But I can’t have an eating disorder! Some thoughts on ED, stigma and teenage girls

I was reading this post about ED on Geek Feminism the other day and it reminded me that I wanted to write something about the ways in which eating disorder stigma is used against people with eating distress, both as a means to stop us talking about it publicly and to divide us from each other. The post also made me think about the ways that ED stigma can be internalised and even used as a defence mechanism by people with ED, i.e. “But I can’t have an eating disorder because [insert your own identity] don’t get eating disorders”.

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Classism and Eating Disorders

Fascinating guest post from Eva Rivera at Womanist Musings on Classism and Eating Disorders challenging the idea that anorexia is the preserve of white, middle-class young women and caused by exposure to the “beauty myth”.

The practice of diagnosing and treating eating disorders leaves out those of us who don’t live in or come from upper and middle class families. Treatment is focused on rescuing white middle class women from a damaged and certainly fucked up media. I won’t deny that women are affected by mainstream and unrealistic body images but to treat and care for all of us who are at risk for eating disorders, or any mental illness, we must consider all the intersections of the individual. It makes me wonder who all slips through the cracks. How many of us go untreated for eating disorders because we don’t fit the mold of who is supposed to have this illness? Treatment wasn’t made for us, it was made to recover more valuable bodies. In the face of all this we still find ways to save ourselves and each other but at what cost and how far do we have to go before it’s too late?

I’m white and middle-class but, as a tomboyish lesbian, I’ve never felt that I fit into the mold of who is supposed to have the illness. Because I’m white and middle-class I did get access to some treatment, but the treatment wasn’t adaquate because it wasn’t geared towards the fact that my eating distress was linked to my gender identity issues and experiences of homophobia. It’s taken me years to figure out those links for myself.

I haven’t looked at research into this subject, but I tend to agree with Eva that eating disorders are associated with young, white, “high-achieving” middle-class women, not because working-class and poor women don’t have them, but because the former are more likely to be able to access treatment and to be seen as valuable bodies that are in need of treatment. They are the visible face of eating disorders.