It’s that time of the year again!
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week means you’re going to be seeing a lot of depressing statistics about people struggling with diseases such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
A statement on The National Eating Disorders Organization website encapsulates its goal of awareness: “Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses – not choices.”
Recognition of eating disorders as legitimate will open more doors for people who are in desperate need of treatment. Currently, many insurance companies don’t have sufficient coverage for mental illnesses, including eating disorders (and I’m making the silly assumption that you even have insurance). But awareness is not enough.
We can’t reduce the prevalence of eating disorders until we change the messages that are propagated in the media about our bodies, and specifically, the bodies of women.
Even when the media touts the importance of self-acceptance and body diversity, it echoes institutional misogyny by continuing to criticize the appearances of women politicians and professionals, blaming victims for their sexual assault, and marginalizing women who do not adhere to the (culturally white and heteronormative) accepted standards of beauty.
Remember the brouhaha over Sonia Sotomayor and whether she was too heavy to serve as a Supreme Court Justice? Hear about that “Compton Cookout” hosted at UC San Diego that asked attendees to mock women of color by dressing as “ghetto chicks,” and “wear gold teeth, start fights and drama and wear cheap clothes?” The sexism and racism of these incidents remind us that for all of its annual lip service to the importance of mental health, our culture is a hothouse for eating disorders. But how?
The answer lies at the intersection of such complex issues as misogyny, capitalism and control. It’s not really about our bodies, or fat or beauty, and it never has been.
Let me explain by using a Glamour article from last year as an example. Entitled “These Bodies are Beautiful at Every Size,” one would imagine it was written to discourage the kinds of thinking that contribute to eating disorders. But author Genevieve Field writes, “Let’s envision a world where women of more body types do get glamorous work in magazines and ad campaigns. Would female readers, viewers and buyers want it?”
Notice how Field reframes the issue. Would readers, viewers and buyers want body diversity? Why, if they didn’t want to buy merchandise that wasn’t only for “self-improvement,” what would they buy? How would the $40 billion diet industry (with its insidious cohorts, the beauty and fitness industries) support itself?
The malaise afflicting people, driving some of them to eating disorders, is all about power and, secondarily, money. If you can convince people they are inferior because of something that has nothing to do with anything and, to boot, can’t ever be substantially changed, but offer a solution – for a price – then you have them in your control.
If you convince women that the most important aspect of their lives is their appearance and dangle the carrot of glossy magazines and unattainable “beauty” in front of them, then they will invest their energy and capital in getting that carrot.
And who benefits? Not you. Not the consumer. The patriarchy that has convinced you of this bullshit because it is making profits from the misogyny it’s been imposing for centuries!
I hate to be that feminist, but we need to think more critically about what these capitalist complexes are feeding us, what we’re paying for, and what we’re training ourselves to feel and think. It’s hard not to feel hypocritical when I point it out, even though I do adhere to the bullshit that defines what “feminine” is, but the vast majority of us struggle against it.
What is healthy about obsessing over weight, crunching numbers and stressing out about your appearance? Nothing is, but we are all inundated with pressures and cues to do so. If they keep you focused on your fat, you have less energy to do other, more important, things. As women we are expected to reconcile these contradictions of appearance, our least important characteristic, to salvage our self-worth. At what point will enough be enough?
HALEY DAVIS may have just talked herself into being a socialist. Good gravy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.