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Body Liberation is Not About Eating Donuts

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

Donuts on a baking rack. Photo by Jessica Henderson on Unsplash

At their very core, the Health at Every Size and Body Liberation movements are about access to and autonomy of one’s own body, and respect for ALL bodies. For this reason, it is critical that HAES providers acknowledge the importance of body autonomy and liberation in ALL forms, which thus requires us to acknowledge the impact of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, weight stigma, and immigration abuse on one’s ability to be embodied, to make health choices that fit his/her/their body, to access human civil rights, and to access one’s own internal regulatory, intuitive system.

If you are a provider that identifies as HAES, then I presume you have a goal of reducing the number of eating disorders. I presume that you aim to increase individuals’ access and ability to become more embodied and less restricted. If these are true, then I encourage you to consider the impact on one's ability to feel embodied, to feel at home in one's body when they are being labeled "illegal" and told "you don't belong here" by unjust legislation and by our political leaders. The term "illegal aliens" which continues to be used by folks in power, is an awful term, and invites and incites the idea that individuals are less than human. As the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said:

I encourage you to consider the impact on one’s ability to develop a trusting, embodied, secure sense of self and relationship to body when they have been separated from their caregivers at crucial developmental periods. Often at preverbal or in sensorimotor states because of the lack of language OR lack of language comprehension. We have an incredible amount of evidence that early childhood traumatic experiences have a lifelong impact on individuals’ relationships, mental health, physical health, and mortality, including strong correlations with adulthood high-risk health behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, depression, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, shortened lifespan, and increased likelihood to attempt suicide.

As I write this, there are babies being separated from their parents.

We need to see more discussion about how the immigrant/refugee/asylee experience intersects with HAES advocacy work.

If you were in the business of selling pencils, I wouldn’t expect or be disappointed when you didn’t speak up about these issues. But if you are a HAES provider....If you are an eating disorders expert, then the product you’re “selling” is body liberation and body autonomy. You SHOULD be speaking up. Especially if you have a platform to do so.

Does it piss you off that I’m *telling you what to do?* Good. Be pissed. Be angry at me. But please, dig deep and ask yourself if you disagree with the connections I’m making or with the invitation to prevent future eating disorders. Yes, if you are not speaking out against children being separated from their families and placed in concentration camps, babies being prevented from being picked up, OR you do not get why it’s important to speak out, you are missing a crucial opportunity to try to help prevent future eating disorders.

This is not about being perfect. It is not even truly about being brave. Brave are mothers and fathers risking death, jail, and health for the hope of providing a better life for their child. For us HAES professionals, this is about being congruent. Congruent with the *product* we’re selling. Congruent with how we describe the work we do.

As Be Nourished's Hilary Kinavey teaches: “It is misguided to “protect” the people who follow you from your stance on human rights issues. None of us are neutral (this part of clinical training should be questioned) and speaking out against harm is essential for inclusion and prevention.” Sometimes the pull to “stay in our own lane” is so strong that we forget that “Humanity is ALL of our lanes to be in” (- Meghan Kacmarcik).

We should not put the safety and comfort of those who are in power above those without power. Just as racial justice cannot be achieved “with an obsessive commitment to 'meeting people where they are' when 'where they are' is racism,” (Paul Gorski), body justice cannot be achieved with an obsessive commitment to vanilla-ing down the body liberation message to memes about donuts and sunshine. “Students, families, and educators who are experiencing racism right now cannot afford to wait for us to saunter toward a more serious anti-racist vision. They cannot afford to wait, in particular, for all white educators to ease into racial justice commitments at a pace of our choosing while they suffer the consequences of our casualness." (Paul Gorski). Much in the same way, individuals experiencing body oppression cannot wait for us to catch up and are not helped by memes about donuts. If deep, genuine, and meaningful advocacy and activism is not a part of the prevention AND treatment of eating disorders, we risk doing surface-level clinical work that puts band-aids on festering and growing wounds.

I’m not saying that posting memes about donuts is wrong or should be stopped completely, BUT…....

If you post more often about eating donuts than you post about food insecurity, you might be missing the point.

If you purport to be a HAES expert and wear shirts that say intersectionality (while you pose and angle your body) but are silent about children being caged, then you might be missing the point.

If you throw out words like “revolution” and “smash the patriarchy,” but don’t get why it’s important to speak out about Trans rights, Immigrant rights, Black Lives, etc., then you might be missing the point.

If you care more about writing a petition against Amy Schumer’s comedy movie, than writing a petition against immigration abuse, then you might be missing the point.

Before I lose you, no, I’m not giving Amy Schumer a “pass,” just like I won’t allow myself to have “a pass.” As a white, smaller-bodied woman with much privilege, I am very aware of how I am complicit, how I have and continue to make mistakes, and how I must remain humble and committed to bettering myself as an ally. I could give a flying flip about defending Amy Schumer; this is not about her. Rather, I want to point out that if we’re spinning our wheels as professionals about a comic, who tells jokes for a living, who defies size and gender norms in her field, who is a tireless advocate for gun control, instead of spinning our wheels about social injustice, then we might be missing the point.

Several weeks ago, my associate, Melissa Carmona, and I went to the film “I Feel Pretty.” We jokingly called it “business research” but truly, we were just looking to have a good laugh. It wasn’t a very good movie. It was fairly predictable. The acting is what you’d expect from someone whose work is comedy. But RELATIVELY speaking, it was fairly harmless. Focusing on Amy Schumer is a distraction. No one is going to get an eating disorder from watching a movie that is aimed at embracing the body you’re in.

BUT, policies, legislation, and human rights abuses that hurt marginalized and vulnerable individuals and that separates families from each other create a perfect container for the manifestation of food restriction and eating disorders. Why WOULDN’T we speak out against human rights abuses that hurt bodies?

I have heard folks talk about not wanting to come across as too *militant* but what I’ve noticed is that the folks who use that word in a negative way have always been White, thin, able-bodied individuals with privilege, and usually in reference to or about folks who are marginalized. It is a privilege and a luxury to not be *militant* (whatever df that means). It is a privilege and luxury to *turn off* or *tune out* that many individuals do not have access to.

Here at Three Birds Counseling, two of our providers are intimately connected to immigration politics. Both Latina/o, bilingual, Spanish-speakers, one of whom was an undocumented Mexican immigrant as a child and one who has family members that are undocumented. They do not have the luxury of *turning it off* or *tuning out* in the same way that others do.

Three Birds' Melissa Carmona provides counseling to undocumented immigrants. In her words regarding the connection between HAES and immigration/refugee/asylee issues : “The recent events are directly linked to their health; I have clients that are not going to the grocery store or picking up their prescriptions (such as antidepressants or insulin) in fear of being questioned by anyone with authority. I have clients who are working with dietitians to manage cholesterol, insulin, among others, but their level of stress is so high, no dietitian or medication can help them right now. I have clients who are citizens, but because of their heritage, their body image work is being frozen in time as they see their people humiliated and misunderstood."

As local law enforcement have been empowered to act as ICE agents and stories circulate about Latino legal citizen being detained without cause, Three Birds' Daniel Paredes and I have been having family discussions as to whether he should begin to carry his passport as proof of citizenship on his commute to and from work.

Just as we often see our clients experiencing levels of dissociation around food, body, trauma, etc., when there is sociopolitical rhetoric and events (especially abuses) that target specific marginalized groups, it is common for members of those groups to experience symptoms of dissociation, hypervigilance, anxiety, and dysregulation. When there is anti-immigrant buzz, as when DACA was repealed, immigrant clients and colleagues may describe feeling disconnected, numb, or wanting to retreat. These experiences block the ability to work toward embodiment. These experiences create a barrier to eating disorder recovery.

If you’re making a point to speak up, I applaud you. Let’s band together. Let’s be HAES providers that are not just about fluff but that are supporting our clients and professional community for more than just the 50 min inside the therapy office; let's speak out and show our support through our words, blogs, memes, donations, actions, and activism.

And if necessary, be militant. Militancy has often been necessary to wake up those who are still asleep to injustice. No, I don’t mean physical violence. But, yes, use your words powerfully, bravely, strongly. Confront injustice. Create memes of substance. Market congruently. Speak out firmly and loudly against harm of bodies. My colleagues of marginalized identity have expressed to me that what has hurt them most has been the silence of other professionals. Instead of silence, let’s create a choral of resounding support that lets others know we believe that all bodies deserve respect, liberation, and autonomy.

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