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The Intersection of Feminism and Eating Disorders

TW: mention and description of disordered eating

When I decided I wanted to write an article about body image, I had no idea where to begin. I had all these ideas tumbling around in my mind ranging anywhere from criticisms of the multibillion dollar diet industry, whose business model is hinged off of making an unattainable body type seem like the gold standard for women, to the epidemic of discrimination based on fatphobia, to the media’s glamorization of illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia. In short, this blog post will by no means be an all encompassing history of the oppression of women’s bodies, but I think I can still offer my own experiences and insight into a far-reaching, systemic issue.

My first memory in which I recall feeling conscious of my body was when I was four or five years old. I remember seeing my stomach in the mirror and feeling some sense of disgust with the way it curved, with the way it jutted from my abdomen. I remember deciding that it was not acceptable, that it needed to be hidden, so that’s what I did- I sucked in. How I had come into this thought before even starting elementary school, I do not know. I luckily had a mother that never discussed her weight in front of me, that never called foods “good” or “bad.” Yet still, somehow, I had become accustomed to the idea that thinness was the only acceptable way to exist, and therefore must strive to fit that mold.

As I got older, I had more experiences like this- both in examining my own self and comparing my body to others. I am often ashamed of the thoughts that ran through my head back then, of the blatant fatphobia that was seared deep into my mind. As I reached middle school and beyond, I would have periods where I would feel the need to change my the way I looked. I would start working out for a few weeks, or attempt to eat “healthy,” though at the time I’m not sure I even had a clear consensus of what healthy meant. But these brief phases never really lasted. Eventually, I would get bored or tired and decide I didn’t really care anymore. However, at the beginning of quarantine in March 2020, the storm that had been brewing in all these fragmented thoughts and moments in my life culminated, with the eating disorder that I have struggled with for the past two years.

It started with running every day- something I took up as my hobby with the pandemic. I decided I needed to do this to stay healthy, and to keep my mind sane while we were all stuck at home. But pretty soon, I began to struggle with taking rest days. And on the few days that I wouldn’t run, I would barely eat- decisive in my belief that I hadn’t earned any food. This spiral was never ending, and with the blink of an eye I was in the thick of it: tracking my calories and all.

Every few weeks or months, I would decide I was sick of this, that I didn’t want to live in such a disordered way anymore. But in my attempts to recover on my own, I would simply binge, desperate for the food that I was starved of. And like clockwork, scared of all the weight I would gain, I would go back to restricting myself, back to the way things were.

Last summer it was the worst it’s ever been. I hated myself, hated my body. The only brief periods of joy I felt would come from the euphoria of the emptiness in my stomach- of surviving off of 1,000, maybe 900 calories a day. At that point in time I didn’t see any way out- I felt like I was condemned to live that way forever. But it was also in that hole, that dark space in my life devoid of all hope and promise, that I finally found recovery.

It was at my yearly checkup with my family physician that she mentioned my weight. She told me it was not normal to see someone drop a growth curve at this stage in adolescence. And in response, I broke down. Through my tears, I told her everything, and finally released all the pain I had been experiencing.

What followed was the struggle of a lifetime, and my eating disorder got worse before it got better. But now, almost seven months later, I have begun to feel some stability in my relationship with food. I am far from fully recovered, but with the help of my therapist, dietician, and parents, I feel excited for the future.

I now see how sick my mind was when my illness was consuming me: from the constant and disordered fear of being fat that drove my actions, to the false sense of social capital I felt I gained from my thinness. Though I don’t blame myself for my mentality at the time, I am angry at the society with which we live.

Our world sends the message to every woman it can possess, no matter her age or race, that there is but one way for our bodies to exist. It is time for us to rid ourselves of that conviction. There should be a space in our circles for women that take every shape and form on this Earth, free of judgment or assumption as to what her background is depending on what she looks like. I am tired of teaching young girls that their stomachs should be hidden, that their thighs are too large, or that their breasts are too flat.

The diet industry and idealization of women’s bodies are nothing but tools used by the patriarchy to oppress women. In order to ever find true equity, we must destroy this system, as we must destroy every system put in place to prevent us from reaching our greatest potential. I have seen and experienced first hand the way that fatphobia and disordered eating can destroy a person- it has consumed two years of my life. But I refuse to be complacent any longer. I refuse to pass this issue onto the next generation, and I hope that you will join me in this fight.

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