approach to her body and a healthy relationship with food.

Ms. Forster-Vogelsberger, your book is called “Your body is not a trend.” Why is our body not a trend?

Sophie Forster-Vogelsberger: If you look at the past century, you quickly notice that the ideals of beauty for women have changed every ten years – and since the 2000s, it feels like they have changed even faster.

The 1950s were characterized by the hourglass figure à la Marilyn Monroe, while the 1960s were characterized by the childishly thin and doll-like model icon Twiggy. In the 1990s, an extremely thin beauty standard was back in fashion – the so-called “heroine chic”. At the beginning of the 2000s, “slim thin” was in – that is, big breasts and big butts.

There is no woman who can live up to all of these beauty ideals without altering her body artificially or through cosmetic surgery. So we must finally stop telling women in particular which templates they have to fit into. Instead, we should start encouraging them to celebrate their uniqueness and their individual beauty!

So we should celebrate the things that make us special. That sounds fantastic in theory. But why is it so difficult for us in reality?

The reason for this lies in the diet culture that surrounds us all the time, reminds us of all our insecurities every day and profits from our fears. Diet culture thrives on telling us over and over again that being thin is something to strive for, that it makes us happy or successful.

When you grow up with these beliefs, it is difficult to like yourself – especially if you do not conform to this ideal. The traditional media, advertising and social media do the rest. Especially the many filters on social media that make us think that everyone else conforms to the ideal of beauty, has visible abs, smooth skin and voluminous, full hair.

We are often not aware that what we see on the Internet does not correspond to reality and we end up in a spiral of comparison with a person who would not exist without filters and editing. We can only lose here. That is why it is so important to become aware of diet culture, to expose it and to realize that we are much more than just our appearance or our body.

©Shvets Anna

You yourself have had disordered eating habits for half your life and tried almost everything the diet market has to offer – only to discover years later that there is a huge machine behind it that is primarily concerned with profit. Are most people far too unaware of this?

Yes, I definitely think so! That’s why it was and is so important to me to educate people about it and to speak up. Diet culture is omnipresent. And because we grew up with it, these many beliefs seem so incredibly normal to us.

But as I said before, only when we become aware of all this can we actively counteract it and focus on other things. Only then can we, for example, see what our body does for us every day, instead of just focusing on how it looks.

Has social media further exacerbated all this madness?

Yes, definitely, social media is a highlight reel! The majority of creators show themselves perfectly styled and flawless on Instagram and other social media platforms. Most of the time, they use filters, editing software and certain poses to create a perfect “alter ego” that has no pores, blemishes, wrinkles, cellulite or even an ounce of fat on its body.

Creators can control very precisely what and how they share their content. We cannot know that the person with whom we then compare our body and our life may not have a healthy relationship with their body or food, or may use apps to improve their appearance. The result is a spiral of comparison that leaves us with self-doubt and frustration, and that in turn is an ideal breeding ground for diet culture and all its “wonderful” products.

What realization was the most important game changer for you on your way out of diet terror?

The most important realization for me was when I realized that I could feel full again if I listened to my hunger. I ignored my body’s needs for many years and always wondered why I could only feel painful hunger or “being overfull.”

Until I noticed that my body had turned down all signals because I stopped listening and always ignored my hunger. Only when I gave in to my hunger needs again for a while did my body slowly gain confidence and show me when it was full. A nice feeling!

In the book you always write about “overweight” people. Why don’t you like the word “overweight”?

It’s about being more mindful and inclusive in my language. Being overweight or underweight implies that there is a defined level of body weight that is either exceeded or not reached. This categorization was largely shaped by the body mass index (BMI). It is highly flawed and was never actually developed to make statements about a person’s state of health.

Why does the BMI say nothing about health
condition of a person?

It is so incredibly important to educate people about the flaws of BMI because it has so much power in our social system. People who are outside the normal BMI range are denied health insurance or sometimes even denied the opportunity to begin the IVF process.

It excludes and stigmatises people, often from a young age. It was never designed to be used on an individual level – not to mention that it was only developed using measurements from white, European men, which is a huge problem in itself. It does not include different ethnicities, genders and age groups.

It’s always about being slim. Shouldn’t our goal be to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly in order to do something good for our body and our mind and to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible?

Yes, that’s exactly what it should be about! But thanks to diet culture, we women in particular only think about calories when it comes to food and exercise. That’s why so many women only do cardio because they see that as the most calories burned.

To do this, they force themselves to spend hours on the treadmill, even though strength training is so important for our musculoskeletal system – especially if you want to age fit. It’s also incredibly nice to notice that you have strength and are strong. But of course that’s in contrast to the patriarchal diet culture that likes it when we women make ourselves smaller.

If you think back today – with the knowledge you have gained in the meantime: How would you feel if you had known this as a teenager? Do you think you would have been able to make peace with your body?

I believe that everything had its time for me. I was a very quiet teenager and probably wouldn’t have dared to share my knowledge as I do today. And I would still have been influenced. Especially because then, as now, we live in a culture and society that propagates exactly the opposite.

But culture is not something that simply exists around us. Culture is us and we are culture. We can change it if we want to. If we no longer allow these problematic beliefs and ideals to flow through us and no longer pass them on, then we create new norms, new convictions and new trust.

And generations that follow us will grow up with these new norms and perhaps won’t even need to make peace with their bodies and food because they will never lose their balance. At least that would be my wish.

Book tip: “Your body is not a trend”, Sophie Forster-Vogelsberger, Kinesis Publishing, € 22 ©Manuel Vogelsberger

How long will it take until society rethinks and diet culture no longer exists? How do you hold us accountable as a women’s magazine?

Some days I feel like we’ve already come a long way. But then I take two steps out of my bubble and hear people around me raving about a new crash diet or see anti-fat comments under the reel of one of my favorite creators. Then I realize that we still have a long way to go.

As far as women’s magazines are concerned, I have the feeling that things are already moving in the right direction. Many magazines are already focusing less on stirring up insecurities and headlines like “The worst bikini photos of the stars” and are instead focusing more on individuality and showing different body shapes. This is important. Because what we see every day influences what we consider to be “normal” and, conversely, of course, our self-perception.

Who do you want to reach with your book?

I especially want to reach out to millennial women who, like me, came of age in a time of public body shaming in the press and the “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” mentality. Women who today, after many years of difficult relationships with food and their bodies, finally want to make peace.

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