Intersectionality and eating disorders: Recognizing the impact on the LGBTQIA* community
by Sarah Wirth
Eating disorders, like all mental illnesses, are intersectional. They affect people of all ethnicities, ages, sexualities and gender identities. Despite this, the historically based idea that eating disorders predominantly affect affluent, white, heterosexual women persists today.
This sectional understanding of eating disorders is highly problematic. It results in the eating disorder experiences of people belonging to diverse and marginalized groups commonly being overlooked and silenced. This then contributes to the construction of eating disorder stigma within these marginalized communities and the eating disorder community itself. As a result, this stigma can inhibit a person’s acknowledgement of their eating disorder and access treatment.
People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual LGBTQIA* are at a high-risk of developing an eating disorder. This is supported by research from the National Eating Disorder Association (2018) which found that gay men represent approximately 5% of the population but account for around 42% of male eating disorder sufferers. Additionally, data included in the Eating Disorders Among LGBTQ Youth: A 2018 National Assessment Report, showed that 71% of transgender individuals have experienced an eating disorder (The Trevor Project, 2018).
The development of eating disorders within the LGBTQIA* population is commonly attributed to factors which are entwined with a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These factors include experiencing feelings of shame or confusion regarding one’s sexuality or gender identity, discrimination, bully, or a fear of being rejected by loved ones. Additionally, people who identify as LGBTQIA* may develop their eating disorder as an attempt to gain some control over their lives when their sexuality or gender identity feels out of control, or to change their gendered features to reconcile the discord they feel between their biological sex and gender identity.
These unique factors must be considered during the treatment of people who identify as LGBTQIA*, because such factors are likely bound up with the development and maintenance of their eating disorders. Consequently, treatment needs to not only focus on helping the person to accept their body outside of the eating disorder, but also address the challenges pertaining to their intersectional identity. For members of the LGBTQIA* community, this means addressing negative beliefs or concerns relating to their sexuality or gender identity.
We as a community must continue to reach out to marginalized populations and acknowledge the diversity of eating disorder experiences. Creating space and giving a voice to people belonging to marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQIA* community, is imperative. Some helpful ways to help breakdown this stigma and give space and a voice to LGBTQIA* people are as follows:
- Remember that everyone’s experiences with their LGBTQIA* identity is different and worthy
- When talking about the intersection of eating disorders and LGBTQIA* identities, always pass the microphone. Create space for these people to use their voice and tell their experiences
- Check any negative or preconceived beliefs you may hold towards people who identify as LGBTQIA* and consider how this may impact your interactions
These are some practical ways that people can start to disrupt the stigma surrounding intersectionality within eating disorders. This is imperative to ensuring that all people experiencing an eating disorder can receive the treatment and recovery they deserve.
National Eating Disorder Association 2018, Eating disorders in LGBTQ+ populations, viewed 26 May 2018, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/lgbtq
The Trevor Project 2018, Eating Disorders Among LGBTQ Youth: A 2018 National Assessment, viewed 26 May 2018, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/nedaw18/NEDA%20-Trevor%20Project%202018%20Survey%20-%20Full%20Results.pdf
Sarah is a member of the LGBTQIA* community and is a proud lived-experience advocate for eating disorder recovery. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia and graduated in 2017 from a Bachelor of Social Science. Sarah is passionate about mental health and eating disorders, gender equality and social justice. She hopes to combine these interests in her future endeavors as a writer, mentor and advocate for people experiencing these challenges. Sarah prioritizes her well-being and has learnt how important it is to know her limits and take breaks from work and study when she needs. Sarah also has a little pet bird who has had a very positive impact on her well-being. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Take part in World Eating Disorders Action Day
World Eating Disorders Action Day on June 2, 2018 is a grassroots movement designed for and by people affected by an eating disorder, their families, and the medical and health professionals who support them. Uniting activists across the globe, the aim is to expand global awareness of eating disorders as genetically linked, treatable illnesses that can affect anyone. The Third Annual #WorldEatingDisordersDay will take place on June 2, 2018 with a focus on breaking stigma about Eating Disorders. #WeDoAct2BreakStigma.
Join the virtual campaign on social media and host a local event to share information and advocate for policy change to ensure access to evidence based treatment for all affected.