How can I claim to be a radical feminist and yet have an eating disorder?

February 19, 2009

I am hesitant to write about this, but I feel I must, so here goes:

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in the hall near my therapist’s office writing out her check and I see her out of the corner of my eye help her next client step onto a scale. All at once, I am consumed with envy! And then shame. How can I claim to be a radical feminist and yet want to be sick? And it’s true. The woman on the scale was crying and I was and am still insanely jealous.

My therapist last week also asked me why I wanted to be sick. That evening, right before my writing group, as I was convincing myself to eat a turkey and cheese sub at Savage Pizza, I wrote out my thoughts on the pad of paper that I carry with me wherever I go. This is what I wrote:

“I feel the need to accomplish something great and that is how I, a radical feminist, can fall victim to an eating disorder-somehow-and I do credit society with this-I have internalized the message that to be superskinny-to be thin to the point of death-is a great and wonderful accomplishment. And I fully blame society for this. When “The biggest loser is a big hit on TV, when Jessica Simpson is labeled fat, when Jessica Alba is lauded for working out so hard to get back to her pre-pregnant weight that she cries, when subsisting on a liquid diet that includes maple syrup and cayenne pepper is deemed a healthy and acceptable way to lose weight (Beyonce), then I have every right to be angry and to blame society for murdering the souls and bodies of people in this land. I grew up watching and idolizing TV and by, I believe, simply growing up in this country with the added bonus of having the mental illness called schizoaffective disorder wired into my brain, it is no wonder that I struggle with an eating disorder. In fact, I believe it is much more miraculous to be doing as well as I am!”

Perhaps I should have said, “media,” instead of society, but I’m not going to change a single word of what I wrote in that moment. Of course, there is more to it than the media. Eating disorders are strongly linked with obsessive compulsive disorder and with family relationships, but I sometimes wonder how my OCD would manifest itself if it wasn’t spent obsessing about food and weight and looks.

2008 was a rough year-I feel like a victim of a war between the gods struggling to cope with the aftermath. I relapsed in my eating disorder and had to be hospitalized; I moved in with a friend, only to realize that she too was unstable and so lived in my car for two weeks; I was sexually harassed by a psychiatrist and by several customers at the store where I worked; all leading me to the conclusion that I could not, at least for now, finish my education to fulfill my dream job of being a music therapist, but must instead leave the negativity that seems to reside in the lovely little town of Milledgeville and move back home.

But I can write and embroider and college and play piano and attend writing groups and get involved with NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness-America’s largest grassroots mental illness advocacy group). And be honest!-which is what radical feminism to me is all about! I no longer care about much about discussing fancy theories, but in telling my truth. My personal is very political! Georgia’s public mental health care sucks and that’s putting it nicely! The insurance from the college I just came from, Georgia College and State University, would not pay for my reviving had I tried to commit suicide! And I tell you, when I first read that statement in my insurance policy, I finally knew what it felt to feel inhuman-that according to law, a person with mental illness (for those who commit suicide do suffer from an illness) is better off dead. As I write this, I feel fury gather in my veins, and I tell you feminists-it is time you include the women and men who live with mental illness-that skinny woman crying on the scale may be your embarrassment, but she is still a woman!

(BTW, this post was featured on the great blog by Renee,

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