Feminism: a Tool For Eating Disorder Recovery

 What is Feminism?

In the United Kingdom, only 35 percent of women and 27 percent of men personally identify with the term ‘feminist’, and 52 per cent said they don’t actually know what it even means to call yourself a feminist.

 

Feminism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”.

 

However, in recent years it has evolved to become a movement rather than just a word. Other than just supporting equality, feminist writing and theory pushes for higher free agency for individuals in a world of restricted gender roles and widely accepted ideas of femininity.

 

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What Does Feminism Have to do with Eating Disorders?

A study published recently in the Journal of Eating Disorders explored feminism as a possible method of treatment for eating disorders. The study conducted therapy focus groups surrounding themes or images from popular culture and media, and the participants identified the ideas that they found useful or not useful to their recovery.

 

The participants cited several major themes as helpful feminist tools to aid recovery. They appreciated the discussions around exploration of the deep-seated, subconscious nature of society’s ideas of ideal body image, as it helped to decrease feelings of self-blame. They also benefited from the use of group discussions based around matters concerning inequality, gender roles, and the public stigma around eating disorders, because it created a sense of safety from the societal ideals that they all shared concern for.

How is Society Influencing Body Image?

Even before this study, many feminist writers and theorists have focused on promoting the use of feminism to alter the accepted roles of gender and femininity in the media.

 

Susie Orbach, in her book about the culture around body image, ascribes those gender roles to be partially the fault of pop culture.

 

From models on magazine covers, to public advertisements with stock images of smiling women eating salad, to the normalization of using plastic surgery to alter our bodies, popular culture has compiled a generalized image of the ideal female and male bodies. In a world where we are constantly exposed to media and the internet, we have, as a society, internalized these images, and allow them to create anxiety in our own lives. 

 

However, Orbach and many other theorists think that empowerment through feminism can begin to shift this foundationally flawed system.

How Does Feminism work for recovery?

The core belief behind being a feminist is coming to terms with, and believing wholeheartedly, the fact that we are all human beings, equal to one another despite our gender, despite our appearance, and despite our insecurities. As the participants in the study found, feminism creates a wider perspective to focus on when we are searching for answers in recovery.

 

Beyond its belief system and the actions that feminist organizations make, feminism is part of belonging to a group of people who all want to see improvements in the world and see its citizens value themselves. Having a group of supporters can be incredibly helpful as a step for recovery, as the study found, and feminism serves as a support system while also serving to make you feel you are a part of something much bigger than yourself.

 

By taking a step back to look at the inequalities and injustices that society subjects us to, both politically and even mentally, we are given a better understanding of how to get past the setbacks we experience ourselves. If you take a look at how that world has affected the mindset behind eating disorders and the concepts of body image, and give something larger to be a part of and fight for, it might help to give you a renewed desire to fight for yourself too.

How Do I start?

Feminism is not exclusive! It is not a club, it is not a cult, but it is a way of living and thinking, and you can choose to be a part of it at any time.

 

Below are some literary resources to learn more about feminism and enrich your understanding of it in terms of body image and recovery.

Bodies by Susie Orbach

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Hunger Strike by Susie Orbach

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

 


If you are struggling with an eating disorder, and want to understand more about treatment or recovery, WeightMatters is here to help you. Our multidisciplinary team of psychotherapists, nutritionists, and a psychiatrist, offers assessments and specialized care plans suited to your needs.

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