Women's Personal Finance Media Has A Problem: Diet Culture

We started She Spends with the goal of providing a space for women and non-binary folks to learn about money without being infantilized or pandered to. With this goal in mind, we try to pay a great deal of attention to the language we use to talk about money.

We previously wrote about why you’ll never see us use #girlboss or terms like it at SheSpends. But a recent Instagram post from one of our readers and fellow financial feminists, Ally-Jane Ayers, reminded us of the importance of language, particularly as it pertains to diet culture. 

The post that Ayers shared, along with an eye roll emoji, is a photo of a book called “Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Financial Empowerment and Success.” The book was published in 2010 and uses comparisons to dieting to teach the book’s audience (primarily women) about money. 

The book isn’t alone -- there’s a world of personal finance media targeting women that uses weight loss to serve as an analogy for saving money. But what’s the big deal? What does it matter if these folks want to use a dieting analogy for money? 

Well, for one, diets don’t work. While researchers have shown that folks can typically lose weight when they start a diet, they tend to gain all of it back and then some. At their best, diets feel restrictive and can lead to episodes of overindulging. At their worst, they can act as a launch-pad for eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. 

When we apply a diet framework to our financial lives, we are applying a similarly restrictive set of rules on ourselves. We can end up making the same “mistakes” that we may on a diet: sticking to it in the near term may feel good, but we eventually burn out. Instead of overeating our favorite snacks, we blow our hard-earned cash on cute clothes or a pricey night out.

What makes this sort of personal finance content worse is that it upholds diet culture.

As dietitian Christy Harrison writes, diet culture rewards thinness by equating it to moral value and health. It promotes weight loss as something worth investing hours of time, money and effort into. And we buy into it: the U.S. weight loss market was worth $66 billion in 2017 according to Marketdata, a market research firm focused on the diet industry.

To put it another way, we’re putting a ton of money towards thinness that could be padding our savings accounts or paying off our student loans. 

What’s perhaps worst about it is the amount of headspace thinness and dieting takes up. I’m sickened when I consider how much time I have spent in my life worrying about a 100 calorie snack pack or having to go up a bra size. And I know I’m not alone. According to a2008 study from the University of North Carolina, a whopping 75 percent of women ages 25 to 45 surveyed reported engaging in disordered eating behaviors. 

We’re engaging in this culture all while it punishes and oppresses fatness. It frowns on certain ways of eating (those ways that tend to be the only ones accessible to poor folks). Diet culture is disproportionately focused on policing fat bodies, bodies of color, women’s bodies and bodies that do not neatly fit into the gender binary.

It would be easy to pretend that the use of “diet” in a book title or a weight loss comparison in an article doesn’t have an effect on how someone feels about their own body. But the point isn’t how one person feels about their body. It’s about how we as a culture think about marginalized folks, bodies and money, and how it has all become intertwined. It’s a systemic problem, and it’s important to call it out when it enters our niche. 

When personal finance media uses diet analogies, it infantilizes and demeans readers. Can’t understand money? We’ll couch it in terms you can understand: weight loss. 

Our audience deserves more than to be inundated by messages that encourage them to return to a place of shrinking, especially when it’s on a topic so utterly unrelated to dieting. We should be given the chance to learn about a complex, emotional topic without having to think about weight loss. 

When we defined our mission and values for She Spends, we made sure to choose “body positivity” as a key belief for our brand. We didn’t expect for it to come up much: it simply meant that we wouldn’t cover weight loss and would be sure to consider all bodies when it comes to creating merch. 

But as time has gone on, it has become much more to us than that: it means calling out fat-shaming memes posted by personal finance bros on Instagram (yep, we did that). It means writing articles like this about the intersection of diet culture and money. And it means you can trust that She Spends will never be a space where you’re told to be smaller.