In a photo accompanying a recent NY Times trend piece, a smiling, healthy-looking woman stands next to her soup rations for the day. The woman is souping, a new type of cleanse/detox just like juicing, but without all the sugar and calories that come with it. The article is interesting not because souping is interesting (it’s not), but by virtue of what the author, Rachel Felder, has decided to leave unasked. Lacking are questions addressing the purpose or efficacy of cleanses, or the veracity of claims made by their proponents. Without these paths of inquiry Felder unmasks the true purpose of cleanses and detoxes: as signs in the new semiotics of weight loss. They function to allow one to wish for, and work toward losing weight in situations where it would be considered culturally or medically taboo to do so. They allow for those on the leftward side of the body mass index J-curve to push lefter still, to negate a possible increase in the risk of all-cause mortality with benefits, such as clarity, glow and a reduction in toxins, that are much more difficult to measure. This is all presented as perfectly reasonable. Even the dietitian interviewed presents a 1200 calorie soup cleanse as only 200 calories less than the diet she often recommends to her patients. (She works with diabetic patients, many of which undoubtedly have type 2 diabetes, are overweight/obese and who would medically benefit from weight loss.) Meanwhile, discussions of diets and weight loss are reserved for overweight/obese people. Consider the experience of Sarai Walker while on a book tour to promote her new novel. She wrote, also in the NY Times,
During the audience question-and-answer period, people stood up, one after another, and made negative comments about weight. I felt like a witch surrounded by torch-wielding villagers. It was clear that even for many urban sophisticates paying to attend a festival about difficult ideas, thinking about fat as anything but bad was borderline impossible.
Given her weight status, Walker's search for wellness was incomprehensible. A detox or cleanse would not be adequate for her because at her weight only dieting and weight loss are considered appropriate. She cannot be cleansed until she rids herself of that pesky toxin called fat. But the demand that overweight/obese people hate their bodies does not stop those of a normal weight from doing the same, they just need to discuss the treatment differently. So cleanse yourself of inadequately defined abs and thighs that touch, and get right with the well world.