I remember watching a video in high school depicting bulimia, where I saw a fictitious portrayal of a thin, 30-something, white upper-middle class woman hide her bingeing and purging from her family. In my freshman year of college, I heard a brief explanation of eating disorders and thought of transparent models and stick-thin celebrities.
Yet years later, when I found myself in the throws of disordered eating, I discounted my own suspicions. I thought, “I’m not the type of person to have an eating disorder.” I didn’t fit the privileged, appearance-obsessed valley girl image I had come to associate with the disorder. The education I received about eating disorders gave me a basic understanding and fear of them, but it encouraged a harmful stereotype that led me to brush myself off as a potential victim.
The initial research on body image issues and eating disorders centered around an unvaried subject group due to the assumption that these problems only affect white women. This misconception unfortunately persists today, continuing the harmful notion that others are not at risk. However in recent years, research has expanded to account for the wider range of affected demographics. The National Eating Disorders Association now incorporates these findings into their outreach, stating that “eating disorders don’t discriminate,” but impact people of every race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status.
Recent findings show that minority groups are just as dissatisfied with their bodies as majority groups and are significantly less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders. Individuals of the LGBTQ community disproportionately suffer from eating disorders when compared to other demographics. Men constitute 21 percent of college students with eating disorders, and up to 68 percent of college-aged males believe they have too little muscle. Research now studies a variety of body types and older groups, who also face prevalent body image issues. These studies challenge our understanding of those impacted by eating disorders and body image issues, and since my first thought of not being the “type,” I have met individuals of every age, size, race, gender, and personality with disordered eating patterns.
The stereotype still exists but it also breaks down as we raise awareness to the diversity of those impacted by negative body image and eating disorders. We cannot stereotype eating disorders and unhealthy patterns. It was the bromidic stereotype that led me to ignore my own disordered eating. No one is immune simply because of their demographic. Eating disorders don’t discriminate.
Editor’s Note: If you are affected by disordered eating patterns, please contact the Portland State Center for Student Health and Counseling. Please visit this article online @ psuvanguard.com for additional resources.
National Eating Disorders Association: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/