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Eating disorders and feminism

Eating disorders and feminism

I have (had?) an eating disorder, I don't think too much about it anymore but it is there. At the beginning of lockdown I asked Chris to hide the bathroom scales (he hasn't given them back yet despite my efforts) because I am very good at predicting triggers and I knew that my anxiety was going to increase over the coming weeks and, with it, my obsession with food and weight.

For me it comes as no surprise that eating disorders have picked during this time and with lockdown measures softening up in the middle of the summer - another big trigger - people are really in need of a reminder that it is ok to look however you are looking at this exact moment. Isn't it shocking? We are still in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic, the economy is taking a major hit but we can't help but be worried about how much weight we have put on, the state of our hair or the lack of waxing. There is something not ok with it all. 

Last time eating disorders came up in a conversation with a friend it went as follows

  • Me: it is like the guilt after eating. btw, I am saying this because I imagine you've also had an eating disorder...?
  • Her: obviously
  • Me: yes, I figured, I mean, who doesn't?

There was no drama, no quiet moment to digest what we have both admitted, it was just something shitty we both have in common and we are confident enough to talk about as part of who we are; one of those things that a lot of women (too many!) have in their past, like an experience of sexual harassment or having being mansplained. Almost tempted to say #notabigdeal 

But it is a big deal! I could ask a big chunk of my girlfriends if they have ever suffered from an eating disorder and receive "obviously" as an answer. Some of the ones that would answer otherwise would qualify too but have a very narrow idea of what it is and would refuse to put themselves in the same box as people having to be hospitalised, or they would just classify their love-hate relationship with food as normal. And they are right in a way, it is toxic, but it is also normalised.

The spectrum within eating disorders is huge and it might feel that by speaking up on every disorder we are devaluing the "real" ones, we are taking away from the people who lose their lives because of them - Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates among psychiatric disorders, after all.

But I disagree! The same way that we should call out any harassment even if it is not rape (precisely to avoid more of them) we need to address the overwhelming reality of how eating disorders are not an exception anymore.  By tackling a problem as a whole we can actually stop it from growing, we can solve it at the root and from the early signs. To avoid those most extreme cases we need to start small.

We have to recognise the tip of the iceberg, of course, but by being conscious of how many of us are actually part of the same problem, but underwater, we will be doing everyone a favour. It might be a good kick in the arse for the society to realise that the problem is huge and it is about time that we start having solutions.

No more congratulating people on losing weight, no more memes or innocently shared jokes on social media perpetuating the same message over and over and, while we are learning more about different privileges, we should probably all read about fatphobiabody positivity movements and body neutrality.

I have recently come across (thanks to Beat, one of our partner associations) this screening tool designed by Professor John Morgan at Leeds Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. It indicates a possible eating disorder if you get two or more positive answers to the following questions:

  • Do you ever make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
  • Do you worry you have lost Control over how much you eat?
  • Have you recently lost more than One stone in a three month period?
  • Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?
  • Would you say that Food dominates your life?

I promise that when I saw this test my first reaction was to wonder which woman has not answered yes to 2 of those at any point of their life? Fair enough, not all of us at every existing moment, but never? Just 2 of those? I really want to believe that is just me being biased because of my own experience. I really love the idea of most people out there living their lives not caring about these things, not having a nasty voice making them feel guilty, a hidden calory counter somewhere ingrained in them. I really hope I am wrong in this article and that everything I am talking about sounds foreign for most of you. But I doubt it. 

I am ok now, I don't act on things and I eat as much as I want and I don't make myself sick. I feel like I have it under control, but the truth is that I have something to keep under control. Something that takes away energy and pleasure, something that affects my self-esteem, something that is stopping me from living my best life.

Don't get me wrong, I am a lucky one, I have a lot of tools to live with this: I know my triggers and mitigate them; I listen to my own advice of only following social media accounts that make me feel good with myself instead of rubbish; I have read enough about feminism to be able to blame patriarchy (how useful!); I speak up and get support and help when needed and I try to be kind with myself. Still, my biggest fear is that I will never live without it. A psychiatrist told me once that I would need to live with it the same way alcoholics live with their addiction, but I don't want to believe it, I choose to believe instead:

  • That all the things that I rationally defend are going to click with more than my intellectual side and connect with my emotions and habits too!
  • That I am going to learn to be the person I want others to be, like the ones that I follow with respect and admiration!
  • That by consciously remembering my choice to be grateful for my body and by purposely deciding to focus on what I love about it I will get out of the trap that a lot of us have fallen into. 

I think it is fair to ask ourselves how we expect girls to not fall into that trap when we constantly praise them for their physical appearance. How can we expect them to believe us when we say that "what really matters is what's on the inside" when they are bombarded by unrealistic beauty expectations and surrounded by adults talking about dieting, calories and sizes? How can we punish them for being vain when the world is telling them that beauty is their currency? How can we keep asking them to look in a determined way but without making any effort? I feel like we are in another impossible slutty-virgin ideal that we keep imposing on women.

We have a problem. And we all do because we are all responsible for each other in some way. We are all a vector helping to spread this damaging reality and we need to make better choices!

Today I chose to tell my story and I will be here to listen to yours. I choose to avoid certain topics in front of kids (and most adults). I choose to not share demeaning memes or engage with certain conversations because I don't want to need to hide my bathroom scales, afraid of a number. I choose to celebrate that every body is a summer body!

1 Response



May 04, 2021

I started getting comments on my body at 9/10. Some well meaning parents of friends (or occasionally one of my parents), creepy guys on the street, the usual kind of thing. I feel better knowing a lot of my friends don’t understand what that’s like, what that does to a person. I’ve had my period stop because I didn’t eat enough, I’ve spent a week eating 35 calories a day, but I think I’m getting better. Harder when certain people like to comment on how much or little I’m eating, or suggest exercising more (I do the bare minimum to be healthy, and my weight is fine, I just used to be a sports freak precovid so a lot of people are shocked that I’ve stopped.) They don’t know it makes life worse for me, but that’s ok. I’m doing my best.

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