Our Bodies Are Political / by Alexa Arnold

Our bodies are political. Practicing respect and acceptance towards my body is the most radical form of activism that I strive for every day. This feels so radical because we live in a world that constantly reinforces body shame and profits off of convincing us that we aren't good enough, that our self worth is defined by the size and shape and color and gender of our bodies. Overcoming negative self talk and unhealthy behaviors isn't just about finding balance and prioritizing self care – true body positivity is about social justice. Society's demands about our bodies are a form of structural and systemic oppression, and you can't advocate for body positivity or push back against diet culture without also advocating for black lives, LGBTQ lives, muslim lives, immigrant lives, and so on. This is political, and so are the subtle ways that disordered eating is encouraged and thin, unattainable beauty standards reign supreme. There is no way to talk about body issues or food issues without talking about politics.

It's National Eating Disorder Awareness week, and I've been closely monitoring the #NEDAweek hashtag, watching courageous story after story roll in. This year's theme, "it's time to talk about it", resonates deeply, because a few months ago I shared about my personal experience with anorexia on this blog, something I'd never discussed so publicly. Eating disorders thrive on silence and shame. Though they aren't uncommon at all – nearly 30 million Americans of all races, genders and socioeconomic statuses are affected in their lifetime, and given their complex and serious nature, EDs have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Changing my own relationship with food ultimately boiled down to relearning healthy behaviors, rekindling my connection to other people and our planet, and spending time in the kitchen and garden, which taught me that food is so much more than its caloric value – food is joy, and power, and it is a teacher that will always be with me. My hope is that by sharing my story, it might help people recognize and acknowledge their own issues with food and body image, and hopefully start talking about them in their own lives. Being more transparent and less secretive about this part of my identity has been critical in my own recovery. 

Whether it's NEDA week or not, there are many ways we can take action and push back against the patriarchal and capitalist systems that allow unrealistic beauty standards to reign supreme, and support those who are struggling with eating disorders. Here are a few #smallactsofresistance I'm taking, and you can too:

GET SCREENED, OR ENCOURAGE A FRIEND OR LOVED ONE TO

A reverence for thinness and an obsession with correcting our physical inadequacies is a part of our country’s food culture. I haven't met a woman who doesn't struggle with feeling okay about her body and her beauty and her size. All of this exists in a system that was created to suppress women, but in this day in age, even men, and especially people of color, those who identify as LGBTQ, and those with disabilities, feel pressure to adhere to unnatural body types. We live in a society that normalizes disordered eating and chronic dieting and encourages us to push ourselves, both physically and mentally, to a place of exhaustion. But we cannot change the system or impact politics while we're fixated on our bodies or food. We all deserve more support for our struggles with food and body image, and the first step is recognizing our own unhealthy behaviors or habits. 

Whether you have serious concerns or just an inkling about yourself or a loved one, the National Eating Disorders Screening Tool is a good place to start. This tool helps you assess your own behaviors and connects you to therapists, nutritionists and doctors who can help lead you on a path of recovery. Understanding your eating disorder and seeking help gives you a chance to take your life back and give yourself the self-love and nourishment you deserve. Recovery doesn't mean losing control, it means finally finding peace.

CALL YOUR SENATORS AND ASK THEM TO SUPPORT ED RESEARCH AND ACA MENTAL HEALTH COVERAGE

If you haven't saved your elected officials' contact information into your phone, now's the time to do so. Your elected officials work for you and want to hear from you. Contact your Senators today to encourage them to increase funding for eating disorders research in the military and to protect the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of mental health parity. By supporting the inclusion of eating disorders within the FY 2018 DOD Appropriations Bill, we can help find prevention strategies and a cure. By protecting the Affordable Care Act mental health parity, we can ensure that those afflicted, no matter their socio-economic background, race, or gender, have continuous and affordable health insurance coverage in order to receive the treatment they need to recover. 

Here are scripts and contact information to send an e-mail or make a phone call to your Senators' offices today and tell them why this is important to you.

There are many other bills at the federal level that aim to protect and serve those struggling with eating disorders. Learn more about those here.

TELL YOUR STORY

Eating disorders hide in plain sight, yet they have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Our society has literally normalized starvation, chronic dieting, and body shame, but we can’t change this part of our culture unless we’re courageous enough to speak up. The more we can talk about our personal experiences and the ways that our culture encourages disordered eating and allows female, fat, disabled, dark-skin, gender-nonconforming, trans, undocumented, poor bodies to be mocked, assaulted or told they don't fit into society's beauty standards, the more we can resist the patriarchal and capitalist systems that allow these standards to reign supreme. This is about awareness, advocacy and healing.

While this is my first time speaking up during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I can promise that it won't be my last. If you've struggled with body shame, disordered eating, or felt oppressed because of your shape, size, weight, color, or gender – speak up. Start a conversation with a friend or loved one. Share your story on social media. From experience, I know how hard it is to be transparent about your vulnerabilities and imperfections, but talking about it has played a huge role in my own recovery, and has helped me regain courage, confidence and power. We all have the right to tell the truth about our lives. We are all searching for connection and authenticity, and what we believe will repel people might actually do the exact opposite – it might even help someone who is struggling, too.

If you need a friend or an ear, drop me a line. I'd love to connect and hear your story.