Like many who are in recovery from an eating disorder I found the body positive community. Since 2013 when ‘Chooselifewarrior’ began I have been advocating and speaking out about Eating Disorders and have spent the 3 years on an in-depth self-discovery on what body positivity is. This blog post was inspired by Corissa from @FatGirlFlow. She is one of my absolute favourite voices and platforms in the community who this week bravely and without reservation shared a video on YouTube called ‘Is Dieting Body Positive’ (To watch click that title).
Her thoughts and stance on dieting, weight loss and even her experience with her eating disorder struck a deep chord in me. Her beliefs and opinions about the body positive community made me want to speak out about something that has been weighing me down since the very inception of Chooselifewarrior.
Fat Eating Disorder Sufferers.
I am a fat woman who was a fat girl most of her life who had an eating disorder. I know most people might think I had binge eating disorder. Let me state straight up, The bogus idea that your body reflects how much food you consume, how active you are or your health status (mental or otherwise), Yep you guessed is BULLSHIT!
In this article I really want to speak about the lack of representation of fat eating disorder sufferers and the relationship weight loss has with body positivity. You ready? Let’s do this!
When a thin person knocks weight loss, diet culture or the intrinsic chains that still hold down many fat people in society they are glorified. They are heroes and they are made to feel as if they are wonderful allies within the community. A thin person who is recovering from an eating disorder saying ‘I don’t need to lose weight’ and ‘weight loss is dangerous’ makes sense to society. A thin person is accepted, their weight is fine and therefore any questions about mental health, self-love and or the responsibility to share their personal details of physical health just aren’t needed.
Sure it is 2016 but still the easiest way for us humans to categorise people without trying at all is by looking at them. Using what society and personal experiences perhaps have taught us about said appearance we judge that person due to a stereotype, bias or incorrect assumption. Us humans have a really hard time trying to understand that judging a person via one societal (usually white male driven narrative) is the default of our brain. Don’t worry we all have had messages fed to us since our childhood through family, media, school, peers and advertising that tell us exactly how to group others. We all sometimes make incorrect factually unsound biases to judge another person. You can however internally or externally challenge these societal stereotypes and biases if you want to. Yet that is a conversation for another time.
Back to fat shaming and the stereotypes surrounding eating disorders. When a fat person speaks out about their eating disorder, self love and recovery they are vilified and the only thing they are apparently doing is glorifying obesity.
This blog post is not intended to bash any person within in the body positive community who are thinner than I or receive different treatment due to their privileged bodies. It is true everyone is welcome in the body positive movement. Also This isn’t to throw shade at any skinny eating disorder sufferer. The importance and the respect I have for them telling their story and trying to help others is admirable. Yet I find it interesting to compare the two voices within the recovery community as a whole.
I’ve been called a liar and I’ve been told I swapped an eating disorder simply to be a another version of unhealthy (Fat). Fat does not mean unhealthy and I guarantee I am the healthiest I have ever been. I’ve denied a voice and validation for so long that I would not be doing my best for my community if I continue to stay silent.
This issue is bigger than hurting someone’s feelings or an individual’s personal experience, this issue plain and simple IT IS KILLING PEOPLE. The largest death toll of any mental illness sufferer is of those who suffer from eating disorders. The largest cause of death for those sufferers is suicide.
The last time I checked you don’t need to be skinny to commit suicide.
This is what our body positive community is doing because unintentionally or not when thinner people use their voices to be praised for their activism and fat people who suffer from eating disorders are told to ‘lose a few’ and are silenced what happens is people die.
This is why body positivity is so important for fat eating disorder sufferers. This is a movement than undeniably allows us to not have to apologise or explain our bodies. It also gives a safe space to continue the conversation on recovery and what recovery bodies can look like. Changing the narrative, challenging those stereotypes!
In my personal experience I was and always have been denied validation from a majority of medical professionals, councillors and even school teachers. That’s right a school counsellor told me as 15 year old girl who ate next to nothing, obsessively exercised and threw up everything she ate that it was a phase and perhaps I was simply trying to lose weight ‘The easy way’. Everyone knows the easiest way to lose weight is to develop a mental illness and end up wanting to die.
These kind of stereotypes and stigmas surround fat people all the time. So when a fat person has an eating disorder they are denied treatment, dignity and help – they are fucking encouraged. They are laughed at, they are never validated and so they get sicker and start to believe they don’t suffer from a mental illness that untreated it will likely kill them. Let’s add the obession of diet culture and weight loss specifically targeted at fat people and we’ve got a perfect storm.
No one would say this to an emaciated girl who is clearly starving herself to death, yet a person who looks overweight will suffer silently potentially to their grave not because they don’t ask for help but because they are silenced and denied it over and over again. Then encouraged to still lose weight.
Looking around today on my feed not much has changed in regards to the response fat people get when speaking about their eating disorder or speaking out against things that can contribute to the beginning of eating disorders. Actually with the rise of fitspo, ‘clean eating’ and weight loss still being defaulted as ‘Positive & Wonderful’ not much has changed in regards to these societal issues, which can breed and encourage eating disorders for all people.
Not much has also changed in regards to thinner people in the community speaking out about different sized eating disorders either. The moment a thin person is identified as the loud speaker in the community for all eating disorder sufferers. Especially without presentation or representation of a fat body it dilutes diversity and hinders changing the stereotypes of all eating disorder sufferers.
ALL eating disorder sufferers deserve a voice and a platform within this issue but many fall at the wayside. With sufferers who have not chosen recovery yet looking to thin weight restored glamorous versions of recovery shifting from the mentality and goals regarding an ‘ideal sufferer’ to an ‘ideal recovered body’. Having thin white young women be the only type of voice, hope and ideal of recovery is so damaging to all.
Neither Eating Disorders nor Recovery are glamorous. Recovery may not include exercise, becoming vegan and clean eating and that has to be okay for sufferers to know. It has to be okay for sufferers to know hey if you recover and you become fat or overweight – that is okay! For how long do we continue to police bodies and ‘health’ as a physical attribute? For long do we continue to let thinner people hold the conversation without any idea of how their platform may offer no solace to a majority of people who are in the overweight to obese weight ranges. Skeletal weight is not the only way to distinguish an eating disorder and thin is not the only way to distinguish a healthy recovery from one.
These stereotypes and stigmas lead all the way from the start of an eating disorder through to diagnosis and finally to the recovery stage. Fat is bad. No matter what. Fat is the lesser. Fat is lazy. Fat is not sick enough. Fat is not trying hard enough. Losing weight no matter the cost, reason or underlying mental illness is encouraged, supported, idolised and profited from when it comes to fat bodies.
The default beliefs such as ‘All weight loss is good’, ‘All fat people are unhealthy’ and ‘All people who are now weight restored are recovered’ or ‘No fat person would have a serious eating disorder except for binge eating disorder’ are doing us all dangerous harm. Remember I said a majority of deaths from eating disorders are caused by suicide.
There is a trend in body positivity and the eating disorder community to point to accounts documenting and encouraging weight loss as the ultimate ‘body positive’ person. As if obsessions with weight loss numbers and goals is positive. If you truly believe that, you need further education on what eating disorders truly are. I’ve had people say to me well if Body Positivity is about loving your body you should be healthy aka. losing weight. This misconception about weight loss is intrinsically flawed and I believe undermining body positivity in the worst way.
An account that is based on before and afters, stats, weight loss, skinny tea detoxes and claiming to be body positive while promoting losing weight as a good/positive/wonderful achievement needs a real conversation about what that type of body positivity is taking the community. While body positivity is inclusive yes, weight loss isn’t. Highlighting that you are body positive or recovering from an eating disorder and in the same breathe promoting your weight loss journey could be adding to the already expansive diet culture and ‘YAY’ weight loss narrative we are fed day in – day out.
Look at it this way let’s say you want to lose weight for health, movement or even to change your aesthetic. Why is it that we automatically give weight loss accounts a good rap? Why it is that weight loss is perceived as something to document, to share, encourage others to do even though each body is so different and weight loss may not even change your health? If health is your real argument and your weight loss truly improves it then speak about that – not the numbers, not the stats. Talk about the true mental and physical benefits you feel instead of words like 50 pounds lost. Parading your weight loss numbers does one thing make your weight loss exactly about that, numbers!
I hear you say, ‘Hold up there is nothing intrinsically wrong with weight loss! Right?’ Well I would argue that because the default response to weight loss is positive, societally that is exactly what is wrong with it. Your promotion of weight loss doesn’t occur in a vacuum. When I am trolled every day to lose weight because that is quote ‘The right thing to do’. When diet culture is expansive and truly overall a money making machine pushed by large corporations to change nothing long term about your body. You will gain the weight back and yoyo dieting can drastically destroy your health mental or otherwise. Isn’t it time we looked at weight loss and questioned whether the promotion, celebration and societal encouragement is perhaps hurting us more than helping.
Weight loss is completely and utterly separate to body positivity. It simply is clouding the words body positive and allowing corporations, influencers and society to clutch on to this buzzword and change it from its true meaning. Weight loss can co-exist with body positivity, sure, but the promotion of diet culture isn’t body positive.
Weight loss, Diet culture, Eating Disorders and the relationship with those intersections with body positivity matters! It matters greatly to the conversations that are happening right now. Ones in which people think they are being pushed out or victimised simply because they have lost weight or want to. It is less about the weight loss processes individually but societally our ideas and feelings around weight loss in the greater community. Diet culture and weight loss is contributing to poor body image and eating disorders worldwide. That is why this conversation is so important. That is why it is body positive activists and influencers need to really think about the messages they are contributing to.
I’m not asking for weight loss to be outlawed or to be called a bad thing but we should be working on shifting its importance and examining its surrounding cloud of positivity more closely. Could weight loss simply be neutral? Could the vocabulary we use when speaking about weight loss change? Could body shaming decrease as a result? Could you reading this be a more inclusive recovery advocate and could maybe, just maybe, body positivity be reclaimed in the original underground punk movement that shifts our obsession with bodies. Allowing us to truly focus on what body positivity is.