The World is Hard Enough for Fat People. Why is the National Eating Disorders Association Making it Harder?
Saturday evening, I was enjoying a night with friends, including a thin friend of mine who recently became interested in my weight stigma awareness work. At dinner, she pointed out instances of fat shaming she’d seen that week, unpromptedly questioned her language around the potentially dubious “it’s all over when the fat lady sings,” and discussed how she can bring the conversation of weight-based discrimination into her corporate workplace. I felt supported, heard, and, frankly, like someone gave a shit.
It was only a few hours later that I went on Instagram and was met with the National Eating Disorders Association’s statement on the mind-boggling treatment of childhood obesity guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. I sat there, feeling my face heat and my numbness set in. What did I expect? Not this. Not absolution. Not the weak and invalidating language referring to Fat kids as “some,” the harm as “potential.” We know how many Fat kids there are, and we know that Fat young people who have bariatric surgery are more at risk of suicide. With everything the field knows, in addition to the Fat community’s efforts to share our lived experiences, NEDA knew better, and they did it anyway.
Instead of addressing the fatphobic and unsubstantiated bunk of the AAP guidelines head-on, NEDA addressed a separate topic: the idea that BMI is BS (newsflash, we’ve been talking about that already). Despite the accuracy of that information, it wasn’t the time or place; instead, they should have addressed the egregious pharmaceutical and surgical treatment recommendations, including metabolic and bariatric surgery, for kids as young as 13 years old. As the “leading” eating disorders organization in the United States, it is NEDA’s responsibility to use their power, influence, and financial resources to support the eating disorder community -- not to undermine it.
NEDA has failed me and my community. As a Fat person with prolonged disordered eating, I can accept many things about the world. I know that I will be told I’m too loud, that my voice doesn’t matter, that I don’t deserve to live because of my Fat body. Every time I post on social media I prepare myself for backlash, for death threats, for random strangers expressing how disgusting my body is. I walk to my favorite coffee shop past stores I can’t buy clothes in. I leave my primary care doctor’s office having been prescribed a diet without being asked what my actual eating habits are. I am judged by a number. My stomach rolls. The seat I can’t fit in. A word: Fat. I can accept these things and that I will never fully escape them.
However, what I cannot accept is that those with influence have caused harm and refuse to acknowledge it. NEDA has strategically and without regret gone back on, and in fact contradicted, their 2019 statement which said in short, “NEDA is concerned about the position the AAP has taken.” NEDA’s actions this week show that it is inconsistent, untrustworthy, and unable to uphold their mission to “serve as a catalyst for prevention” of eating disorders.
As I sit in a coffee shop on a regular Wednesday afternoon, I can’t help but feel helpless. I do my best as an activist to help, but as a singular person I can only do so much. My community - the eating disorder community - is being forced to bear witness to this exceptional example of systemic violence and discrimination. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time, and I expect it won’t be the last.
I immediately expect people to misunderstand. Sure, maybe the AAP would have done what they wanted without NEDA’s blessing. But isn’t it enough that the National Eating Disorders Association gave its blessing to harm Fat kids in perpetuity?
Isn’t it enough that the National Eating Disorders Association didn’t condemn policies that will be used by thousands of pediatricians, that will lead to more eating disorders?
It’s hard enough being Fat in this discriminatory, often hate-filled world. NEDA and the AAP just made it harder.