I have also noticed that almost every woman has struggled with disordered eating somewhere along the way in their life, and at a clinical level it is also highly, highly prevalent. And yet I don’t see the issue being seated in the public intellectual sphere with the same kind of serious attention that other mental illnesses—like opioid addiction, like alcoholism, like depression—that do not primarily afflict women regularly receive in the media. I wanted to present a sort of sweeping historical, medical, political, and personal story of this issue to contextualize it and really tell people it’s not their fault that they’ve developed a coping mechanism that is also diseased while in thrall to beauty standards we’ve all lived under our whole lives.
How did you prepare yourself emotionally to tell such a personal story so publicly?
I’ve been asked about this a lot, and it actually wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. When I started writing about it, to sort of share it with people in my life, it was a lot more than I expected, but I think that part of the ethos of the book and part of the intellectual argument is that the culture of silence around this issue is a massive part of the problem. It’s something that we’ve been taught and has been ingrained in us in a way that, sadly, serves to sort of uphold various industries that want us to stay sick, right? The narrative of the stereotypical eating disorder patient [is] sort of a thin, white girl who gets anorexia because she’s “too good” of a girl, and then goes to treatment and realizes that she has body dysmorphia and she’s not actually as fat as she thought, and so she can recover. Being thin isn’t as important as she thought, so she can finally recover! I mean, that story is as narrow as the body we’ve been taught to want, and that story isn’t true for most people.
That story also reinforces a lot of the ideals that actually stick in a lot of people, the first being that eating disorders mainly happen to thin, white girls. But the fact is that we live in a world in which the studies being done are largely done on people that fit the stereotype, which then feeds the stereotype into the next generation of research, et cetera. And then we also like that narrative that you are overvaluing weight and you’re “not as bad as you think,” which is an inherently fatphobic narrative. That’s completely harmful and, also, I think it functions as a form of gaslighting… You’re being told in treatment that your eating disorder a false consciousness in your mind and you need to not trust it, when in fact I think it can be a lot more healing to hear, “No, you’re actually not insane.”