Part of what made recovery so difficult was how eating disordered behavior was, and still is, reinforced by mainstream culture.
My first year of college, ED seemed impossible to avoid. Everywhere I turned, people openly body shamed themselves and others. People avoided fear foods (although they didn’t call them that) and left lots on their plates, blaming the fear of the “freshman fifteen” for their loss of appetite. Going to the gym was often framed as punishment for eating and was a minefield of self-deprecating remarks. Maybe it was the mindset I had at the time, but I don’t remember a single moment where I heard someone say something appreciative about their body or appearance.
With every passing judgement, my mental illness deemed itself justified.
Now I actively speak out against language that enforces beauty-based worth, but while I was in recovery, I was too busy battling ED in my head. So, to cope with these everyday interactions, I pictured people as having “mini-EDs.”
Instead of letting ED tell me so-and-so was right in saying only certain body types can wear crop tops, I would feel a pang of sympathy for them. I knew they were struggling with a mini-ED, but were oblivious of its presence. I’d picture something like a shadowy hand, darkening their shoulder. That imagery helped me recognize that if someone unwittingly said something that supported my eating disorder, it didn’t mean my ED was justified– it just meant that person was struggling too. How can you see an invisible enemy that manifests itself as societal truth?
Luckily, there’s a way forward away from this destructive collective experience: dismantling societal beauty standards as an acceptable measure of worth and desirability.
This starts from within the mind by consciously catching our critical thoughts and actively working to reframe them, confronting the belief that societal beauty standards matter. They don’t, and we certainly don’t need to give them any consideration when viewing ourselves or others. This is frankly a radical and difficult skill to exercise, but I think it’s the most important one. This is where the most change has to happen.
Then, it moves outward. When people are saying, doing, or supporting something that reinforces oppressive societal beauty standards as the scale we all have to weigh ourselves on, speak up.
For more on what this looks and sounds like, read this post (if there isn’t a link here, sorry, I haven’t gotten around to writing it yet).
By being the example, we can inspire others to take on societal beauty standards and pave the way forward towards valuing people on who they are.
Everyone deserves to have an ED-free life.