On Eating Disorders and Feminism

Trigger warning: the following article contains descriptions of anorexia.

Since I seem to have accidentally started an unofficial series about eating disorders, I’ll continue in much the same vein in this article.  

A year ago, I read an essay entitled “Beating Anorexia and Gaining Feminism.” The essay detailed one woman’s journey from suffering from anorexia to rejecting the thin ideal and “gaining feminism,” as the author claimed.  

The essay gave me a lot of mixed feelings. I was sure I was a feminist, but I also knew that I was a woman with anorexia nervosa in partial remission. How could I hold these two identities simultaneously? I don't want to identify as that girl with anorexia, but pretending it never existed would be a disservice to myself and to any others that I might be able to help. Besides, I am reminded of anorexia every time I look at food.  

I am then faced with a troubling question: how can I, someone who is so obsessed with her body, be so vehemently against society’s obsession with women’s bodies? Isn’t it horribly hypocritical of me to preach against the thin ideal, when I have done so much to reach that ideal for myself? How can I be a body-positive feminist when I hold so much internalized fat-phobia?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and this essay only served to make me think about it more. What could I have accomplished if I’d spent those dead years of my life doing more than sleeping and counting calories? What could the countless other women just like me have accomplished? Anorexia sucks you in completely. There is no time for great feminist think pieces or protests or “leaning in.” There is only time for hatred and control and food.

And even today, there are still so many thoughts about food. It makes me wonder if I’m a bad feminist. Why can’t I just drop this obsession with thinness? I always prided myself on being a strong girl who could look through society’s harmful messages and just be myself. Anorexia was a sharp reminder that no matter how much I tried to pretend that I was immune, I was still susceptible. But why am I susceptible? Me, the angry lesbian feminist? Why am I the calorie-counting, insecure girl when I could be a lavender menace, crushing the patriarchy? Why can’t I beat anorexia?

Obviously, anorexia is more than just wanting to be thin. It’s about control, about being the type of person that you believe you should be. But when you’re in it, the focus is on how far you can wrap your hands around your waist. How few calories you can eat in a day. How many pushups you can do. Whether your ribs and hips stand out adequately.  

This was my life. This is still my life, to some extent. And even though most days I’m able to eat the appropriate number of calories to remain healthy, I still despise my body.

These thoughts have tortured me for a long time. I wasn’t sure how I could simultaneously hold these seemingly conflicting ideas. I can’t figure out how to beat anorexia and gain feminism. So I’m living a weird limbo of desperately wanting to fit into the thin idea, and also verbally rejecting it. I am a hypocrite. I tell my friends that weight is stupid and that they’re beautiful. But I feel a burst of revulsion every time I look at my body in the mirror. I call myself a feminist; and yet I hold my body to society’s patriarchal standards.

Of course, one does not choose to have anorexia. It’s a mental illness. I know it’s not my fault. But I can’t help feeling that I am a bad feminist because of my eating disorder.