I’ve spent most of my life obsessing over my body. The summer I turned 15, I lost a lot of weight. As part of my plan to keep it off, I subscribed to Men’s Health, hoping it held the secret to staying in shape. One section in particular stood out, “Weight-Loss Transformations,” which featured readers’ experiences of getting into shape with help from the magazine’s workout programs, complete with “before” and “after” photos. There stood the zhlubby dude from six months earlier next to the absolute hunk he had worked to become. I was entranced. I longed to be one of those men, and part of me always lamented the arrival of every new issue, knowing I wasn’t featured within. Despite how obsessively I worked out, I never considered myself hot enough to grace the magazine’s pages; the “before” and “after” photos were markers of what I would never become.
That year, 2004, may have been a low point for diet culture. Fox reality show The Swan, which pitted women against one another to compete for transformative plastic surgery, made its debut that year, as did The Biggest Loser, which shamed fat people into losing dangerous amounts of weight every week.
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