Eating Disorders are not just a ‘white girl disease’.

It’s taken me a while to weigh in on everything that has gone on in the last few weeks. The knowledge that I pretty much tick every box regarding privilege was a little disempowering. White privilege, thin privilege, pretty privilege, straight/cis privilege. Given that I also possess zero influence, I felt as though I had no right to contribute to the conversation. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing or seeming ignorant. I’ve sat back and watched everything play out, sought out relevant resources and done my best to listen without judgement. Ultimately, I’ve decided to speak out about the discrimination that has an impact within my own community.

Now, one might assume that exclusion within the ED realm isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sufferers tend to form a love-hate relationship with their illness. Where’s the harm in not being ‘part of the club’? Well, given that EDs can potentially result in death, lack of treatment options for persons of colour is another proverbial nail in the coffin. I have heard this affliction referred to as a ‘white girl disease’ by laypersons and supposed professionals alike. NEDA has a handy infographic regarding this and the statistics are staggering. Clinicians are some of the worst offenders in this regard. Despite being presented with identical case studies demonstrating disordered eating symptoms in white, Black and Hispanic women, only 17% of them identified the Black subjects as having problematic eating patterns. 44% of them determined that the SAME behaviour in white women was disordered.

This misconception is pervasive across media representations of EDs. Apart from BINGE: The Series, To The Bone, The Road Within and the short-lived TV series STARVED, dramatized accounts lack the representation of other ethnicities struggling with this illness. Having personally read multiple first hand accounts in the form of memoirs, even I’ve noticed this gaping hole in diversity. I’ve read one book authored by a black woman and haven’t come across another. In 2006, I vividly remember a black YouTuber describing her extreme eating behaviour. She went on to assert that her doctor told her she couldn’t have an eating disorder because she wasn’t white. How many persons of colour are cast aside in this manner? This is another form of prejudice they have to contend with in a world of bigotry.

The articles I have included links for only support this long-held belief. An enduring theme within these articles indictates a misinterpretation of the ‘strong black woman’ stereotype. The overall perception of this by professionals lends credence to the concept that people of colour aren’t susceptible to developing EDs. Compounded with a mistrust for medical professionals and in some circumstances, lack of resources, it’s not surprising that the statistics have been skewed. What is less helpful is the undeniable fact that ED research has centred on white women. The abscence of such objectiveness only fuels my desire to encourage a paradigm shift. We cannot allow the whitewashing of this illness to continue.

We owe it to the Black community to change our attitudes.

NEDA Infographic:


Anorexia and Bulimia are Black Women’s Diseases, Too – Erica Hawkins

Why Black Women are Silently Struggling with Eating Disorders – Brooklyn White

What Black Women Need to Know About Eating Disorders – Carolyn C. Ross M.D., M.P.H.

When Black Girls Don’t Eat: Examining the Silence Surrounding Our Eating Disorders – Kinsey Clarke

Racism and Eating Disorder Diagnosis and Treatment – Ginny Jones

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