I was obsessed with the idea of self-improvement from the ages of 13 to 18 21 30? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best version of yourself. This time of the year in particular, everyone seems obsessed with the idea of self-improvement. (Even Jack Dorsey, who spent the weekend tweeting about how he’s been fasting 22 hours a day.)
When I was 13, self-improvement wasn’t about reading more, cooking more, masking more, or doing more. It certainly wasn’t about loving myself more, either, because self-love wasn’t really a thing. Self-improvement, at least to eighth-grade me, was strictly skin-deep.
I did the exercise routines in my magazines faithfully—I remember running into my bedroom on commercial breaks during ER to do situps—and I diligently followed the monthly diet plans. Well, as diligently as I could, given that I had no choice but to eat school lunch and whatever my parents’ put on the dinner table every night.
I dreamed about having a six-pack and stressed about getting rid of (imaginary! I was 13!) cellulite. Magazines made cellulite seem like something that just showed up unannounced one morning, sort of like a period. And, like acne or body hair, it was a problem needed to be fixed. They memorably described cellulite as “cottage cheese,” which kept me away from eating actual cottage cheese for years. Back then, body acceptance didn't exist; diets did.
In a 2005 issue of Seventeen, when Dr. Oz Garcia wasn’t quite the hack that he is now (at least not publically), he shared a “back-to-school cleansing diet.” It was part of a “look taller and thinner in two weeks!” package, and it was pretty bad!
It was filled with the kind of advice we all unfortunately know by heart. Eat fruit instead of dessert. Drink water instead of soda. Swap white bread for whole grains. This advice is not only boring, but it's also damaging because it teaches us that foods are Good and Bad. Still, it used to be so much worse. I found a 1989 issue of Seventeen with an article called, “Why Are Girls Obsessed with Their Weight?” Really? This question was posed by the same publication that ran a monthly column called “Dieter’s Clipboard” in the ‘60s and ‘70s, filled with gems like this one.
I have always wanted to exit gracefully from my butterfly chair while wearing my stretch pants and choker.
It’s not like Seventeen is single-handedly to blame for the body insecurities of women thirty and up, but I was afraid to eat pizza for many years, and that was 100% because the magazine told me cheese was bad. There aren't a lot of upsides to the extinction of teen magazines, but at least there's no one telling impressionable 8th graders that ingesting fat will make them fat.
That said, if you need someone to tell you to eat that damn bagel for breakfast, here you go.