The #MeToo Movement Relating to Dieting, Our Bodies, & Eating Disorders
We’ve seen #MeToo (or, perhaps "Me, Too") emerge as one of this decade’s most impactful movements. It was started by activist Tarana Burke, and manifested by Alyssa Milano when she asked women (and men) to use the hashtag #MeToo to show the magnitude of the issue.
It became a symbol of “empowerment through empathy.”
We live our lives and believe our pain is unique, our suffering is justified, and our voice doesn't matter. We watch movies that portray unrealistic experiences and relationships, and come to value those as reality, by wishing it would be ours someday.
But with #MeToo, we realize that we all carry pain and shame that is not ours to hold. In this article, the author says, “uncovering the colossal scale of the problem is revolutionary in its own right.” It has shown us that, while we are unique, our experiences are not- let's talk about what's wrong with them.
We see men and women from all different backgrounds break their silence to tell horrifying stories. These stories we experience have been socialized into us to thinking that this is simply how it is... that it’s not that bad. And, I want X,Y,Z more than losing everything by admitting sexual assault, harassment, or being uncomfortable, thus silenced, by predators.
“When you hear ‘Me, Too,’ will you stand up to say ‘No More’?” Burke says.
This all is significant. It's work that is so, so essential. And I’m in no way downplaying what I’m about to say to the absolute power in the #MeToo movement.
But it got me thinking…
#MeToo, to me, is about diminishing the secrecy, guilt, and power of something that is downright wrong. It’s about owning our stories, and noticing that sometimes, things happen in our stories in which we have no choice in the matter. Things happen to us, and we internalize them as who we are, who we used to be, and who we have become.
When #MeToo was (is) happening, I thought about all the times I was cat-called and maybe had inappropriate run-ins with men. But, I also could not ignore my eating disorder. When I think about the most painful part of my life, and about shame and owning my story, I think about struggling with anorexia nervosa and exercise compulsion, and the absolute state of ruin it left my life.
When I first entered treatment for my eating disorder, circa 2006, I read a book by Jenni Schaefer called Life Without Ed. I even met her and she signed my copy of the book.
In the book, she talks about her eating disorder as an abuser. She names him “Ed” and humanizes him. In her narrative, she goes back and forth between being with Ed, and her therapy sessions surrounding the relationship (not condition) to Ed. She talks about her growth and recognizing the harmful things Ed says to her, treats her, and yet, is separate from herself. It's exactly like an abusive relationship she has a hard time leaving.
(If you haven’t read it, I truly recommend it for the sufferer who cannot detach him-/herself from the eating disorder, as well as the family member who simply cannot comprehend the disorder.)
In this context, I thought about all the times I loved what I was eating, but Ed evoked fear in me to stop. I thought about the times I hadn’t eaten in a long time, but was convinced to run eight miles.
I thought about all the advertisements on TV that encouraged me to be fed up with the way my body looked, and the size pants I wore. I thought about when I heard about juice cleanses, the latest diets, eliminating entire food groups, and clean eating.
And I thought about my friends bashing their bodies, envying others’, and a voice creeping up to tell me it was a good idea to join in the fun. I remember telling people (professionals and doctors, included), and their response reduced my problem: it’s not that bad.
With loyal Ed by my side, here is what I heard when people tried to be helpful, or brush off my problems:
- You’re not that sick. (Ed: Get sicker.)
- But you work out and eat healthy. (Ed: Work out more, eat less.)
- You don’t seem like you have a problem. (Ed: You need to prove your sickness.)
- I thought you just lost your baby fat. (Ed: Lose more. Then they'll see.)
- My cousin/sister/aunt had an eating disorder. (Ed: You’re not special. Eating disorders are normal.)
- But you look great! (Ed: You can hide it as long as you want. Attention is wonderful!)
- If you drop any more weight, I'll have to send you somewhere. (Ed: You love a good challenge.)
My eating disorder – which also left me hospitalized, in therapy, unable to trust, and at the same time became normalized – also abused, harassed, and left me in the middle of a silent, shameful, powerless group of people who also had eating disorders. To me, this was the stage before #MeToo was even thought of.
In my in-patient treatment facility, it was like a one-upping competition: how many calories you could survive on; how many feeding tubes you had; how you resist at mealtime; how many pounds you’ve lost; how many times you’ve blacked out… this was all abuse we shared... but the empowerment was lost on us.
It was abuse we had to verbalize so everyone knew it was real. It was abuse we were proud of, but owned us. We were all suffering. #MeToo
It’s not only that we were suffering with an eating disorder. Many of the victims I met also suffered from addictions, alcoholism, sexual and domestic abuse, had been raped, had broken families, lost children, and more.
But we didn’t talk about the eating disorder. Eating disorders are dually shameful and glamorous. We talked about not getting the job; having to move out; the grief and anxiety we feel… For most, we developed eating disorders as some sort of coping mechanism, and some way to deal.
Like we must talk about the Harvey Weinstein’s and Larry Nassar’s (let’s compare this to anorexia and bulimia), we must also talk about the seemingly innocent men in Matt Lauer and Aziz Ansari (diet and gym culture).
I’ve tried a diet. I’ve wanted to lose weight and would go to any extreme. I felt bad about my body so I didn’t go out. I took my diet too far. I allowed others to influence my diet and exercise habits. #MeToo
The powerful effects we saw of #MeToo, like when it first emerged, or when the 75th Golden Globes aired, is exactly the force we need when going into the new year. We need folks to stand up and say, "The New Year is trying to shame me into feeling bad about going to holiday parties and enjoying down time. Not this year."
We need to be able to recognize diet culture, body shaming, and self-destruction, in the same way we need to notice sexual harassment in the workplace.
We need to delete social media friends and influences who are bad for us; who make us feel like we aren't good enough. You know the ones: they try to sell you magic wraps and creams, and post about how the latest workout trend allows them to fit into their high school jeans.
Wait... In high school, my jeans were made for the girl who had the eating disorder, and felt insecurity I never want to feel again. Why do I want that? I am not on that #MeToo band wagon.
They're the ones who say "New Year, New Me." But... last year's "You" is just as worthy of self love and care as the "You" in the New Year.
When we start noticing these messages we receive every day, through every social and news outlet, we can begin empowering ourselves and our peers through empathy, as Burke says. We can say, "I've fallen for that diet trap and self-hatred too. It's so hard and isolating to hate the way you feel in your body." #MeToo
And then go burn every piece of clothing that doesn't make you feel like the goddess (or god) you are.
I acknowledge that having an eating disorder was an experience that separates me from a lot of people who don't think like me. But I share to make folks aware. Whittling your body down to nothing will not give you happiness, love, or peace. Being proud of the way you feel, and how you reflect that in the world, is more important than the way you look. And allowing other people dictate your level self confidence is everywhere we look.
If you've ever been subject to diet culture, poor body image by outside influences, comparison, eating disorders as a coping mechanism for societal issues, and now noticing how damaging it all is... then it's time we talk about it and reduce the stigma.
#MeToo times two.