Eating Disorders: What’s Feminism Got to Do With It?

There has been a lot of talk in the Twittersphere lately about feminism and eating disorders. Because I live and breathe my feminism and my eating disorder research and activism, I’ve been struggling to reconcile my commitment to making sure people feel heard and my commitment to clarifying what I feel are misconceptions about the links between feminism and eating disorders.

Certainly, it can’t be denied that some have adopted the name “feminism” and supported some decidedly shady claims or research. Then again, people of all stripes have done shady research with questionable motives and outcomes. Science and research are never neutral. Everything from what is seen as being “important enough” to study to how results are interpreted and used takes place in a socio-political context. Try as we might, we can’t fully remove ourselves from our research, whether we research micro-RNA or eating disorders (or both? It’s probably possible to research both…).

Part of taking a feminist approach is putting the values, spaces of belonging, and experiences that drive us to conduct research and that lie behind our interpretation of “evidence” on the table (see also England (1994) for a discussion of the concept of self-reflexivity, and Hesse-Biber (2006) on feminist research). A common misconception seems to be that if people are not talking about their values and the impact of these values on research or science, they don’t exist or don’t impact what is found. And sure, it is harder to imagine how values might impact a genomic study than how they might impact, say, a study of family dynamics and eating disorders. But influence they do: none of us live abstracted from sociocultural conditions.


Right now, there is a big push toward evidence-based practice. On the surface, this is great: OF COURSE we want to be delivering therapies and treatments that have the weight of well-conducted research behind them. “Evidence” is an illusive concept, however. Sometimes, as I’ve written about before, this means that researchers have been able to find the funds to design and implement a study that is actually deemed well-conducted enough to separate what is really helping from what is “extra.” Randomized controlled trials, the “gold standard” for evidence, are incredibly expensive and require an enormous amount of resources. And this is aside from the fact that it is notoriously difficult to recruit and retain eating disorder patients for treatment studies.

I recently came across a fascinating debate article about social values and scientific theory. In it, Ingo Brigandt offers examples about how governing political ideologies impact the conduct of science. Until very recently, we have had a conservative government here in Canada. Under this government, we experienced a relative silencing of certain scientific voices by way of restricted funding and requiring governmental researchers to run any discussion of their findings by politicians before sharing them (if they were shared at all) (see also Harris, 2014; Rollman, 2014; Turner, 2013). And this in a country considered to be “developed” and democratic.

You could argue, as many have (e.g., as Brigandt cites: Davidson (2012) and Pedwell (2012)), that this reflects a “death of evidence,” and you might be right — we’re smarter than that, you say. We recognize that that is a squashing of evidence, but true evidence and unbiased science still exist. You could argue that this means that politics, a category into which you might lump feminism, therefore has no role to play in research. I think this might be a major moment of divergence I’ve been experiencing in these debates, coming as I do from a feminist perspective on science itself. For me, there is no way of separating the science of we do from the world be live in.


Denying that politics can and do impact the conduct of research is incredibly dangerous. As Donna Haraway wrote in 1988, unpacking “evidence” and “truth” in science involves more than just unearthing bias — it involves “showing the radical historical specificity, and so contestability, of every layer of the onion of scientific and technological constructions” (p. 578). Bridgandt suggests that the resistance to political control over evidence seems to be met with a demand that we supply more evidence to support theories to make them acceptable to put into practice. We forget that our individual and collective values impact which evidence we will see as valuable or convincing.

What the heck does this have to do with eating disorders, you might wonder? Why am I waxing not-so-poetically about the challenges of disentangling values from evidence when it is quite clear that I don’t believe this is possible? I’m doing this because I think it is important that we don’t unfairly scapegoat feminism as the harbinger of non-objectivity (or, moreover, treat non-objectivity as if it were somehow dirty, sullied, or avoidable).


Not to be melodramatic, but the way feminism has been the target of debates lately has affected me on a visceral level not least because I think feminism has actually offered and continues to offer us much. Further, in my opinion many of the arguments against seeing eating disorders as a feminist issue are actually, to me, very concordant with feminist perspectives. I don’t believe that those arguing intend to lump all feminisms into a singular perspective, but I also see “feminism” being treated as though it were a dirty word, or as though all feminist eating disorder researchers were interested in is informing people what their experiences are.

I think this is a shame.

I’ve written several posts about feminist eating disorder research that has offered us interesting perspectives and possibilities for addressing some of the systemic issues that don’t cause eating disorders but that impact all of us who live in bodies and yes, how we conduct research and gather evidence.

For instance:

  • In this post about an article by Helen Malson and colleagues, I write about the authors’ research highlighting how we can look beyond individual factors influencing poor prognosis for eating disorders (think treatment resistance, hostility, opposition, ambivalence) to look at how the way people are treated in and beyond treatment might limit their ability to see themselves as able to recover
  • In this post about Maree Burns’ illuminating article on polarizing constructions of anorexia and bulimia, I take up the author’s perspective on how those with AN and BN are treated and understood in social context; this research revealed how limiting popular understandings of eating disorders can be
  • In my very first post I looked at Boughtwood & Halse’s article about how people with AN think about their disorders and how they relate to clinicians; one of the main implications of this work is an understanding of how people with eating disorders aren’t simply passive sponges for clinical direction (just like they aren’t passive sponges for cultural imagery or thinness ideals) but interact in clinical settings

I find that when I get into arguments about the role of feminism in eating disorder research, older works by people like Orbach and Chernin get thrown out as if they were the be-all-end-all of feminist work on eating disorders. But, I think it is important to acknowledge that these authors were writing, as we all are, at a very particular time and in particular positions; people’s lives (in all of their shades and complexities) and gender politics have evolved and shifted as has our understanding of human bodies and science. Of course we shouldn’t accept 20-30 year old research or theory at face value — that’s true across perspectives and approaches to research. But if we think about what groundwork these earlier perspectives have laid, we might take a more generous perspective on feminism and eating disorders.

Some early feminists may be interpreted as having over emphasized the role of thin ideals and poor body image in the development of eating disorders. However, this is not unique to feminism: mainstream researchers like Eric Stice and colleagues have been the most vocal in promoting this perspective, through the dual pathway model of bulimia nervosa (e.g., Stice, 2001; Stice, Shaw, Black Becker & Rohde, 2008). Meanwhile, critical feminist scholars like Kate Gleeson & Hannah Frith have complicated the notion of body image itself, raising questions about the construct (Gleeson & Frith, 2006; see also this post I wrote about this).

Overall, I fear that many perspectives and voices are missing from the debate about feminism and eating disorders. In the polarizing, there has not been much to be heard from those who have experienced stigma and marginalization as they have lived in their bodies and/or tried to seek help for distress around food, weight, and shape. This is a major issue; when it really comes down to it, we’re a bunch of relatively privileged folk who agree on a lot in-fighting about a term that has many shades and stripes.

Why I am a Critical Feminist Researcher and What Saying EDs are a Feminist Issue Means to Me

Given all of the hullaballoo about this of late, I felt I needed to clarify, if only for myself and others I’ve heard from behind the scenes, what I think the value of applying a feminist lens to the study and treatment of eating disorders is. I speak only for myself and my own perspective on feminism, as there really isn’t “a” feminism so much as many feminisms. So, here it is:

1. That people of all [pick one or more*] get eating disorders

  • Genders, ethnicities, ages, abilities, shapes, sizes, sexualities, socioeconomic statuses, cultures, religions, levels of education, family situations, marital statuses, political affiliations, housing statuses, and more

2. That people’s experiences of having an eating disorder and of recovering will necessarily be shaped by their spaces of social belonging including their belongings to the above

  • And not only that, but recognizing that within every single group we designate, there will be shades of grey and individual differences untethered from group belonging (including within feminism)
  • These are not additive categories that accumulate to create hierarchized experiences of oppression. Each individual experience will be unique.

3. That power plays a huge role in shaping people’s lives and bodies, including by:

  • Dictating which types of bodies are seen as healthy (see Evans, Rich, Davies & Allwood, 2008, and not to toot my own horn but see also LaMarre & Rice, 2015)
  • Supporting the economic relations that make it challenging for people to access services that would actually enable them to be healthy and well (see Cachelin, Rebeck, Veisel & Striegel-Moore, 2001)
  • Promoting certain viewpoints and sources of expertise over others, including hierarchizing knowledge about eating disorders (for example, how a psychiatrist’s perspective is likely to be honoured before the experiential knowledge of a person who has been through an eating disorder)

4. That gender binaries are not helpful for anyone, as they are built by and enmeshed in the power described above

  • Gender is a socially constructed categorizing system; so, we can’t reduce a discussion about gender to a discussion about biological sex by using men/women and males/females synonymously (never mind that according to Judith Butler sex is also likely a social construction…)
  • To do that risks alienating and excluding those who don’t identify with binary genders (and see the work of Trans Folx Fighting EDs for awesome gender-binary-busting work)

5. That we need to look at “culture” as more than simply media

  • Critiquing appearance ideals may be, culturally (and I mean culturally in the sense of Western culture) a very good idea on a grander scale, but appearance ideals alone do not cause eating disorders, nor are they the only factor that makes it challenging to recover from one
  • Critiquing why appearance ideas are appearance ideals may be a more productive goal; i.e., is a focus on bodily outcomes obscuring a discussion of other sociopolitical and economic (constructed) realities?
  • Culture also entails questioning the pursuit of productivity and success as we’ve come to know it in a neoliberal, capitalist culture (for more on neoliberalism see this and this and Sugarman, 2015)
  • People do not all experience dominant culture in the same way, regardless of whether or not they are equally exposed to it; it is filtered through the lenses of social location noted above (see also this article by Kwan, 2010)

6. Understanding that science is not, and never can be, neutral: all science is created in a social context, and carries historical, cultural, political, and personal baggage

  • Science has been used to justify very problematic things, including but not limited to eugenics, warfare, so on and so forth

7. That we need to honour people’s lived, embodied experiences and recognize that people have the right to understand their experiences however they wish, regardless of whether we agree with them

  • Importantly, this does not give anyone the right to tell anyone else what their experience is or was

In my opinion, some of the most useful parts of an intersectional feminist approach to eating disorders is in working at a systemic level to challenge the dominant power structures that make it challenging to:

  • Access treatment for an eating disorder
  • Recover from an eating disorder

My interest is not, and never will be, to tell someone what their experience is or was. If someone does not identify with the term “feminist,” I will not attempt to make them claim that label. However, the feminism that I support is about social justice; it is intersectional (though that term carries its own legacy of problems, in how it has been used to draw boundaries around groups and suggest differences are additive), empowering, and inclusive.

To reiterate, a feminist approach to eating disorders, in my view, is NOT about telling people what their experiences are. Some may not even identify with the label of “eating disorder,” or may disrupt the categories imposed by pathology-oriented language and labels. We need to honour diverse perspectives on the inciting factors, lived experiences, and recoveries from distress around food, weight, shape, and bodies. To clarify, as I know that this point may be debated, this does not mean that it is ok for anyone to say all eating disorders are caused by x, y, or z. What I mean is that on an individual level, each person has the right to make meaning of their own experiences of eating disorders, regardless of how these meanings fit with the dominant perspective.

On a grander scale (i.e., for advancing approaches to understanding and treating eating disorders that will be effective in helping people recover) there is value in exploring the science of eating disorders (i.e., in investigating the complex intermingling of genes and environment that lead to eating disorders). Neither environment nor biology alone will cause an eating disorder, so why do we binarize our debates in this manner?

I suspect this binarizing might have to do, at least in part, with the legacies each of us are bringing to the discussion. Many of those I’ve engaged with about this have felt marginalized from discussions, or trounced upon by those who claim more expert knowledge. But the paradox here is that in reducing eating disorders to being solely about genetics, perspectives are once again being squashed. Further, in the splitting, in-fighting and arguing, we are all using up the energy we might better put to advancing the cause on a broader scale: truly increasing access to treatment, building a continuum of treatment models that are personally and culturally resonant to folks seeking it, and cultivating a culture of safety and respect where people can feel that their perspectives are heard.

I understand that this debate is not really about me. Still, I think it is important to clarify our positions and to discuss. As much as I love the Twitter, 140 characters aren’t always enough.


Andrea is a PhD candidate focusing on individual, familial, and health care definitions and experiences of eating disorder recovery. She has an MSc in Family Relations and Human Development and a BA in Sociology. In her Masters research, she used qualitative and arts-based approaches (digital storytelling) to explore the experiences of young women in recovery from eating disorders. Andrea has recovered from EDNOS. She can be reached at andrea[at]scienceofeds[dot]org.


  1. This is such a fascinating topic to me. I have not been following the discussions and debates going on right now on this subject. Are there are blog posts you recommend?

    On this issue, like on most subjects, I can see where people are coming from on both sides. Even though I’m a feminist and I do think eating disorders should matter to feminists. Particularly as many women have disordered eating at some point in their lives. Particularly as eating disorders are still seen as something glamorous to (some) girls and women. It is no secret that this become the case for self-injury, as well. There are general trends in terms of which sex develops which mental illness, with females in general doing more internalizing (depression) than males who tend towards externalizing (angry outbursts, drug and alcohol abuse, op positional defiant disorder, etc)

    And…this is where I have some disagreement with the OP. I understand what she is saying about gender and sex not being conflated. At the same time, I think it is important that we accurately be able to describe, say, who is getting eating disorders and other mental illnesses. Yes, EDs can and do affect people of all backgrounds. And while an increasing numberof males are developing eating disorders, the large majority of people with AN and BN are still females.

    That eating disorders and disordered eating impact substantially more males than females makes EDs and related issues a feminist issue. I do see feminism as specifically focusing on the human rights of females, while not leaving out other issues. Otherwise, it becomes a type of humanism. There’s nothing wrong with fighting for rights in general, but I don’t see that as specifically feminist. There’s a reason the feminist movement of the 1970’s was dubbed “the women’s liberation” movement.

    Getting back to the topic at hand..I do have a sense that third wave feminism, or the feminism that emerged in the U.S. (where I’m from and most familiar with) in 90’s and into the 21st Century, has made body image and EDs an issue. Naomi Wolfe’s The Beauty Myth, is said to have kicked off the third wave. At least one of my women’s studies professor made body image a major topic of exploration in class. My feminist co-workers and friends often share posts about body image on facebook.

    Anyway, I have ranted at length now, and I need to stop before I make even less sense than I do now. 😉 Thank you for writing this, Andrea. I share your research interests, so your posts particularly appeal to me.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Sarah, and for reading the whole lengthy post- I know it was a bit of a doozy, length-wise. One of those things I find challenging to write about concisely- too many thoughts! The debate has mostly been going on via Twitter, though there are 2 posts on Brian Cuban’s blog dealing with the subject.

      I see where you’re coming from in terms of the accuracy argument; I suppose I’m a bit of an idealist in terms of ability to really blow up the gender categories in order to make society more conducive to happy lives for all people, regardless of their gender. I do think it is interesting to look at the intersection of biological sex (in a non-binary way- the work of Anne Fausto Sterling is really interesting to me as it talks about the wide variety of biological sexes beyond male/female and their specificity, largely drawing on animal models but also with implications for humans) and mental distress, including EDs, anxiety, depression, etc. I don’t think we can do this without also considering the layer of social construction of gender and what that does to people’s experiences of their bodies, including their experiences of disconnect or connection with and to their biological sex. I find that qualitative work on the experiences of trans folks is particularly interesting (though rare) in this regard- the ways in which sex and gender and mental distress entwine, particularly around mental distress linked to bodies. It’s really complex and I’m not the kind of researcher who can separate things out into causal variables- for this reason I find stats really challenging- I’m always wondering what is going on beyond the stats or between the lines!

      I suspect you made a typo when you said EDs impact more males than females, right? Side note, for whatever reason I’m reacting really strongly to the terms “male” and “female” these days, and becoming even more attuned to the need to not use them interchangeably with men/women… which you noted is important but just a little thought I’m having while writing this reply… I actually don’t think that it’s necessarily the fact that more women are impacted than men that makes EDs a feminist issue. Maybe in terms of how eating disorders came to be an issue of concern/how symptoms tend to be associated with the body, and bodies have been historically (like waaaay back into history but there’s a continuing legacy) deemed feminine (in a Cartesian dualistic way, where minds and logical, rational control are deemed masculine). I think this is part of the trouble in terms of why men are stigmatized; they are seen as suffering from a “feminine disorder” and I think that might be where the critics of seeing eating disorders as a feminist issue raise their hands and say “why call EDs a feminist issue?” But for me, feminist issue doesn’t mean female issue, tied to my desire to blow up the gender binary. It does mean, to me, fighting against patriarchal structures that continue to feminize eating disorder symptoms and bodies. I think that the socially situated feminism happening now (either 3rd wave or even beyond that) is intersectional and so allows for the kind of complexifying of the human condition including but not limited to gender that I’m interested in exploring.

      Perhaps surprisingly, I’m not actually a huge fan of Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth & other more body image oriented work, because I think it re-entrenches in a paradoxical way the idea that body image is the primary or sole concern of (a) women and (b) those with eating disorders. To clarify, I do think that the way women are socio-economically positioned in society continues to put them at a disadvantage, and women bodies are unduly surveilled; but, I’ve seen the “body image” discourse be used in the service of consumer capitalism too often, peddling products specifically to women in a way that is so far from liberating. In my post on body image I do a more elegant job of explaining my perspective on body image (I linked it in the post). I wonder if a focus on body image in eating disorders in particular inadvertently re-inscribes the feminization of eating disorders and bodies. Of course objectification and body shaming and negative body image are an issue in society in general, and problematic, but the association with eating disorders rarely seems to help the cause- often making eating disorders seem to be choice-based or vanity-based, which is problematic. I also find body image oriented explorations of eating disorders tend to underplay the felt experience of living in a body particularized by gender, ethnicity, ability, class, etc.

      Anyway, I hope that made sense… it’s early! Happy to continue to discuss 🙂

  2. Love this fabulous article! I’m currently applying to a Masters in Social Work program in the hope of addressing these issues further as a clinician/professional.

    Question: Can you expound on this? “These are not additive categories that accumulate to create hierarchized experiences of oppression. Each individual experience will be unique.” I know my own biases (for example, emphasis on the neurobiological underpinnings of restrictive eating disorders) make me prone to ‘speak for’ members of marginalized populations who suffer from EDs, in sort of generalized terms, and that this habit of mine is in itself oppressive. I really want to understand more fully what you’re saying here, because it’s important and tricky for this relatively privileged white girl.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for the comment, Angelina- I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I think it is not uncommon for those of us who occupy spaces of privilege to be given more occasion to speak. Those who’ve received clinical diagnoses in particular tend to be given the space to speak; this is actually one of the places where I find a feminist troubling of the line between normal and pathological eating helpful. Many feminist ED researchers question the applicability of a set of diagnostic criteria to capture diverse experiences of distress around food/in bodies (NB: others, not just feminists have explored DSM criteria and whether they do a good job at describing the actual experience of eating disorders, especially for those from marginalized groups). I don’t think we need to feel guilty about speaking, but for myself I try to be very transparent about the fact that my understandings and experiences don’t mean that I can understand what having an eating disorder would be like for someone else, particularly if they’ve experienced multiple marginalization. By “non additive” and “non hierarchical” I mean that, for example, a person who identifies as queer and latina and as having had anorexia will be different from a person who identifies as queer and white and as having had anorexia, and will be different from a person who identifies as straight and latina and as having had something like anorexia but that was never diagnosed; not that one will be “worse” or “harder” than the other, but different. Does that help to explain what I mean? If it’s still unclear, let me know

  3. A few things:
    As much as I admire your desire to help people with ED, it really looks like you’re inserting feminism where it doesn’t necessarily belong. Of course, this inserting of ideology is fairly common today in other areas, but the whole idea of feminism, whichever specific version you choose, looks ridiculous when so many people within the movement are so unwilling to acknowledge the movement’s accomplishments. Too often, we see feminists trying to make the movement and themselves relevant, and in doing so create more problems than they can (or want to) solve.

    Feminists today change their definitions and goals so much that the current movement would be unrecognizable to first and second wave feminists. Is it wrong to adjust your ideology? Of course not! I think we can all agree it’s good to do so, especially if the ideology takes into account the issues of the time. But so many feminists do that while citing the same causes for today’s problems that would have made sense decades ago, but don’t anymore. Feminists, as a movement, have often been criticized (rightly so) for lack of objectivity and cherry picking. I don’t know how that could possibly help either the study OR the treatment of ED.

    I completely agree that every individual is equal, that everyone must be listened to, and that people’s individual experiences cannot be ignored; but that cannot be done when only one single ideology is thrown into the mix. Feminists can say all they want that their movement is inclusive, but the reality is…well…it’s not. There’s a reason the majority of people in the developed world believe that everyone should be equal, but don’t identify as feminists. It’s just not a good movement anymore. Every single reason you gave for calling ED a feminist issue is exactly why it should NOT be considered a feminist issue.

    • Your suggestion that I’m “inserting feminism where it doesn’t belong” and that feminism has been criticized for not being objective confuses me in light of the content of the post; I would argue that it is impossible for any science or research to be objective. A hallmark of a feminist and/or social justice approach is putting that on the table and exploring it in relation to the subject being explored. I can’t just take my feminist hat off when I am doing research, no matter what subject I’m researching- this isn’t a failure on my part, but a recognition that objectivity is a ruse.

      Knowledge isn’t neutral and doesn’t get created by robots without values in some kind of societal vacuum- especially, I would argue, when research is community-engaged, and I would suggest that being community engaged (ie. involving stakeholders like people with eating disorders and their families) is a fundamental way of making sure that you understand needs and desires of those you’re aiming your research toward; I would say this is particularly true for qualitative research but not exclusively. I would also argue that the evolution of feminisms (and I say this in plural because again there are multiple feminisms) reflects not a “bad movement” but one that has seen and responded to critique (often from within), in step with a society that is itself morphing and changing (particularly under the ever-moving advanced capitalism) and in line with the historical and social realities it faces.

  4. I think a lot of what separates our viewpoints is semantics and our personal filters. My work in advocacy is done from a place of pragmatism and lived experience. I am a feminist who “bought” the Naomi Wolf/Gloria Steinem body image/disordered eating view of EDs right up until my youngest daughter developed anorexia.

    I don’t subscribe to a genetics-only view of EDs (I don’t know anybody who does) and it is important to me that society at large have a better understanding of the multiple influences on development of an eating disorder. It feels to me–from what I knew “then” and what I know now–a relentless focus on eating disorders as happening mainly to females and with stories told mainly by females (and specifically to affluent, white, teen females) is actively holding back progress in the one area we should have the most common ground–access to diagnosis and treatment.

    Nobody is setting out to reinforce the stereotype and yet many are not actively doing the work I and others believe needs to be done to overwrite stereotypes by giving voices to marginalized stakeholders, and there is a huge issue with conflation of body image/disordered eating/eating disorders. At most, a feminist-related environmental influence is but one piece of one piece of the pie of overall “cause” (as currently understood).

    In the USA there is a lot of crossover with treatment center financial influence in advocacy and I think that holds those with large platforms to a standard of looking at the overall movement and not simply their position as treatment center. I think that supporting an area of academic study worth pursuing is very different from giving a platform to a high-profile feminist speaker whose message will only add to the confirmation bias present in both medical communities and society at large.

    • Thanks for reading & commenting, JD- I’m always happy to engage with you in these discussions. I agree, I think where we differ is largely down to semantics and lenses. I suppose where I felt most affronted in some of the Twitter discussions was around how it felt that sometimes arguments that I felt were in service of feminism were being used against feminism, if that makes sense. My frustrations often stem from feeling like there is so much shared passion and even shared approaches that get split around terminology. I think I also felt that as a feminist researcher, my own work was at stake- a heady feeling, given that it matters A LOT to me what parents and people with eating disorders/in recovery in particular think about my work & that they think it is worthwhile.

      I also often see in these discussions that although I believe you that people are not saying it is SOLELY about genetics, it can read that way in limited fora like Twitter. Again, not specifically from you and not always but as my read of how these things go sometimes. I completely agree that we need more diverse stories, and more complex stories; I also think an interesting and important thing to foreground is precipitating factors that extend far beyond body image, toward things like anxiety, etc. Nothing frustrates me more than a reduction of eating disorders to body image, particularly when done in the service of selling products (not to name any names but… Special K…).

      I think another reason it feels important for me to use a feminist lens to see all of these issues, including access to treatment, is because I’ve heard from some who’ve found this to be a helpful way for them to understand the struggles they encountered on the road to treatment. I often fear that among the missing voices in such debates (alongside the voices of people who identify as men, non-heterosexual, older, of various abilities, ethnicities, etc.) are those who don’t identify with the genetic framing of eating disorders (even if they’ve seen and understand the science behind it). It just makes me think, I guess.

      I think you make a good point about the treatment centre situation in the US. I think again coming from Canada gives me a different perspective here, and one that perhaps doesn’t recognize the degree to which treatment centres are involved in the “public profile” of eating disorders, as it were. I just don’t have a strong enough understanding of the options available and covered (or not, I assume) to those with EDs; from this side of the border it looks like there are many different models to choose but I KNOW that isn’t the case. I wish it were the case- then those who felt they did want a feminist approach to treatment could choose that, and those who are younger, or prefer different models, could pursue that- but I’m pretty sure that’s some utopic spoiled-for-choice-and-access treatment scenario.

      One thing I’ve been mulling over since the debates is the idea of the prominence of feminist models on the public agenda. I’m not so sure that feminism is actually a dominant perspective on eating disorders? I definitely see the reductionism around body image, for sure- but I don’t think that’s only due to the influence of feminism. Body image studies often aren’t feminist in nature- I’ve actually had some trouble getting published in that area in particular when I try to critique predominant models of body image-eating disorders pathways. Just a thought.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting, apologies for my epically long reply.

    • “In the USA there is a lot of crossover with treatment center financial influence in advocacy and I think that holds those with large platforms to a standard of looking at the overall movement and not simply their position as treatment center. I think that supporting an area of academic study worth pursuing is very different from giving a platform to a high-profile feminist speaker whose message will only add to the confirmation bias present in both medical communities and society at large.”

      Yeah, I agree with you here, for sure.

  5. Andrea, LOVING your take on the feminism/EDs discussion that’s been happening on the twitters and tumblrs. You’ve helped me add nuance to my understanding of the feminist perspective, which I’m realizing I’d previously only associated with the more narrow ideas about body image and the male gaze — and given my personal emphasis on the neurobiological underpinnings of eating disorders, those ideas seemed only marginally helpful. I also thought about issues of race, ethnicity, SES, LGBTQ, etc. in EDs (which with I am very concerned!) as being separate from feminist concerns. In other words, I wasn’t thinking about feminism intersectionally. So, thank you!

    You say, “These are not additive categories that accumulate to create hierarchized experiences of oppression. Each individual experience will be unique” … can you expound on this point? Given my habit as a white woman of speaking *for* oppressed groups with EDs (which of course is a form of oppression in itself — ugh — working on it), I really want a deeper understanding of this idea. And what are the implications of this idea for you as a white woman who (I assume) considers herself an ally?

    Wishing there were more diverse voices in this and every other ED-related conversation!

    • I think this was the same Angelina from above trying to get the comment to go through, but I’ll reply just in case.. anyway, thanks for your kind words. I hope my explanation above helps to clarify what I meant by non-additive & non-hierarchize, sorry for my jargon-ing there. To expand, I think the main implication for me in my privileged position (and I include here the privilege of calling myself recovered) is that I need to continue to talk to those who’ve experienced things differently than I. I can never assume I know what the experience of an ED was like for anyone else, even though I’ve “been there” and have read a gajillion studies.

  6. I think eating disorders are about oppression, and feminism is about oppression. There is a clear theme there. So, I agree with you.

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