A few weeks ago, on twitter, I came across this list of 20 Things that People with a Positive Body Image Know. I can’t see any links to research that this list might be based on, so I don’t know if the statements are evidenced anywhere or if it’s based on the opinions and experiences of its creator. While I don’t object to most of the individual statements on the list, the list as whole (and especially its title), initially made me feel defensive and quite angry. I was annoyed by the suggestion that I could ‘know’ my way out of my body image problems and experienced the list as a bit of an implicit criticism, as if my body image problems are the result of a lack of the right kind of “knowledge”.
Wow, that was tough. I didn’t manage to post anything here over the holidays because I was too busy struggling with my ED to actually write about it. It’s hard to articulate just how difficult the holidays can be for people with ED, but it’s a time when I feel that we really do find ourselves bearing the weight of our culture’s bizarre relationship with food and eating.
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”.
From Feminist Eye View, Have you lost weight?
Have you lost weight?
You look really good. How much do you weigh now?
Are you a size four? Oh, uh size two, eh? You look great.
For a person with an eating disorder, these questions do not come as a compliment. No matter how much she weighs, what size pant she wears, or how skinny she looks in the mirror, it will never be enough. No matter what you say, it will never be enough. No matter how healthy she is, it will never be enough. And that is why I ask that you take a few things in consideration when commenting on a woman’s appearance
Then follows some useful advice for talking to people about food and weight, especially if you know they have an eating disorder. The post is directed at women obviously, but I think the advice holds for men and non-binary people with eating distress too.
“When did you first feel like a grown woman and not a girl?” We wrote down our answers and shared them, first in pairs, then in larger groups. The group of women was racially and economically diverse, but the answers had a very similar theme. Almost everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them. “I was walking home from ballet and a guy in a car yelled, ‘Lick me!’” “I was babysitting my younger cousins when a guy drove by and yelled, ‘Nice ass.’” There were pretty much zero examples like “I first knew I was a woman when my mother and father took me out to dinner to celebrate my success on the debate team.” It was mostly men yelling shit from cars. Are they a patrol sent out to let girls know they’ve crossed into puberty? If so, it’s working.”
I came across this Tina Fey quote on Tumblr.
In the US, the 19thOctober saw the celebration of Love Your Body Day – “a day when women of all sizes, colors, ages and abilities come together to celebrate self-acceptance and to promote positive body image”. As far as I’m aware this initiative hasn’t caught on in the UK where I live so it’s quite new to me.
When I had a look at the promotional material for the event, I was surprised by the surge of anger that I felt at this obviously well-intentioned initiative, which no doubt does some good, perhaps most of all in raising consciousness and getting women talking about the issues. I’ve written before in my journal about my problems with being instructed by feminists to “love my body” and I think this is a good opportunity to elaborate a bit more on those problems.