Monday, March 5, 2018

A Little Compassion, Eh?

Last week was eating disorder awareness week. I noticed both positive and not so beneficial messages on social media throughout the event. As an eating disorder recovery advocate -- not an eating disorder advocate, a term I saw a few times and questioned -- I find myself looking closely at how others talk about recovery or about eating disorders in general.

It might seem like I'm straddling the fence on some of the issues I'm attempting to address, but these matters are complex. When it comes to the different types of illness and the different movements emerging, I can see the various viewpoints and the concerns of each. What worries me is the increasing lack of compassion with which people are voicing their ideas. I understand the outrage. Hell, how many times have I angrily hit the keys as I typed a blog post about people on Instagram promoting disordered behavior under the guise of healthy living? I keep looking inside to see where this anger is coming from, and while I know I want desperately to protect the world from the damaging shit that's out there, and there's just so much shit, I'm also willing to look at the possibility that the anger might go deeper than that.

Here's the thing; I will never know what it's like to navigate the world in your body with your mind, and you will never truly know my struggles. That being said, I'm not going to discount what you're going through simply because I haven't experienced your life first hand, which is exactly what some people, people I usually respect and admire, seem to be doing. Those of us who are advocates generally speak from the heart about where we are and where we have been. It's not always going to be all-inclusive, but it doesn't mean we are ignoring the reality of others.

I don't know the details about what went down between Geneen Roth and several other recovery advocates, but I assume this had something to do with diet culture, the assumption that Geneen wasn't using the "right" terminology when addressing weight. I saw a few posts from several different people indirectly addressing Geneen and wondered why, if these people were so offended, they didn't confront Geneen directly. I fully support HAES and the Body Positive Movement. What I don't support are those who try to tear down others who have been instrumental in helping people recover from life-threatening eating disorders, people, like me, who might be dead had they not read one of Geneen's books. For me, reading what she went through, even though she didn't have the same illness I did, gave me the tiny bit of hope I needed to keep going. Even if her language isn't perfect (and whose is?) she doesn't deserve to be attacked.

I love Geneen Roth's reply to one of the individuals who attempted to vilify her:

I’ve heard (thank you, those of you who have let me know) that someone who calls herself an emotional eating expert is posting aggressively unkind Facebook ads about my work and that they are popping up on your pages.
I’m sorry to hear this and would like to take a moment to respond, not to her particularly, but to the notion that tearing someone else down will build us up. That being mean and aggressive is a winning strategy.
We’ve all tried that one. We’ve all blamed and fought and, from a lost or lonely or desperate place inside, cut other people to shreds. Or at least, I have. And when I wasn’t doing it explicitly, I was thinking about doing it. Blame was one of my favorite strategies and make no mistake: tearing someone else down is a way to blame. It’s a way not to take responsibility for our own feelings, our own decisions, our own actions.

It’s challenging not to go to war, either with ourselves or with someone else. It’s challenging to notice when the voice in our heads takes over and says, “War is the only option. Being unkind is the way to go. It’s my turn and I deserve to win, no matter the cost."

Everything—and this situation is no exception—is a chance to question where we stand.

Do I feel personally attacked? No.

Do I feel the need to write to her and call her out? No. (See below about taking action.)

Do I notice that the tactic she is using is familiar to me and that I’ve done it many times myself? Absolutely.

Can I find the place inside me that wants to go to war with myself? Fight with the parts of myself I think would be better vanquished? (That’s the war part. "Let’s destroy what we don’t agree with and what will be left will be only the good parts." How many times have I done that, starting with "let me lose weight and what will be left will be a happy, relaxed, thin person").

At least a million times…

Which doesn’t mean I don’t take action or speak up for myself. I do. Often. Although in this case, many people have already contacted Facebook about the aggressiveness. Also, the ad has not popped up on my page and I would need to be served the ad in order to report it.
The bottom line is that in any situation, I look and see what action I can take and if it feels in integrity, I take it.
And all along, I keep questioning what in me gets triggered and reactive, turning towards those feelings with as much kindness as I can muster. And I keep strengthening my resolve to untangle what’s left of the web of self-loathing and blame because the less and less I do it to and in myself, the less I do it with anyone around me.
It's working. Sanity and clarity are constant companions these days.

I'm a straight, white woman. The only thing missing for me to be the ideal typical stereotype of an anorexic is my youth. I'm older now, so I no longer fit the stereotype. I'm also in recovery, but you get my point. Whatever your eating disorder, it's as painful, as potentially deadly, and as difficult to address as mine. It might even be harder in many ways if it means that you are also experiencing prejudice and discrimination. I fully understand that and want to help raise awareness around these issues and change the way society views anyone with an eating disorder, no matter what his or her size. What I wish others would understand is that talking about what I experienced is in no way meant to put my needs above anyone else's. I don't see anorexia as some kind of top illness to discuss at the expense of other disorders, and I know that straight, white women aren't the only ones struggling with eating issues. Eating disorders affect all genders, all races, and all ages.

I used to think we were all in the same boat, that anyone who could relate to the suffering associated with an eating disorder would show compassion toward others battling their own illnesses. The way social media is, people constantly spouting this or that belief or thought without any filters, I can understand why people feel vulnerable. I thought anyone who had lived through an eating disorder or witnessed someone else wrestling their demons would show complete compassion and understanding toward others. Instead, what I see is a lot of anger and resentment directed at an entire group of people, exactly what most recovery advocates claim to rebuke. I see that and a lot of shameless self-promotion. Self-promotion isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes at the expense of the actual cause, I take issue.

The big thing now is to post about anger being a great motivator, which can be true in one way, but it's an energy that burns out quickly. I ran in anger for a while. I was fierce and determined, but I was far more successful when I came at it from a place of forgiveness and love. This is a hard topic to address because I don't want to make it seem like I don't understand the hurt and frustration of living in a fucked up society that shuns people based entirely on how they look. It's more that I want to point out that trashing someone else isn't as effective as simply stating your argument.

People talk about Roxane Gay having a sharp tongue, but her memoir "Hunger" is one of the most poetic, moving, honest, and thought-provoking memoirs I have ever read. Her tongue isn't really all that sharp; she's just more direct and truthful than most. At no point does she feel the need to unnecessarily tear anyone down, even those who nearly destroyed her, but she has no problem defending herself with her words. In her memoir, she simply shares her story, but this is a book that absolutely has the potential to change the way society looks at anyone struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating or even anyone who's different. I highly, highly recommend everyone read it.

Several times recently in my real life, not on social media, people have responded to me in unkind ways. I'm sensitive to this kind of behavior and don't react well to it. I tend to shut down. I will never quite understand when someone continually takes little or not so small digs at someone else or goes out of his or her way to make an inconsiderate comment. People tell me the problem lies with the one who chooses to be unpleasant, but it's hard to not take mean-spirited or judgmental attacks personally, even if I assume the issue really isn't me. I sometimes wish I could respond, "You, sir, may fuck off!" (Crime in Sports reference), but that's only because it would make me laugh, not because I aim to be as nasty back.

I guess all this rambling I've stumbled through is a long-winded way of saying, "Have a little compassion, eh?" 


  1. I think to a great extent, these internecine struggles between ED factions -- for lack of a better way of putting it -- map pretty strongly onto the conflicts between different types of feminists, which makes sense since the ED world is still overwhelmingly female. It's very tough when you have a large population of Americans in various phases of ED recovery, exhibiting a range of approaches to getting well; this is further complicated by the reality that if men didn't have to exist, women would have an easier time of things (at least in some ways, like body image). Feminism and ED recovery are obviously not identical domains, but they overlap pretty well, and with this current "presidential" "administration" and the MeToo stuff and Instagram nonsense not exactly making life easier for thinking women these days, the idea of being fundamentally compassionate is routinely obliterated by self-interest, some if it unintentional.

  2. Great post! Especially loved this, because I've questioned it as well, haha: "As an eating disorder recovery advocate -- not an eating disorder advocate, a term I saw a few times and questioned."

  3. Thank you, Rachael!

    I assume everyone means the same thing, but it did make me wonder. lol


    1. Someone has to take down the enemy, and what better way to do it than with a Christmas bazaar and fundraiser?