ED Recovery in a System Not Designed by Fat, Queer, Transgender People

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SJ Thompson

This week, during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I have contemplated a lot about my eating disorder and recovery. I had the honor and pleasure of speaking to more than 450 people over three days and at three public Iowa universities. Many discussions about access to treatment and recovery from eating disorders occurred during this trip.  

Since beginning my recovery in the summer of 2016, I have found one of the biggest needs we have to increase awareness is equity and inclusion. Many people following the hashtags for eating disorder recovery do not see themselves reflected. The #NEDAwareness and #ComeAsYouAre hashtags are overwhelmed by thin, white, cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual women—many of them posting side by side comparison photos of before and after their recovery.

These photos end up alienating many people because before and after photos leave so much room for body comparison and give off a #thinspiration vibe. Not to mention how it feels for me to be a fat, queer, and trans nonbinary person who rarely sees someone else like them in the hashtags. 

Moving beyond Instagram hashtags, eating disorder treatment and recovery spaces are dominated by thin, white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied people. When we consider that 67% of American women alone are plus-size, size 14 or larger (some studies say 16/18 or larger), alongside how disproportionate the average size is among treatment providers and those who participate in recovery events, it is no wonder I feel as if my body does not belong. 

When I am constantly the largest person in the room or one of two larger bodied people at an event, I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. I consistently have to remind myself that I belong. I remind myself that I have every right to be an Eating Disorder Recovery Coach or be at a NEDA Walk. I know that NEDA is working to change the stereotypes of those with eating disorders and shift narratives. In the meantime, we still have so much work to do for people who have non-dominant systemic identities to feel comfortable in eating disorder recovery spaces.

Not feeling like I belong is not a new feeling for me when it comes to my size. I have been told that my body hasn’t belonged for as long as I can remember, including by my family. At the beginning of 2018, I started coming out as trans nonbinary. It seems as though my eating disorder recovery made it possible for me to have room to discover my gender identity which has truly been amazing. At the same time, I do not feel as if I belong fully in trans spaces either. Most people I see using the #nonbinary hashtag are all thin, many look stereotypically androgynous, and/or masculine.

The body I have seems to go against everything I used to believe about androgyny. I hopefully will never again attempt to reduce my body weight. I have a very round chest and hips. The only times I ever have been mistaken for a man were when I was in my eating disorder and at a much lower weight, or when I have shaved almost all of my hair off and someone can’t see my body. I constantly feel like I am not trans enough or androgynous enough for people, cis or trans, to think I “look” nonbinary. I constantly wonder if people would have so much trouble remembering my pronouns if I looked more masculine. I constantly wonder if I want to look more masculine to fit my body to transness so that others honor my gender identity or if I actually want to look more masculine.

While I am redefining what androgyny means to me, I still have the sense that I do not belong in the trans community because of how my size shapes my gender expression. As a fat, queer, trans non-binary person in recovery from an eating disorder, it is challenging to find community as a whole person. Acknowledging that I am white is important here. There is privilege I have in claiming my eating disorder, and claiming space in recovery, because our culture and social media still predominately holds this stereotype. So while I may not see people who have my body size, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, it is still easier for me to feel I belong in eating disorder spaces because I am white. This all has me contemplating what it means to “come as you are” when the system we are in is not designed by people like me or anyone else who is at the margins.

I will continue my recovery because freedom in my body is my top priority today. It does not mean that my recovery is without complications or contemplation. I will also continue to create community for those of us who do not feel like we belong in typical recovery settings.  

SJ Thompson is a radical and innovative speaker, writer, Certified Body Trust® Provider, eating disorder recovery coach, and consultant. SJ is a thought leader in the Health at Every Size®, Body Trust®, eating disorder treatment and recovery, body image, and LGBTQIA+ communities. They have been featured on popular podcasts, such as, Food Psych, Do No Harm, Love Food, Reclaim, and Fearless Rebelle Radio. SJ is a white, fat, queer, non-binary person who seeks to understand the connection between trauma, identity, and systemic oppression. Author of the popular blog, Resilient Fat Goddex, they have been quoted in the New York Times, Blood + Milk, and SELF. SJ is a Midwestern transplant currently living in Portland, Oregon who loves Grey’s Anatomy, bubble tea, and their friends’ animals.

Author image by Vivan McMaster