Beyond the Muscular Ideal: Talking About Eating Disorders and Masculinity

There’s a growing acknowledgment that women/feminine-presenting people are not the only people who get eating disorders. Increasingly, headlines proclaim that “men get eating disorders too!” and note that the stereotype that eating disorders are a “girl thing” is tired and problematic. This is great – anything that breaks down the well-entrenched notion that only young, rich, skinny, white, cis- and hetero girls are the only ones to get eating disorders is a welcome move in my opinion.

However, are we just reinscribing gender norms and the focus on body image and body ideals in the way we talk about eating disorders in boys and men? I just finished reading an article by Wright, Halse & Levy (2015) asking just this question. The article provides a compelling argument for re-visioning how we talk about eating disorders amongst boys and men.


Wright, Halse & Levy explore discourses around eating disorders … Continue reading →

Whose Weight Are You Watching? Schools, Surveillance, and Eating Disorder Prevention

Health class in school is an experience few of us would like to repeat, I’m sure. Though it’s been a good many years since I was subjected to the joys of health education, I continue to think about the types of lessons I had, particularly about eating disorders, and how lacking these were. I can only imagine that things have gotten progressively worse with the focus on the “obesity epidemic” that is so pervasive today.

In one of my favourite articles ever, Pinhas et al. (2013) outline some issues with healthy curricula related to “healthy eating” in schools in the wake of obesity rhetoric. These include:

  • The simplistic “energy in, energy out” message can be highly problematic for some children, who may take this to mean they need to engage in restrictive behaviours
  • Without addressing weight stigmatization in schools, messages about health hold little purchase, and tend to
Continue reading →

The Stigma is Real: Self-Blame and Explanations for Eating Disorders

Stigma is a real thing. There you go, the most profound statement I’ve ever written. In all seriousness though, there’s a big stigma problem around eating disorders, and not all of it is imposed from the outside. Many people with eating disorders also self-stigmatize, feeling responsible for their disorder (Holliday, Wall, Treasure & Weinman, 2005 wrote more about this). Other stigma is externally imposed; for instance, the widely held (and erroneous) belief that eating disorders are only something vain young girls get or that they are a choice.

Stigma around eating disorders sometimes differs betweens diagnoses, and especially between eating disorders and other mental illnesses – for instance, Roehrig and McLean (2010) found that eating disorders (both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa) were more stigmatized than depression, and that eating disorder stigma uniquely (and horribly) included a certain degree of envy. The stigma associated with AN is … Continue reading →

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 … Continue reading →

Culture and Eating Disorders: The Thin Ideal in Singapore

The paper I’m writing about in this post is a master’s thesis published elsewhere in adapted form as a book chapter – not the usual subject here, admittedly. However, for lack of more detailed qualitative research, it’s quite useful in fleshing out some of the observations in more descriptive studies on Singaporean eating disorder patients. This origin is one among a few other caveats to bear in mind; among them, Isono Maho’s ethnography does not aim to be a representative study of ED patients in Singapore, but rather a reflection on the aspects of Singapore culture that related to her interviewees’ particular experiences. Some of the themes Isono Maho found in this data set, nevertheless, help to supplement other studies’ findings, including those indicating that patients with eating disorders in Singapore tend to:

  • Present with body image concerns
  • Attribute comments and judgments from others as factors in their eating disorders.
Continue reading →

Reflecting on the 2015 International Conference on Eating Disorders

When I get back from conferences I always have this odd mix of elation and overwhelmedness. This is never more acute than when I return home from an eating disorder conference. I get back to my apartment, flop down on my couch, and revel in the silence- while stewing in my mind about everything that happened, how to make sense of it, and where to go from here.

Sometimes it takes a bit of time to really digest (apparently I can’t write about eating disorders without inadvertently using food or bodily metaphors!) all that went on. So, I appreciate your patience in waiting for this post. In case you don’t follow my incessant Tweeting, last week I was at the International Conference on Eating Disorders (ICED). Last year, I had my Science of Eds partner in crime with me, and the year before that she went solo (recaps here and … Continue reading →

Whose Culture is it Anyway? Disentangling Culture and Eating Disorders – Part 1

Often, in writing about eating disorders, you will come across references to how some consider these disorders to be “culture bound.” If you start to unpack what researchers and clinicians are referring to, you might come to the conclusion that “culture bound” means specific to one particular culture or society, for example, modern Western society.

By extension, you might then think that the more “Western” a culture is, the more likely that there will be eating disorders present. You might have seen this logic reproduced in such works as: “Western Media is the Root of all Evil” (note: title does not refer to an actual study/article… I hope).

The way the popular press has taken up the culture boundedness of eating disorders does not always represent the way that it is described in research articles (I know, you’re shocked–not). Generally, and quite predictably, the “culture bound” nature of eating disorders is … Continue reading →

Eating Disorder Recovery In a Non-Normative Body

Do you think it is easier for someone to recover from an ED when they have a more normative or stereotypically desirable body? Versus, say, an obese person who will never stop hearing extremely triggering stuff about their body type everywhere they turn? . . .

This post was originally written in response to the above question that was posed to Tetyana on the SEDs Tumblr (you can see the full question and Tetyana’s response here).

This is an interesting and timely question, and one that drives much of my research: I’m interested in knowing which bodies are easily accepted as “recovered,” and how body privilege (i.e., unasked for benefits associated with having a body that is perceived as “normal” in sociocultural context, to oversimplify) might play into the experience of recovery.

Tied into the question, I’ve been wondering, lately: Can one only hold themselves up as a beacon … Continue reading →

Political Bodies: What is the Impact of National or Regional-Level Eating Disorder Prevention?

When it comes to prevention, I’ve noticed a strong interest in working toward large-scale prevention initiatives. I’ve written about prevention before, noting the potential for unintended effects, as well as schoolgirls’ reactions to and acceptance of prevention interventions (here). But what about the larger scale efforts to prevent body image concerns and eating disorders?

Countries from the US to Australia to Israel have taken strides to implement initiatives aimed at improving national body image (a lofty goal? Perhaps.); you might have heard about bans on thin runway models and airbrushing, among other efforts. We know that eating disorders are not solely caused by thin-ideal internalization or bad body image; in fact, body image might not even be that useful of a concept for everyone, as I wrote about here.

However, improving body satisfaction could be a useful end goal in and of itself. Why not … Continue reading →

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Useful, Useless, or Worse?

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week came and went (in the US, anyway). Posters were shared, liked, and tweeted. Pretty (but often misguided) infographics made the rounds on the internet. Local ED groups visited schools and college campuses to educate students about eating disorders. To, you know, increase awareness. 

The thing is, awareness is not always a good thing. For one, as Carrie over at ED Bites mentioned, there’s a whole lot of misinformation masquerading as fact. And two, awareness campaigns, even when the information in them is correct, may have unintended consequences, like, for example, increasing stigma or self-stigma.

Moreover, not all approaches to increasing awareness or decreasing stigma are equally effective, and the effectiveness of a particular approach may differ depending on the population studied.

So, what about the effectiveness of EDAW? In 2012, Kathleen Tillman and colleagues published a study looking at … Continue reading →