EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT #WHITEGIRLPROBLEMS
“Did you know any girls at your high school who were bulimic?”
I was sitting on the couch in a small office across from two women, two therapists, on the second floor of LSU’s Health Services building. It was the first time anyone had associated that word, that disorder, with me. It was also the first time I’d heard anyone acknowledge that eating disorders are not an exclusively white issue.
My disordered eating started in middle school. It wasn’t blossoming figure or the sudden desire for male attention that triggered it, it was death and divorce. The year I turned 12, my entire life flipped. My parents divorced and my grandmother, who I was close to, died all in what still feels like a 6-month span. That is enough to my an adult loose their mind, so imagine what that did to my 12-year-old mind. On top of it all, I was dealing with normal middle school drama. My life felt unsafe and out of control and the only thing I could control was my eating.
By the time I was ready to prep for my freshman year of college, I was obsessively exercising and counting calories. Freshman year was fine until I realized I’d gained a few pounds. Not the “freshman 15” mind you, more like the freshman 3. I picked up with obsessing about my weight and eventually picked up the habit of eating chocolate laxatives before every meal. That is how I ended up in therapy at 19 across from two white women who almost immediately diagnosed me with an eating disorder.
Before going to therapy, bulimia and anorexia were always viewed as “white girl problems” by the people around me. White girls were afraid of gaining weight less they are deemed unattractive. Black girls wanted to be thicker than a Snicker like the girls in the rap videos. This binary thinking, white girls want to be slim and black girls don’t, is based on harmful stereotypes and oversimplifies why women get eating disorders in the first place.
I have always loved my body, big booty, stretch marks and all. I have always loved food, I’m from New Orleans, we eat. At no point in my recovery did anyone say, “you are bulimic because you are trying to fit a western beauty standard.” I was always told that my disorder was rooted in a fear of failure and uncertainty. I’m also incredibly ambitious and a perfectionist, two traits you tend to see in people who struggle with eating disorders regardless of race, gender, or orientation. Let’s also not ignore the fact that as a black woman, I am always expected to show Wonder Woman like strength no matter what life throws at me.
I was lucky that I had parents who encouraged me to get the therapy I needed, and still do. I was lucky that my university provided low-cost mental health services provided by qualified professionals. I am lucky that the professionals charged with taking care of me understood I was not immune to eating disorders because of my skin color. Not every black or Hispanic girl is afforded those privileges.
Eating disorders are not a #whitegirlproblem, they are a people problem. Mental health is something we all have to be diligent about, no matter what we look like.