(I wrote this about my struggles with disordered eating as low-income Black woman)
Food scarcity was defined in my house as constant food monitoring. The “why you keep going to the kitchen”, “didn’t you just eat”, “stop going to the kitchen”, “you eating up all the foods”, and the “stop eating this or that or stop eating so much you’ll gain weight”. Food was expensive and we didn’t have enough for you to eat up everything all at once. It was defined by the lack of food when you missed breakfast, dinner, or lunch, on different occasions because there was literally nothing to eat. Growing up Black and poor means that you probably also grew up with food scarcity.
Think about how Black womyn are taught to hate our bodies, too much ass, much too much flesh, too much evidence of life. Living with a Black mother who diets constantly, hates her body and who throws away perfectly good food because when she’s on diet, the whole family is on a diet. A mother who is now having a hysterectomy at the age of 42 because of fibroid tumors. Bonding with your mother over food becomes a thing but it consists of talking about how bad and shameful it is to eat food & indulge in it. Because indulging is territory of the rich, something the poor aren’t allowed.
Add to that the shame about spending money and eating in front of other people. And add to that constant, conflicting messages about what is “good” and what is “bad” for your body and how you might be destroying it by consuming what you like to eat, all that somehow falls under the guise of health and fat shaming. All of these things help to shape and maintain an unhealthy relationship to food.
And when you’re 23 and start graduate school which is an inherently racist, classist, anti-Black environment that makes you feel inadequate and depressed, you’re homeless, and alone surrounded by white people who don’t understand you, that unhealthy relationship with food will start to show itself. Right when you start to feel insecure about being queer, a Black woman, femme, bi, dark skinned, nappy haired, loud, ghetto, and poor that eating disorder will come out to say hi. It will be your way of coping.
Academia is such a labor intensive environment where you can feel “bad” about “indulging” yourself with food when you haven’t completed that assignment which is past due or maybe you’re just so busy that you feel you don’t have the time to eat. And if you’re like me, you starve yourself through headaches, constant fatigue, short attention span, emotional distress, etc. and sometimes the only thing you eat for the day is ice cream at dinner time. You ignore your hunger and the responses your body has to it, you forget what hunger, fullness, and satisfaction feel like. You think you don’t deserve to eat; the capitalist environment of grad school makes you feel shame from taking a break to feed yourself. The hate of your body is deeply ingrained & prevents you from nourishing your body, of seeing eating as an act of care. So, instead you deprive your body of food, which is often characterized in the media as an act of violation, of selfish indulgence, of disgust.
And being a Black woman means that you probably haven’t learned how to take care of yourself but you’ve definitely learned how to take care of others. Since, so often in the Black community, women serve through the comfort of food, you as a Black woman probably know more about what it means to feed others than what it means to feed yourself with food that makes you feel good.
It can be tough to find yourself within mainstream movements that focus on healthy eating, body positivity, and identifying and healing from eating disorders. Where is the visibility of Black womyn and girls suffering from disordered eating? The anti-blackness within the food activism movement is off putting, to say the least. The most obvious avoidance technique being not acknowledging the existence of food scarcity and food deserts in Black communities and what it takes emotionally, physically, and economically to get to and purchase healthy food. Painting food accessibility as “easy” is both anti-black, classist, and ableist. The refusal to acknowledge how expensive it is to eat well. & to eat enough. & the less obvious stuff about how Black women experience body hate: our bodies are inherently disgusting and ugly & if you’re fat, its even worse; shaming soul food, as “bad” food. or just shaming poor folks: what we eat, how we eat, and what we conceptualize as healthy eating and how we, as a Black community, navigate depression through food choices.
I don’t know where this ends. Sometimes I don’t even know where the right place is to begin. But I’ve learned some things that might help others in coping with disordered eating:
- find out if your school and/or a organization in your community offers free or low cost nutritional services, like a class or sessions with a nutritionist.
- get on food stamps, talk to your county office and find out what the application process is
- try cooking, it can make you enthusiastic about eating
- talk to people. It can be hard to share experiences like this, but try. Even if they can’t relate, folks will be happy to feed you, give you their Crockpot, send you their favorite recipes, etc.
- write out your feelings, it helps
- talk to a therapist
- remember: you deserve to eat, you are worthy. Say it over and over, write it down for others to see
- also remember: food is not bad. food is food. and if it helps, food is good, really good. give yourself permission to eat whatever you like and how much of it you want, at whatever time you please. food is your right. eating is your right.
- make food a self-care non-negotiable.
And probably most importantly, be good to yourself, be gentle, be compassionate.
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