Feminism and Eating Disorders: NEDA Week 2016

This post was written by Colleen, a high school student and Minnesota NOW volunteer.

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Given that I am both a feminist and an eating disorder (ED) warrior, I want to take this opportunity to discuss how feminism and eating disorders are inextricably linked, in more ways than meet the eye.

First, and foremost, eating disorders are a mental reflection of the ridiculous beauty standards perpetuated by social sexism. This is NOT to say that seeing paper thin models or those ludicrous health crazes in magazines causes eating disorders – they are complex, multifaceted illnesses that are influenced by genetics, environment, and biology, among other factors. However, the extremely unhealthy and unrealistic body image ideals our society promotes definitely influence those with eating disorders, as well as those without them. It is impossible to ever meet the requirements of what is considered “beautiful” in our society: tall but not too tall, thin but not emaciated, big butt/boobs but not too big, no acne, no blemishes, skilled at makeup, toned arms, etc., etc… This list diminishes the self-esteem and body positivity of practically anyone who reads it, and promotes the unhealthy ideals that a disordered mind believes. Not to mention that many of our society’s beauty standards are heteronormatively sexual in nature… but that’s another blog post.

Second, eating disorders are linked to feminism in how they touch on women taking up space. This idea may illicit a “huh?” at first, but bear with me as I explain. For me, I can definitely link my struggle with anorexia to the idea of women taking up space. Our society has come a looooong way in terms of the prevalence of sexism; no one can deny that. And yet there still are ingrained elements of sexism, many of which are subtle nuances that often have to do with women taking up space. Think about how much women apologize, even when it’s not necessary to apologize – like when someone else bumps into them or they contribute an idea in a discussion. (Check out this startling video on how quotidian a habit this is). That is nuanced sexism – women defaulting to apologies for taking up space, metaphorically and physically. 

In my struggle with anorexia, I focused a lot on losing weight and being thinner – taking up less space. I thought that by taking up less space, I would be better in every way. But really, taking up less space than you’re meant to only deprives the world and yourself of the wonderful contributions you bring to the table. On the flip side, women are often more judged than men for bigger sizes, both literally and metaphorically. Women who speak out and get involved, thus taking up “more space” in a figurative sense, are often judged as “bitchy” or “bossy.” I do want to emphasis that eating disorders are NOT about the food, and there is NOT one body type that indicates that someone is struggling with anorexia or bulimia or EDNOS or BED, contrary to what the media often portrays (the emaciated model type). I choose to talk about the size aspect in this post, both in the small and large sense, to show how feminism and eating disorders are paralleled in numerous ways. 

Lastly, eating disorders relate to feminism in that women are often shamed for needing and pursuing the two things all humans are programmed to need: food and sex. I find it fascinating from a sociological standpoint that humans are programmed to need sustenance and sexual interaction, and yet we live in a society where food is potently tied to value judgments and sex has become a power play that can change someone’s self-worth at the drop of a hat. I’m going to elaborate here on the food piece as it is more pertinent to the subject matter at hand. We all need food, and yet eating “too much” (which is a blatant disregard for the fact that everyone’s bodily needs are completely unique and no blanket calorie amount works for everyone) suddenly makes one seem “gluttonous,” “fat,” and “greedy.” This especially affects young girls–it’s interesting how when a teenage boy gets seconds, it’s deemed okay because “he’s growing!” and yet when a teenage girl does the same, there are usually comments on how much she’s eating. (News flash: teenage girls grow too! We all need food! Wow!)

Feminism and eating disorders are linked in other ways too – think affordable nutrition and the poverty cycle, access to healthcare, etc. The aforementioned reasons are but three of many. I encourage everyone to start/continue this discussion, especially during this week. Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses that never take a day off, so I encourage everyone to use this NEDA Week to stand in solidarity with all those who fight their inner demons each and every day.

Here are some great links to find out more about eating disorders, prevention, treatment, and how you can help:




Selfies – Part 2

By: Colette Hayward

Part 2:

I recently wrote my first blog post on selfies discussing some of the problems I have seen in social media recently. As a person who does not take selfies regularly, I have a biased opinion because I am somewhat opposed to the idea. After some discussion with my Women’s Studies advisor, the point was raised that there are actually benefits to selfies. Selfies are taking over the world and I will elaborate in the next few paragraphs about the benefits rather than the faults as I had previously discussed in this blog post, Selfies – Part 1.

Typing “selfies” into Google will bring up a wide array of articles, blogs, and photos of people, many of which are of half-naked women. However, I also was able to find an article exclaiming that selfies are empowering women everywhere. Twitter and Instagram feminist users are using #feministselfie to label these photos and many bloggers are discussing the idea. The argument here is that individuals who might not fit into the typical white, thin, heterosexual societal norms are able to take a picture and post it online for millions of people to view if the individual so wishes. For people in minority categories, this is a huge step in the right direction. I see it as a way to tell the world, “This is who I am. Accept me or don’t, I don’t care either way.” Women who fit the beauty ideals of western culture might not understand the struggle other women have with taking photos and accepting their physical appearance as beautiful. I am a white female, but I am not thin. In fact, I think I would be considered obese if I asked a doctor. I have struggled with my weight for a long time and still have a hard time considering myself beautiful when I take a photo with my “skinny” friends. Feminism has been a way for me to escape the beauty standards and it has helped me realize I am beautiful even if I don’t look like the celebrities in magazines and on TV. On the blog Bustle, Amy McCarthy wrote, “take your selfies peeps—they’re one way to say ‘fuck you’ to the body standards that have made us miserable for so long.”

Recently, feminist website Jezebel wrote an article claiming that selfies are “a cry for help” and it created quite an uproar on the internet with women explaining how wrong selfies are. Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan wrote that selfies are further forcing girls to conform to society’s beauty standards. This is the point over which people argued. I agree to some extent with Ryan because I don’t think the majority of selfies are taken spur the moment and posted online. Some of them are edited while others were preceded by twenty “bad” pictures. However, when used in the right manner, for instance the way Amy McCarthy does, selfies are absolutely not a cry for help. I appreciate what Ryan was trying to say but I think that she chose to stereotype all women and failed to see the groups of women who are using selfies to boost their self-esteem and feel more beautiful. The claim that women are the only people who take selfies is also absurd. I know plenty of men who take selfies and thoroughly enjoy it. Many of the outraged bloggers labeled Jezebel’s post as a form of girl-hate, which is something we are trying to eliminate not encourage. I think Jezebel could have written a piece that wasn’t so angry and the point would have been equally as clear!

The final point I am trying to make here is this: selfies are not going away anytime soon so accept them for what they are—a form of self-expression. If you aren’t a fan of the trend then don’t participate in it, but also remember it is unnecessary to shame other women who do enjoy them. Society already has so many other oppressing forces for women to face, why attack something that is helping some people feel better about themselves. If you really can’t get over the selfie trend then I think you should take a look at a new term, the “belfie”. I am wrapping up this post now, but before you type that word into Google just know it is a butt selfie, and many women are taking part in it. I think this is much more degrading for women and I also think it is centered around the beauty ideals that feminist women fight so hard to eliminate. The belfie is a new trend and I hope it isn’t here to stay because I would much rather get a selfie of my friend’s face than a belfie of her butt, or her new underwear, etc. Until next time…


By: Colette Hayward

Part I:

As a young feminist I have an interesting perspective on the world, women, LGBTQ rights, and anything that affects underprivileged, underappreciated, and underrepresented groups. The world right now is full of amazing men and women, many of whom think in a similar manner as me and are expressing those views largely through social media. I have never written
a blog about feminism, though I have actively discussed and regurgitated information I discovered around the internet. Blogging as a form of activism is tricky. It can be extremely beneficial for many reasons, one of which being that it is a personal collection of thoughts, reactions, rants, and perspectives on a variety of topics that can allow another individual the
opportunity to feel like they aren’t alone in the world. For my first blog as the Communications Intern at Minnesota NOW I would like to discuss the concept of “selfies” and how they are miraculously changing the world.

I would like to begin by saying that I am a twenty two-year-old female who doesn’t actively take selfies for the simple fact that I think they are annoying most of the time and not all that interesting. Thanks to cell phone apps like Instagram and SnapChat selfies are taking over the world. I didn’t realize how popular they were until I discovered that selfie was Oxford
Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2013. Hmm…apparently, I am not trendy enough to understand the purpose of taking hundreds of photos of myself and plastering them all over the internet. I am currently a women’s studies and anthropology double major and I honestly don’t know where people find the time to take twenty pictures in a row of themselves , hoping to find one good one to immediately post onto a social media site and looking for everyone to tell them how beautiful they are. Recently I saw articles about selfies causing a major lice epidemic due to people putting their heads together to get a shot of the group while one person awkwardly holds their
hand out to take the photo. Now this is worst-case scenario I realize, but it makes me think twice when bunches of people want to squeeze in for a photo together!

It should be common knowledge nowadays that social media sites can be dangerous for women and body image problems, but as with many women’s issues, it falls on deaf ears as far as attempting to fix the problem. Currently there is an IOS app called SkinneePix that promises to remove 5-15 pounds off your figure after you finish editing the selfie of your choice. They should just call it the YourFat app and see if that sells because that is what I thought of when I heard about it. I could preach all day long about how all women are beautiful and how important it is to be comfortable in your own skin, but I feel like the odds are against me when things like the SkinneePix app are created. It is Hollywood Photoshop for dummies and depressed is all I feel after investigating it further. Another report online discussed how selfies are causing mental illness now. Narcissism is the first thing that came to mind but alas it was actually about body dismorphic disorder. It sounds to me like the SkinneePix app is convincing women that they aren’t good enough, along with magazines, celebrities, and the rest of the popular media out there. I asked several of my selfie-obsessed friends how many photos they take before getting a good one and they all said quite a few, five being the smallest number.

Why are we evaluating ourselves so harshly and why are we concerned about a bad angle or a stray hair? I don’t have a solution to fix the selfie addiction that is spreading everywhere, but I do think women should rethink the way they evaluate themselves. Whether you are obsessed with taking selfies or completely repulsed by the concept, the reality is that they exist and in some cases have caused quite a few problems. Do me a favor and tell someone they are beautiful today. I have yet to find a person who dislikes hearing it and everyone is beautiful in their own way. Stop accepting society’s beauty standards as what you should expect from
yourself and see if it increases your own self-esteem. Remember what Aibileen Clark said in The Help, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important”.


“I’ve had enough trying to fit a cultural definition of beautiful.”

TRIGGER WARNING: this post contains graphic depictions of living with eating disorders.. We share it today in observance of the National NOW Foundation’s 2012 Love Your Body Day. It is our belief that telling our stories is a powerful and transformative feminist act.  A list of resources is available at the end of the post. All images, except the 2012 Love Your Body Day contest winner, were taken from online “thinspiration” sites that Andrea refers to in her essay.

By Andrea Persephone Sand, Minnesota NOW Affirmative Action Chair

Hipbones and collarbones, muscles and tendons, that space between your legs. The more I found, the better and worse I felt about myself. The less my scale showed, the greater the accomplishment and the further the goal was pushed back. It felt like the only real control I had over anything in my life was over what and how much went in to my body, and how much of it made it to digestion. Nobody noticed my warning signs, and since nobody seemed intent on asking if I was okay, I never really mentioned what was going on. I even began using it as a joke, to see if anyone took me seriously. When asked how I was dropping all this weight, I just responded “lots of exercise and a diet low in food.”

By the time I sought help, my weight had dropped 70 or so pounds in under six months. It became something more like 80 or 90 by the time I dropped out of a treatment program I felt was counter-productive. As I write this, over a year after the fact, I have lost about 100 pounds. I’m happy my weight loss has slowed down or stopped, I hope that I’m holding at what I was the last time I had to go to the doctors. I don’t know. I had to have a friend throw away my scale for me because I knew I couldn’t do it myself. How do you throw away something you use 8-10 times a day, even if it’s destroying you? An addiction is an addiction, no matter how you look at it.

I’ve lost so much over the last year, it’s heartbreaking for me to have to think back over it all. The money I’ve lost replacing things I’ve forgotten, or the money I’ve lost when I’ve misplaced my wallet in public spaces. Your memory fades from you, you see, and eventually you have trouble even holding a conversation. I’ve lost all semblance of self. I feel I look physically similar now as I did over a year ago, and my obsession and addiction to weight loss even led me to sell my car and upgrade to a nice bicycle to get everywhere with. I’ve lost any form of confidence I had in myself. My tiniest transgressions in public or private will cause me to not only immediately apologize, but also dwell on it from between the next few hours to the next decade or so. I have no idea how to forgive myself for anything I’ve ever done wrong.

Before my computer melted down and I had to reinstall the operating system, losing all my information, I had a large folder of what some people refer to as “thinspirational” pictures and images. These are pictures of naturally skinny people with things like hipbones and collarbones, ribcages and spines. It is essentially holding up a picture of what you really wanted to compare against what you have. These people though, they aren’t starved and they aren’t hungry. They’re naturally healthy, and were born that way. It’s not healthy and now that I’m in struggling through recovery, when I see my friends who battle similar food demons post pictures like this on their facebook or tumblr, I become worried and talk to them. The hardest part of recovery with any addiction is it’s so similar to cancer. You never truly beat it, you’re just in recovery or remission until your next relapse or death. Even now, there are still days where I do not eat. Even still, there are times where I feel I’ve eaten far too much and need to purge, lest my weight returns.

There is nothing quite as sobering as having to have a tooth yanked out, and having it snap off in your head with the healthy roots still dug in for dear life. I rotted away enough of my wisdom teeth that two were just yanked out today. The only thing more sobering than seeing a tooth in four pieces is later weeping in to your pillow, crying “what have I done to myself” as you drool blood on your bedsheets. I swear I have to recover harder. I am so scared, because now that I’ve stopped intentionally starving myself I’m waiting for all these health problems to boomerang back around at me full force. From the first time I had to beg my brother to take me to the hospital, to him being here now helping me deal with two missing teeth, anorexia and bulimia have robbed me of everything it tricked me in with. I feel fatter than ever, I have no self-esteem, my teeth are falling out and my hair is still coming out in clumps so I feel pretty ugly and misshapen, and my body is slow to heal and doesn’t feel much pain below a threshold of ‘sheer agony’. My nerve endings died a little, became less responsive to input. Where my hand could feel chilly or cold water before, now it can’t; not until it feels like frostbite. Peripheral neuropathy? What the fuck is that? My hands and feet will randomly go numb; do you know how scary that is to just lose feeling in parts of your body for minutes and then have it come back? This happens far too fucking often for me!

They need to have warning labels on beauty magazines like cigarettes; warning: Not all people are meant to look this way.

Anorexia and Bulimia can and will greatly reduce your quality of life. You are beautiful, and shouldn’t aspire to be anyone other than you.

So I’ve had enough trying to fit a cultural definition of beautiful. I’m still not skinny and I don’t give a fuck. I can’t believe I’ve been had so hard by the ad industry, by the health industry, by far too many industries telling me I’m fat, that I’m worthless, that I’m ugly and undesirable, and that there is something wrong with me that needs to change and/or die in a fire. I’m still “overweight” and I can count my ribs, I can see my spine, and I FINALLY just lost the little baby hair growing on the back of my neck; my memory’s almost back and I can carry a conversation again. You know what? I’m not having them rip out the other two wisdom teeth. I’ll be “fat” and “ugly” and healthy and happy. We’re built the way we are. Can we celebrate this fact for once instead of mourn it every time it doesn’t line up with a Victoria’s Secret or Calvin Klein model? Can we give each other a fighting shot at not crying our collective selves to sleep at night?


National Eating Disorders Association (includes a toll-free help line)

The Joy Project (a Twin Cities-based ED support & advocacy group)

Sex, Stereotypes and Women (a project of the National NOW Foundation)