Often, stories related to recovery and self-acceptance, whether it is about eating disorder recovery, dealing with trauma, or body acceptance, focus on the individual. These stories often celebrate the individual actions and decisions a person has made in their journey. While recognizing individuals for their actions is important, I believe that these stories often erase the importance of community.
Community is an integral part of our social existence. By community, I mean several different things. For one, I mean the surrounding community of a place one works or lives in, with which one usually shares common interest and goals. For example, I am part of the City College of New York community, because I attend school there and because I care about my peers. But what I also mean by community is the community of individuals that one shares common identities and experiences with, such as the queer community or the community of those affected by depression.
These communities and their role in the path to recovery and self-acceptance of individuals, especially in relation to mental health, are important to highlight because for many individuals they provide irreplaceable support. Given also that many issues related to mental health are influenced and related to systematic forms of oppression, as well as micro-aggressions toward marginalized people, community becomes that much more important.
It is through finding community that many individuals gain the language they need to heal. It is through community that individuals realize that they are not alone and that there are others who are like them. For some, it is the first time they feel like their bodies and their narratives are reflected in those around them. And it is community that can best decide what it needs. That is, an individual’s voice is more likely to be heard and recognized within their community than anywhere else.
For me, it has been through social justice organizing that I have found a community space that has helped me understand and accept my peers and myself. Through gender-based organizing, I have learned about alternative models and approaches for healing from and combatting gender-based violence. Through mental health justice organizing, I have come to understand how important peer support is for individuals that do not have access to professional help. In all these spaces, I have seen how willing people are to speak up about personal issues when they feel that they are supported by their community. At the same time, I have understood the positive impact of loving myself and my body can have not only on myself but also those around me.
By erasing community from narratives, we are erasing the power and importance of building connections with those around us. We are erasing the important work that community-based organizations do for their people. Through highlighting individuals without the context of their community, we are also at danger of perpetuating the narrative that all individuals are able to accomplish their goals ONLY through hard work and determination.
I am my actions, my intentions, and my words. But I am also a part of my community spaces that have a history that precedes me. Sometimes it is precisely this history that has allowed me to be in these spaces in the first place. Perhaps I am also part of the future history of these communities. Most importantly however, these spaces have been a continuous source of support, love, and strength throughout my journey of learning to love myself as a person.
Kira Rakova is a graduating senior at the City College of New York studying international studies, communications, and anthropology. Her research and activist interests include mental health and eating disorder justice, social development, and gender justice.