I am a white, young person within the “normal” weight range (whatever that means). I am cisgender and middle-class. In other words, I am privileged. When I tell people I’ve struggled with an eating disorder, they tend to believe me. When I go to stores, I find clothing in my size. No one tells me to go on a diet. In other words, I have thin privilege.
In Embody, we talk about how eating disorders are a social justice issue. But what does that mean, exactly?
To talk about social justice we have to talk about privilege, meaning we have to talk about stereotypes. People with eating disorders are assumed to be one kind of very specific person -- white, young woman, usually a teenager or young adult, who is underweight, cisgender, and middle or upper class. But the reality is, people within every single intersection of identity are affected. What’s worse, those who fall outside the stereotype, those who aren’t believed, are at higher risk because they can’t afford treatment or fear they won’t be believed or understood. Many people with eating disorders don't see themselves as "sick enough," which can only be exacerbated by not fitting the mold. Furthermore, did you know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, which includes depression?
Statistically, as far as those who don't fit the stereotype, we’re talking about 13% of women over 50. 16% of of transgender college students. One in ten men. These statistics only account for a few of the identities affected. It’s scary.
When it comes to eating disorder advocacy, we must adhere to the paradigm shift that calls eating disorders to be a social justice issue. If we aren’t, then what are we doing? If we aren’t advocating for those who aren’t advocated for, then who are we helping?
So what does advocacy through a social justice lens look like? It looks like this:
- Believing people when they said they have/have had an eating disorder.
- Forgetting the idea that only emaciated people can be sick, or that someone who "looks healthy" or is overweight isn't sick.
- Bringing about awareness when it comes to intersectionality through statistics and other impertinent information, all with adamance.
- Believing in, and supporting, the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement.
- Acknowledging your thin privilege, if you have it, even on days when you don’t feel like you do.
- Supporting the recovery of all people struggling, no matter what they or their journey looks like.
Someone in Embody made the interesting point one time about people who post about the struggles of bloating in eating disorder recovery on their recovery Instagrams. They talk about how they can handle the bloat because they know it’ll go away by morning.
That’s totally valid, and I feel that, and I’m happy for them. But, the point was, some people’s everyday bodies look like other people’s bloated bodies. We have to keep that in mind when we post about our struggles because for some people, that bloat doesn’t go away. And the recovery and feelings of those people are just as valid and important. Not everyone in recovery goes back to a "normal" weight, and that’s okay. We have to support their recovery and body just as much, trusting that bodies know what they’re doing, and at the same time, can get thrown out of whack after struggling with eating disorder behaviors.
This is why we Embody. We Embody because we need all intersections of identities at the table. We need all people to understand and be supportive of those struggling. Eating disorders unfortunately embody all groups of people, so by looking at them through a social justice lens, we must as well. Let's keep that in mind as we make 2018 a better year.
For resources and information, see http://www.embodycarolina.com/resources.html and https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org. To get trained in how to be a compassionate and effective ally, see http://www.embodycarolina.com/upcoming-trainings.html. To learn more about Embody Carolina, see http://www.embodycarolina.com/about-us.html. The above statistics were provided by http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/.