How eating disorders became a white women problem huffpost best apples

Eating disorders didn’t begin in the 1990s, but they reached a new level of prominence in that decade. Take one look at these famous-for-being-thin women ― not just kate moss, diana and fiona apple, but others like ” ally mcbeal” cast members calista flockhart, portia de rossi and courtney thorne-smith ― and you’ll notice that almost all of them weren’t only thin but also young, affluent and white. The most popular media of the day created and reinforced the narrative that eating disorders only affected women who looked like them. So did the most-cited research; studies seemed to prioritize this group while leaving out non-white women who suffered.

Emerging research linked girls’ body dissatisfaction and disordered eating to the expectations of body perfection flaunted in teen magazines, advertising and hollywood. What was less explicit was that this media centered on white women, and the research prioritized white girls.Eating disorders


in 1995, newsweek reported on a three-year study from the university of arizona that found nearly all of 14- to 17-year-old white girls (90 percent) were dissatisfied with their bodies and believed the dream frame was an unachievable 5 feet, 7 inches and 100 to 110 pounds, essentially a barbie doll. The bestselling book reviving ophelia attempted to explain girls’ troubles from a psychologist’s perspective, but the girl on the book’s cover was pale, blue-eyed and blond, suggesting she epitomized all sufferers. Magazine models were mostly wispy and white, bolstering the preposterous body requirement in glossy pages and in seedy back-of-the-book scams like the “special teen diet” and the “clinic-30 program,” which promised the secret to extreme weight loss for $12.95 (plus $3 shipping and handling).

Needless to say, this was incredibly misleading. Research in the early 2000s revealed that women of color did indeed suffer from eating disorders but were being disregarded in media representations and cultural conversations about them.Eating disorders anorexia, suggested by drastic thinness, wasn’t the only eating disorder out there. Bulimia and binge eating disorder existed then, too, as they do now. In fact, a study presented at the 2002 international conference on eating disorders found that latina girls were the group most likely to try to lose weight and to binge eat. In 2003, a study published in the american journal of psychiatry reported that black women were as likely as white women to binge eat and abuse laxatives. Experts stressed that black and latina women were not suddenly getting eating disorders in greater numbers but instead they’d likely had them all along but were ignored by the media coverage and undercounted by the research. It turned out that all women faced pressures to conform to media-concocted body ideals, and not just thin, white ones. A texas college student put it this way: “people say, ‘you’re latina, why don’t you look like jennifer lopez?’” she told reporter.Eating disorders “you have to have a small waist but big hips and butt.”

Recent research has not only disproved the old ways of thinking about eating disorders that hierarchize white women, it has also revealed that women of color suffer from eating disorders, and perhaps in greater numbers. Today we know that eating disorders affect girls and women in every demographic but that black teens may be most at risk. They are 50 percent more likely to practice bulimic behavior than white peers. One study found latinas exhibit bulimia more often than non-latinas.

The old depictions fuel the marginalization of people who suffer, and inhibit their diagnoses and recovery. People of color are also far less likely to get help for eating problems than white people, as they’re less likely to be identified as having them by their communities and medical professionals. The truth is that there is not one body, or race or skin color that telegraphs an eating disorder without question.White women and neither kate moss nor what we read, click and research should suggest that there is.