National Eating Disorders Association

The first time I heard about eating disorders, I was in middle school. Our health class watched a film on the dangers of extreme dieting, and the implications it could have on mental and physical health. I watched intently as the film portrayed the typical narrative of a middle-class Caucasian girl who was on a dangerous path toward starvation. At the time, it was inconceivable to me that I could ever develop an eating disorder. I was just an average sized African-American girl who loved food. 

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Many of us from minority communities, whether it be our race/ethnicity, sexual orientation/gender identity, foreign/immigration status, or any other such factor, share an unfortunately common experience moving through the world: being the only one of your group in a room.

This “room” may be a classroom, a waiting room, a workplace, a party or event, or even a terminal at an airport. It doesn’t really matter what the context is, the experience remains the same.  

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Perfectionism is often a trait of many folks who are in recovery from eating disorders, including me. My childhood traumas left me feeling flawed, inherently bad, and not good enough for anyone. I believed that if I was a “good girl” and excelled at all things, my life would be better. 

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The first thing you notice about up-and-coming filmmaker Tchaiko Omawale is her vibrant blue hair; the second thing you notice, much like her hair, is the infectious yet subtle smile spread across her face. When she speaks, she pulls you, as if she is an old childhood friend who helped you navigate your first awkward crush.

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In thinking about trying to alleviate some of the tremendous suffering that comes with struggling with an eating disorder, there is nothing more urgent than earlier recognition and identification of those at risk. Early intervention is essential to a better prognosis for those affected—and nowhere is this more important than those struggling with eating disorders who are further marginalized by virtue of not “looking” like the typical someone with an eating disorder. Which brings us, obviously, to papyrus.

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The Marginalized Voices Project is a collaboration between the National Eating Disorders Association and feminist activist and editor of Everyday Feminism, Melissa A. Fabello. Together, we put out a call for stories that focus on underrepresented experiences and communities in order to create a platform for people to share what it means to suffer (and recover) from an eating disorder.

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 “For all the information and raised awareness, the stereotype won’t die—eating disorders are a white-woman problem,” writes Michelle Konstantinovsky in her recent article entitled, “Eating Disorders Do Not Discriminate: Puncturing the dangerous myth that only white women get eating disorders.” The article, which recently appeared on Slate, hits the nail squarely on the head – anyone can be at risk for an eating disorder.

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The National Eating Disorders Association, in association with feminist activist and editor of Everyday Feminism, Melissa Fabello, is calling for stories that focus on underrepresented experiences and communities in the eating disorder field through The Marginalized Voices Project. We are looking especially for voices from marginalized communities and narratives that challenge eating disorder myths.

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Pick up any eating disorder memoir at your local bookstore, and you are more than likely to find some iteration of this narrative arc.

Well-to-do, young white woman develops an eating disorder, spirals into near-oblivion, seeks treatment for her eating disorder (which usually results in her being admitted into a residential facility), experiences a myriad of successes and failures, and eventually commits to finding her Self again. Well-to-do, young white woman walks out of treatment with a new sense of hope on the road to recovery.

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