Its Eating Disorder Awareness Week and in order to decrease the amount of people suffering from eating disorders we must talk about Fat Acceptance.
YES- FAT ACCEPTANCE.
You see, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, the sociocultural idealization of thin bodies and the hatred and fear of fat bodies also referred to as Fatphobia or Anti-fat Bias is the best-known environmental contributor to developing an eating disorder.
I can look back at my decade-long battle with bulimia and see that yup, the fear of being fat was the greatest contributor for me.
And I am not alone. All women in Western culture experience body dissatisfaction to a greater or lesser extent and I grew up believing one of the worst things I could be as a woman was fat.
These messages are rampant and come from our government, media, medical system, authority figures, social acquaintances, friends and family.
What’s alarming is that girls start to express concerns about their weight and body image by age 3.
AGE FUCKING 3.
Before kindergarten our little girls already know that our culture idealizes thin bodies and discriminates against fat bodies.
So the messages around “good” and “bad” bodies are anything but subtle or subliminal. There are direct and omnipresent.
Why does this matter?
According NEDA: 1-4 dieters goes on to develop disordered eating or an eating disorder.
Dieting is categorized as any attempt at weight loss or weight control through behavior modification like changes to food and exercise. Even if it’s for perceived “health” reasons.
That said, this is not a conversation around anti-health so do not get it twisted.
I am absolutely a believer in taking care of your health. But weight and health are not the same thing, correlation is not causation. More on that here, here, and here.
However, that is not the narrative we hear and as a result, our culture justifies stigma, discrimination and shame against fat bodies most often under the disguise of health concern… “like I am all for you loving yourself, so long as you’re healthy.”
First, other people’s health isn’t anyone else business.
Secondly, I am not sure poor health is justification for shame.
I assume you are familiar with the work of Brene Brown, the most famous shame researcher of all. Her research shows that shame doesn’t lead to improved health outcomes, or positive behavior change. It leads to a decrease in health, both mental and physical.
I want all women, but especially thin women to take a stand against weight discrimination because of the persistent mental, emotional and physical harm it causes.
Not just for women in larger bodies, but for all women. That said, men and members of the LGTBQ community suffer as well, I am not meaning to exclude them, we all suffer at the hands of fat discrimination.
However, I am specifically talking to people who identify as thin women with this post.
For example, even thin women don’t want to go to the beach, be seen in a bathing suit, or have sex naked with the lights on, and they find themselves “falling off the wagon,” too.
They struggle with the cycle of diet-binge, diet-binge, diet-binge and all the shame and self-loathing that follows that.
We fear being fat or gaining weight, so we tirelessly try to stay thin or get thinner.
We engage in persistent body monitoring, like “how does my hair look, do I look okay from this angle, are my thighs too big, I wonder if I look okay.”
According to Dr. Caroline Heldman's research, women on average engage in body monitoring every 30 seconds.
That is a lot of mental real estate given away to what we look like.
And women who are worried about what they look have higher rates of:
depressed cognitive functioning,
lower political efficacy,
and engage in female competition.
These are all side effects of sexual objectification which is connected to fat discrimination.
While it hurts all women, it's important to add that by no means does it affect thin women to the same degree. Fat women face many more challenges at the hand of weight stigma.
Those of you reading this who self-identify as a feminist- I hope you also identify as fat positive because it impacts women the most.
As a thin woman, I do not see myself as separate from the fat acceptance movement because anti-fat rhetoric in our society was the greatest contributor to my eating disorder which almost took my life.
Eating disorders have the highest death rate of all mental illness, and a large percentage of those deaths are by suicide and I was suicidal for years.
Here is some hard truth: eating disorders do not have a look, they are not a body size issue, and fat people have eating disorders, too. If we care about people’s health, we will work to end weight stigma.
And even though I have thin privilege, and fat women experience challenges I do not, we all suffer due to cultural anti-fat bias and the idealization of thin bodies.
But how much do we suffer?
Well, the extent to which a woman fears gaining weight, being perceived as fat or strives for the social rewards of being thin, is the extent to which she suffers because of weight discrimination.
On average, 92% of woman report body dissatisfaction- which isn’t some defect women have- it’s a direct result of anti-fat bias and the thinner-is-better narrative.
What are the consequences of poor body image that all women share as a result of anti-fat bias:
We are disconnected from our internal body cues, like hunger and fullness, which is a result of dieting.
This leads to physical, mental and emotional deprivation resulting in nutritional deficiencies, hormonal issues, PCOS, Amenorrhea, binge eating or emotional eating that leads to binge eating.
Which often just leads to more dieting because 90% of diets end up in future weight gain because your body tries to compensate for weight loss by driving you to eat more, which leads to more body shame and thus the desire to diet and lose weight. It’s a negative feedback loop.
All of this contributes to a world in which how we feel about ourselves is based on what we weigh, what we look like, and what we eat, regardless of how others perceive our body.
By no means is this meant to sound conceited but I am aware of the fact that I am in a lot of ways hegemonically beautiful- I am tall, thin, clear skin, pretty dang cute and yet I suffered with all of this.
An in fact, according to a 2008 study, 65% of women between the ages of 25-45 have disordered eating behaviors or a clinical eating disorder- most of which are a direct result of fat discrimination and the idealization on thin bodies.
Thin women fear being the victims of fat discrimination, but we already are.
And if we truly care about the health of women then we will fight for fat acceptance, fat rights, and fat positivity.
If you struggle with bad body image, emotional eating, overeating, binge eating, under eating, or your relationship with food then we cannot separate these issues.
P.S. if you are someone reading this who wants to be an advocate, an ally, a conduit for change, or a food and body image coach who rebels against the rules of thinness and stands up for women everywhere, be sure to register for mine and Brandilyn’s FREE MASTERCLASS- we will be teaching you the 6 steps to becoming a powerful food and body image coach. Sign up HERE