In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016 (Feb. 21-27), we asked body acceptance activist and eating disorder recovery advocate, Melissa Fabello to share her thoughts on some essential eating disorder awareness topics. If you missed it, you can find her thoughts on self-care, perfectionism and dieting in Part I.
Below, in part II she opens the door to important conversations about body neutrality and intersectionality, and she also shares the one thing she wants people struggling with eating disorders to know about recovery.
Q & A with MELISSA FABELLO: Part II
Q: You recently wrote an awesome list of 50 body acceptance resolutions for 2016. In that list you introduce body neutrality as an alternative goal when body positivity feels like too much pressure. What did you mean by that?
MF: There are so many aims of the body acceptance or body positivity movement that I love. I have found so much comfort, joy, and support within those communities, and I am forever grateful to them for that. I’ve also found some missteps that I think need correcting, one of which being the push for everyone to feel beautiful and to love their bodies. I think that’s a lovely goal, and I also think it’s too lofty for reality.
Because the truth is that no one loves their body every single day – no one. Part of how body image works is that it can shift and that we all have good days, and we all have bad days. Mostly, when we have healthy body image, we simply see our body for what it is without ascribing any meaning to it whatsoever, and we exist, full of acceptance, in that body. To me, that’s what body neutrality is about. It’s about acknowledging and accepting our body as is, rather than pushing ourselves to have extreme feelings about it either way.
And I like to think of it as an option – not an alternative to the mainstream body acceptance movement. I like to think of it as something that someone can choose to work toward, if that goal feels more realistic than one of unconditional love. Perhaps, even, I like to think of it as a stop on the train toward a more loving relationship with our bodies. I just think that pushing people to love their bodies can backfire if it creates another standard to live up to.
Q: In all of your writing and in advocating for individuals with eating disorders, you take great care to acknowledge the true diversity of those who are impacted. From gender to age to race and socioeconomic status, why is it so important to you to highlight these marginalized voices in your work?
MF: Intersectionality – the understanding that intersecting social identities exist, a term that was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw – is an absolute must in any and all work, I believe, but especially in work that stems from feminism. The ways in which we’re impacted by society differ, based on our identities. As a queer woman, for example, I experience life differently than a straight woman or a queer man. As a white woman, I experience life differently than a woman of color or a white man. Our positionality within the complicated web of identity matters because it affects how we move through this world. This is true in regards to body image and eating disorders, too.
We talk a lot about the thin ideal in our work – and that’s a very real, valid concern. We talk less, though, about how our beauty ideals are also centered on whiteness, on a heteronormative idea of gender roles, on access to money, on youth, and many other intersections. The further that we get away from the ideal, the more suffering we may experience as a result, and the more pressure we may feel to approximate those ideals. And I think that when we center the most marginalized – the people furthest from that ideal – in our work, then we help more people. When our work focuses on white, middle class, cis women, for example, then those are the only people that we help.
The eating disorder field has long focused its efforts on a very specific population, and I think it’s far past time to admit that and to work actively to eradicate the ways that that focus perpetuates systems of oppression like white supremacy and classism, among others. Different voices need to be centered because different experiences exist and have been ignored.
Q: Who do you think could benefit from attending your presentation, Adventures in Self-Care: Everyday strategies for nurturing an imperfect recovery in the real world?
MF: I think that anyone could, honestly! It’s been my experience that conversations around self-care can be difficult to have because so few people practice it. I’m going to talk a lot about what self-care means and why it’s important, but I’m also going to give ideas on how to start cultivating more self-care practices in your life – in ways that are easy and practical. I think that anyone who feels like sometimes life is overwhelming and they need some “me” time could benefit from this conversation – and isn’t that everyone?
Q: Lastly, what is the one thing you would want to tell someone who is struggling with an eating disorder and may be feeling ambivalent, hopeless, overwhelmed by or resistant to the prospect of recovery?
MF: I want them to know that those are very real and valid feelings to have. I want them to know that we’ve all come up against that at some point or another. And I want them to know that one of the biggest obstacles to recovery is believing that it’s one huge accomplishment that looks a certain way. It’s not. Recovery is about a whole bunch of tiny successes that lead you to a healthier, happier place – defined by you. Recovery is in your reach because you get to decide what it looks like and how to get there. But first, you need to take the first step of believing (even skeptically!) that it’s a possibility. And it is. I promise you that it is.
Many thanks to Melissa Fabello for taking the time to share her passionate and thoughtful responses. If you’d like to hear more from Melissa, join us in Baltimore on February 21 to help kick-off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Don’t forget to RSVP. Space is limited.
Download an Event Flyer to share or post:
Adventures in Self-Care…Everyday strategies for nurturing an imperfect recovery in the real world (PDF)
You can find Part I of our Q&A with Melissa here.