In a time when #freethenipple is trending on Instagram, actresses speak out demanding equal pay for women, and body positivity activists show their naked bodies online, there is a group of women who are missing out on the party: Black women with eating disorders.
The media is familiar to stories of anorexia, bulimia and EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified). From movies such as Kate’s Secret, When Friendship Kills, Sharing the Secret, Starving in Suburbia, etc., to academic books such as Hunger Strike, Unbearable Weight, and The Hungry Self amongst others, it seems that writers, journalists, and movie makers in the Western World are eager to tell these stories. However, black women have historically been absent in this conversation.
Some psychological studies argue that because women of colour (in particular African American women) are somehow immune to society’s message about beauty, they are less likely to develop an eating disorder or have a low body image. Some studies even conclude that the Black women who develop eating disorders only do so because they have been tainted by white culture. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a great deal psycho-sociological studies which argue that women of colour are equally likely to develop anorexia or bulimia, and even that women from minorities had higher chances to develop binge eating disorder (often a cause of obesity) and bulimia.
This issue is especially visible in online blogs, written by teenagers relating the anguish of black young individuals who are experiencing, or have recovered from, eating disorders. They all have a key point in common: Black individuals with eating disorders feel that they are underrepresented, and that their condition does not belong to them, but to their white counterparts. In a post written for feminist blog Black Girl Dangerous, blogger JB wrote in 2014:
My eating disorder took up most of my teenage-hood. Younger me had plenty of media representations of people with eating disorders. Trouble is, they were exclusively representations of white, skinny cis women. Every year, a white, skinny cis woman would come talk at my health class or school assembly about her experience. This wasn’t a mirror for me to look into; it was a portrait of why I had an eating disorder to begin with.
According to a report produced by British charity Beat, there are more than 725,000 people suffering from and eating disorder in the UK. With so many individuals being at risk, there is a desperate need for more visible spokespersons from diverse backgrounds voicing their experiences. At the time of writing, there doesn’t seem to be any statistics easily available on how many people of colour are struggling with an eating disorder.
If you or anyone you know is having issues with body image, you can talk to your GP or click here for more information.