The dangers of diet culture

Jamie Holt // The Flat Hat

Carina Pacheco ’23 is a history major and a native of New Jersey. She is a part-time barista and a full time dog lover. In addition to contributing to The Flat Hat, Carina is a member of the club lacrosse team and the Young Democrats club. Email Carina at

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

My grandfather used to have a saying: better to stay quiet and be thought a fool, than to speak and have it confirmed.

I was sitting in a coffee shop, doing work and flipping through computer tabs, when a woman and her elementary-aged daughter walked in, both sporting bobbed blonde hair and neat outfits. The little girl swelled with excitement at the pastry case and exclaimed about the Victoria Sponge cake loud enough for the whole cafe to hear. Her guardian leaned down and whispered to her not to shout, but to control herself and ask for what she would like. Correcting her posture and her volume, the little girl politely asked the barista for a slice of her coveted Victoria Sponge. The mother ordered a cookie for herself and a pot of tea for the two to share.

After this interaction at the counter, I tried not to eavesdrop again. However, this proved difficult for me, since I am nosy and the pair sat directly in front of me. The barista brought over their tea and treats, and I unconsciously braced myself for a “big slice of cake for such a little girl!”  No such remark came. The duo spent the rest of their time chatting over their refreshments and reading a book together.

From my own experience as a barista in a cafe and gelateria, I have heard it all. “Oh, just a small scoop for me.” “I’m so bad!” “Let’s treat ourselves, we deserve it.”  “No dinner for me tonight!”  These phrases were common.  I grew increasingly accustomed to them, but they still never get easier to hear.

“Oh, I’m not getting anything,” said a mother one summer night, chaperoning three young kids with fingers and noses up against the glass–“I’m not young anymore.” I even got a forceful “that’s enough!” from one woman, before I had filled her small cup up even halfway with coffee-flavored dessert. This instance really puzzled me, because I still had to charge her the full price for a third of the product.

Diet culture’s toxic narratives are so deeply ingrained in our culture that mindless and potentially harmful comments or phrases just come out.  Much of the time, these words carry no intention of ill-will, criticism or judgment. They’re just that: mindless, thoughtless, trained reactions.  Regardless of intention, each comment I heard from men and women, young and old, stuck with me, just as they likely stuck with their children, friends or even strangers waiting in line for their coffee or dessert.

But, as another sweaty, sticky summer approaches, so do shorts, tank tops and bathing suits.  Be kind to yourself and others–and don’t be a fool when you could’ve kept quiet. We all make mistakes and we can all misspeak, but none of us want that little girl growing up afraid of her Victoria Sponge cake.


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