Producers of My 600 Pound Life Now Casting Docuseries about the “#Underweight”

One of the first instagram accounts to follow me when I changed my profile to public was a casting agent for Megalomedia. I had no idea she worked on the show “My 600 Pound Life”. And this is how I found out:
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I don’t have the words to describe how furious this makes me. These are the last people that should be producing a series on this topic. My 600 Pound Life is already a reality show that mocks and shames people with eating disorders for profit.

Additionally, I am not opposed to documentaries about Anorexia on principle. But I find it equally appalling that these producers only seem interested in casting people with “severe Anorexia.” At the very least, be inclusive! Anorexia Nervosa (diagnosed in people with an “underweight BMI”) is the rarest eating disorder. It’s serious, it’s fatal, and this is generally understood by the public. Yet people are far less educated at about Binge Eating Disorder,  Purging Disorder, Atypical Anorexia, ARFID/Selective Eating, PICA, and, yes, Bulimia Nervosa. Purging Bulimia is often discussed, in relation to Anorexia Nervosa. But both Non-Purging Bulimia and Diabulimia are rarely given the same attention. Low weight Anorexia still remains the primary focus of media that depicts eating disorders with any degree of sensitivity. Even the medical community has neglected to recognize the prevalence and health risks of other eating disorders- especially when those impacted appear “healthy”, “normal sized”, or “overweight/obese.” Binge Eating Disorder did not become it’s own distinct diagnosis until 2013, and it’s still common to encounter people who have never heard of EDNOS/OSFED or ARFID/Selective Eating Disorder. I have personally struggled with Bulimia for many years. But I have had doctors ignore what I tell them and mark down “Binge Eating Disorder” or “Obesity” as my diagnosis.

(Note: “Atypical” Anorexia, a type of EDNOS/OSFED is diagnosed in people of all sizes.  It is actually far more common than Anorexia Nervosa, but less likely to be diagnosed and treated. I have no problem using “Anorexia” to refer to people of all sizes…But I find when people outside of the Health at Every Size/Fat Liberation community say  “Anorexia”,  they  typically mean Anorexia Nervosa exclusively. And until that changes, I will try to differentiate between the two equally serious disorders.)
In her image descriptions, and comment section, Liz Alderman includes information that contradicts the casting call:

 

While the images mention only “Anorexia”,  one of the descriptions states people with Bulimia may also be considered. But this same description is also quick to emphasize that the docuseries is specifically focused on people who are “#underweight”. 

This my understanding: As a casting agent, Liz Alderman is  friendly and personable to everyone. Its her job. But if you want to be cast in a docuseries , you need to have the type of body viewers will gawk at. Either a larger body (in the case of my 600 Pound Life), or an underweight body. And if you want your eating disorder to be treated with any degree of sensitivity- you better be in the second category. 

I do not fault the people who respond to these castings calls. Eating disorder treatment is costly and inaccessible. We do not have universal healthcare in the United States. Even middle class families with health insurance bankrupt themselves, as insurance companies may refuse to pay for mental health treatment. If you’re low income, homeless, undocumented, transgender, disabled, or belong to any other number of marginalized groups- finding treatment is even more difficult. And marginlized folks who manage to get help, often find the programs were designed for cis-gendered, middle class, able bodied white girls and women at low body weights. I understand taking any possible avenue to receive help. And yet, this show, only seems interested in “helping” people if they are thin.

Instead, I would recommend checking out the National Eating Disorder Association’s page for Free and Low Cost Support,  and/or the Scholarship and Free Treatment Options from the Eating Recovery Center. Intuitive Eating Coach and Anti-Diet Registered Dietitian Christy Harrison has numerous free resources available, hosts a weekly podcast, and offers intuitive eating courses that are not free- but inexpensive compared to more “traditional” treatment options.

And I hate to say it, but if you’re able to vote, please vote for local and federal candidates that support universal healthcare in upcoming elections!

Additionally, if you have anything you would like to say to the producers and casting directors of this upcoming docuseries:

Stock Photo by Knelstrom ltd from Pexels.com

Titanium Zine: Issues 1, 3, 4!

Titanium is a new zine that aims to center the voices of people with eating disorders- primarily marginalized folks and those who face barriers to treatment. “Titanium” is a metaphor for resilience.

Contact and submissions: TitaniumZine@yahoo.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/titaniumzine/

Issue 1:

This is our first ever installment of Titanium Zine! In this issue:

1) “Ode to My Body”
2) “12 Things Everyone Should Know About Eating Disorders.”
3) KP’s recovery playlist.
4) In the Q&A, folks share: Accomplishments they are most proud of in life and their recovery, and how their racial or ethnic identity may have impacted access to treatment.

Free Digital Edition: https://www.dropbox.com/s/7pe7j1sypyhk3wr/Titanium%201.pdf?dl=0

 

 

Issue 3:

In the third issue of Titanium Zine, contributors discuss barriers to eating disorder treatment pertaining to disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Transgender and nonbinary folks, with and without eating disorders, discuss their experiences with inpatient mental health treatment.

 

Free Digital Edition: https://www.dropbox.com/s/y2zoy3uogivpq25/titanium%203%20accesibility.odt?dl=0

recoverymantra

Issue 4:

In this issue folks talks about: body image issues pertaining to transgender identity, their most positive experiences in eating disorder treatment, things we wish more people knew about EDs, and more.

 

Free Digital Edition: https://www.dropbox.com/s/o72a7mbwzxqb9ic/titanium%204.pdf?dl=0

My Side “Projects”

An Eating Disorder is a Disease, Not a Choice is a facebook page I started my senior year of high school, the first time I got formal eating disorder treatment. And to this day, pretty much all I do with it is share other people’s content that’s pertinent to eating disorder recovery , treatment, prevention, and education. I have been wanting to change the name of this page to, “An Eating Disorder Is a Mental Illness” or a “An Eating Disorder is a Medical Condition, not a Choice”- or something to that effect.  But Facebook has denied my requests to change the name.

Body Posi Unlimited is a page I made about a year ago, again, mostly for sharing other folk’s content pertaining to eating disorders, fat positivity and fat liberation, social justice issues, etc. The major difference is I share more public instagram posts containing photos of folks in larger bodies. In retrospect, I should have named this page differently as well, and used terms like  “fat” instead of “body” and/or “liberation”, as opposed to “posi.”

Furby of the Day is where I share photos of other people’s customized, often oddbody, furbies, and furby related art and products. I do have a fuby collection myself, and they do make appearances from time to time.

Admining these pages entails only sharing worthwhile content that shows up on my facebook or instagram feed .  I would barely consider these projects. But since they involve little labor on my part, I “work on” these pages daily, and this blog gets neglected because it can take an entire day or two to write one post. Most likely due to my executive dysfunction. I hope I can finish more posts, queue them, and publish them on a regular schedule.

ARFID in the News

This is slightly old news. But there has been a story circulating about a teenage boy who lost his vision as a result of a restrictive diet. News outlets wrote hadlines like, “British Boy Goes Blind After Eating Only French Fries.” When I heard this on the news on my break at work, I instantly thought, this boy most have ARFID! And researching online, it turns out I was right. ARFID stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. It’s also been called Selective Eating. In early childhood, it may be referred to as failure to thrive. It’s a lesser known eating disorder, but as demonstrated in this example, has significant health risks.  There are many articles about this young man that do mention ARFID, but you probably can’t count on your evening news to include it.

This CNN article makes a lot of excellent points. One researcher acknowledges that since this person had a “healhty” weight and BMI- doctors never suspected diet was the cause of the vision and hearing loss. Yet the article  never actually mentions ARFID or eating disorders. CNN also quotes an expert that views this as an “extreme example” and implies that discussing it at length is alarmist. Yes, I realize, blindness isn’t a common result of ARFID/selective eating. But this is still a serious eating disorder that folks should be informed of.

I shouldn’t be surprised. The media had been covering Anorexia and Bulimia since the 80s- and they still can’t do that right most of the time.The main reason the media coverage of this bothers me, is that a lot of people’s knee jerk reaction to the story is to view it as the moral decay of our society, “fast food nations”,  and attribute it to stupidity, laziness, western decadence…etc. If the person in the story was fat (he is not) people would be fat shaming him. Public comment sections are always a cesspool. But it isn’t always trolls. There are plenty of “normal people” who sound of about articles about ARFID or products made to accommodate people with ARFID or Autism…like plate dividers that keep food from touching. People harp on and on about “back in my day we ate what was on our plate or we starved!” And the problem is, yes! Many people with ARFID WILL restrict to the point of serious medical issues. Because they have a serious medical condition that requires medical intervention! People with ARFID are often mistaken for people with Anorexia Nervosa. And while there is still a lot of judgment put on people with any ED for “choosing” to starve, binge eat, or use compensatory behaviors, since disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder have been in the public consciousness for far longer, they don’t seem to get the same criticism as ARFID. 

And yes, poverty and food insecurity is a problem. But that doesn’t make ARFID less of a problem. And people form all socioeconomic backgrounds experience eating disorders. In some case, poverty and food insecurity causes or exacerbates eating disorders.  (I have been working on my review of  Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat by Stephanie Covington-Armstrong, which discusses this at length.) There is still a prevailing belief that people in wealthier countries get eating disorders because they have it “too good”, compared to those in developing nations. Poverty in the western certainly looks different in the west than in poorer countries. Illnesses like Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease have been called “disease of affluence” by people who fail to acknowledge that they are more common among in those living at or below the poverty line. And independent of a person’s weight or other health conditions, these people may struggle with eating disorders.

On this blog, I am open about my 12 year on and off struggle with Bulimia. Last year in treatment, I met someone with ARFID. In learning about his ED, I gained a little more insight into my own sensory issues I experience being on the autism spectrum. I struggle with urges to intentionally restrict my food intake as a coping mechanism. In the past, I struggled with restricting food intake as a means of controlling my weight. I have realized nowI also struggle with meal plan compliance, not just due to the “rush” that comes from restricting, but because my sensitivity to certain textures has created aversions to certain foods. While it’s still a problem in the “real world”- especially when food is prepared by others- it was extremely difficult in treatment, because food options in a general psych hospital are limited. ED programs encourage eating a variety, but if they don’t operate independently, they are limited by what the hospital makes available. 100% completion is the rule in treatment, and for good reason. But there were days when all of the main entrees were a sensory trigger, and on one occasion, I almost vomited at the table. I don’t believe myself to have ARFID. While sensory issues can exacerbate my disorder, I don’t believe my aversion to textures has been a cause of nutritional deficiencies, which typically occur when I’m in an active bulimia relapse. But it’s certainly something to be mindful of as I try to follow my meal plan and make a gradual shift towards intuitive eating.

Many folks with ARFID are also on the autism spectrum and/or have ADD/ADHD.

Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk!

(NEDA’s page about ARFID.)

America the Beautiful (2007)

I used to organize National Eating Disorder Awareness week on my college campus. At the time, this documentary was streaming on Netflix. For copyright reasons, this was one of the few films my school would allow me to screen. I recently found it on YouTube and watched it for the first time maybe four or five years.

America the Beautiful (2007) is the directorial debut of Darryl Roberts, and the first in his series of films about western beauty standards, specifically in the United States. To date, this is the only film in the trilogy I have seen.

America the Beautiful was written and directed by a black man. The film largely follows Gerren Taylor, a black girl who started her modeling career at the age of 12. The film took five years to make, and therefore spans her career. She is successful in the beginning, but her career ultimately ends when her maturing body no longer conforms to the rigid standards of the runway. Throughout the film, we see the challenges Gerren faces both on the runway and in her daily life, as a result of her career.

When the modeling industry is explored and critiqued, the models featured are usually white girls and women. America the Beautiful is the first time I’ve seen any piece of media focus so intensely on a person of color’s experiences in the industry.

The film also discusses eating disorders, advertising, and the poor regulation of both the cosmetics industry and the plastic surgery industry. Since the film was released 12 years ago, and took five years to make,  I don’t know what changes have occurred in these industries since then. The film goes into great detail about how many plastic surgeons at the time  were not qualified to preform the procedures they advertise, therefore putting their patient’s lives at risk. Footage of a teenaged girl who died while under general anesthesia is included in this segment.

America the Beautiful includes conversations with therapists, plastic surgeons, models, high school students, parents, educators, journalists, fashion designers, Paris Hilton, Martin Short, Jessica Simpson, Eve Ensler (the author of the Vagina Monologues and The Good Body), a woman who works for the National Eating Disorder Association, and the parents of a young woman who died from her eating disorder.

Andrea, the daughter of Tom and Doris, died of an electrolyte balance caused by Bulimia.  Doris notes how “one extreme binge-purge cycle” can be enough to kill a person with an eating disorder.  She talks about how Andrea’s death certificate doesn’t list Bulimia as her cause of death:

“The coroner said, it’s just a mental condition. You cannot die of mental illness. So I begged him. I said, please if nothing else, I want my daughter to be a statistic…I know, statistics, numbers, that’s what determines what gets funded for research. And for prevention. My daughter needed to be one of those numbers. She needed to count. He refused. On our daughter’s death certificate, it doesn’t say she died of bulimia…it says unknown causes. Every parent we have talked to who has lost a child to bulimia, we have asked them, is bulimia listed on your child’s death certificate? We are yet to find a parent who says yes.”

Eating Disorders and opioid addiction have the highest mortality of all mental illnesses.  I don’t know what, if anything has changed, since Andrea’s death, or the release of this film. I don’t know how much or how little autopsy reports differ from coroner to coroner. But this film raises questionnaires about the accuracy of eating disorder mortality statistics. And to this day, eating disorder research and treatment remains grossly underfunded in the United States

During the segment featuring Tom and Doris,  there were some editing choices I didn’t care for. Specifically, this occurs as Doris talks about how she didn’t realize speaking negatively about her body in front of her children had a negative impact on Andrea. The film cuts back and forth between Tom and Doris, and a conversion between Gerren and her mother. Gerren’s mother talks about why she doesn’t like the shape of her stomach. Gerren asks her why, and repeatedly tells her that she like’s her mother’s body. This exchange was important, and relevant to the discussion taking place, but I wish Roberts would made the scenes about Gerren and her mother, and Andrea’s parents sequential instead of cutting and splicing them together.

The film has far greater flaws, which is to be expected given it’s age. When Roberts’ voice-over begins to discuss eating disorders, immediately footage of white, emaciated girls and women flood the screen. Their bodies are shown, but their faces are hidden. There’s also a scene in which a high school student talks about losing a close friend to Anorexia, and she discloses her friend’s lowest weight.

Roberts includes footage of an unstable, racist man, going off on camera about how he feels black women are not conventionally attractive. Roberts had brought this man and a black woman together with the intent of filming a makeover.  But the woman, who I don’t believe is named, left before Roberts could start filming, as the man had already made bigoted remarks. At the end of the film, a segment briefly shows what the people featured went on to do afterward. When they mention this man, the text merely states, “we found out he’s bipolar.” While this may be true, this statement more or less conflated his racist statements and behavior with his mental illness.

At times the movie gives a platform to male chauvinists. Since “America the Beautiful” is about cisgendered women, and rigid body standards, Roberts interviews men, primarily straight white men, who objectify women and share their shallow preferences with the audience. Roberts himself admits in the film’s opening, he once shared these views. Roberts explains that he missed out on a relationship with potential, because he hoped he would meet someone more conventionally attractive.

The film discusses the ways in which Gehren is sexualized at a young age, due to her career. Roberts critiques this, but frames it in a rather creepy way when she’s first introduced to viewers. Roberts shows footage of her in revealing bathing suits and clothes, before revealing her age, as if to tease the audience before yanking back the curtain and shocking them.

I sincerely admire the film for it’s ambition, and believe it was progressive at the time of it’s release.

NEDA and White Fragility

Your perception of eating disorders has been shaped by white supremacy, colonization, capitalism, fat stigma, and more.

The National Eating Disorder Association posted this imagine on July 23rd, 2019 on their facebook page. The quote come from a social media account I cannot locate (@fyeahmbello). The image was created by Alyse Ruriani. NEDA removed this post the following day. Prior to its’ removal, I had a chance to skim the comment section. It was disheartening.

People expressed anger or confusion because NEDA “got political” or forwarded a “SJW” agenda. Those that use the term “SJW”P social justice warrior) are people that at best, dismiss issues of inequality and injustice, and at worst, have “alt right”, white supremacist, ableist, misogynist, transphobic, homophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic, and often fatphobic. views. If someone considers social justice a bad thing, I don’t imagine they have much to contribute to the eating disorder recovery community.

Those with more moderate beliefs, who don’t want politics to be a part of the recovery community, need to understand that eating disorders ARE a political issue. They are a social justice issue. Healthcare is both a social justice and political justice issue.  NEDA is an organization devoted to eating disorder education and prevention, as well as making treatment more accessible.  If NEDA is putting out information that conflicts with your political views, maybe its your views are the problem.

There were folks who said discussing racism and other “isms”, divides the community. They say that since we are all trying to overcome the same problem (eating disorders), we should focus on that instead of social issues they feel are unrelated.  These people are almost exclusively white and cisgendered. People who think of these issues a unrelated or periphery are not marginalized, or at least not in the ways the people speaking up for themselves are. So it’s easy for them to dismiss discrimination and social inequalities, because they aren’t personally affected by them (Think of the people who say, “I don’t see color.” Usually, these aren’t people who face racial discrimination.)

Others refuted the image’s claims, because the message didn’t reflect their own personal experiences. For some reason, a significant number of people missed the words “perception”, and believed this image was referring to the cause of eating disorders specifically. These people insisted that the factors listed (white supremacy, colonization, capitalism, weight stigma, etc.) don’t pertain to eating disorders, because their eating disorders were a result of trauma they experienced. Setting aside what the post was actually referring to- how eating disorders are perceived and presented in media- all of these factors can be sources of trauma for those who experience them. Imagine experiencing the trauma of homelessness, hunger, and/or discrimination, in addition to physical or sexual trauma.

I am white, and I am a mid fat. (Meaning I am fat, it’s difficult to find clothes that fit me, my doctors dismiss my health concerns as a result of my weight, but I don’t face the same barriers people in bodies larger than mine do).  I was raised in a middle class family, and have a comfortable lifestyle, despite living paycheck to paycheck in piles of debt.  I don’t know how it feels to be a larger fat or a person of color. I don’t know what it’s like to be homeless, or on the verge of homelessness, or face food insecurity. But there are plenty of people who have spoken out on how these experiences contributed to their eating disorders, and/or made accessing treatment difficult or impossible.

Check out Gloria Lucas’ episode of the Food Psych Podcast.

Read Stephanie Covington-Armstrong’s book, “Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat”. A significant part of the story pertains to how poverty and food insecurity led to the author’s Bulimia. She also talks about how no one suspected her eating disorder, because she was a black woman. Members of her family shamed her for seeking professional help, due to cultural taboos about mental health treatment.

NEDA took down the post because they were unsure how to deal with the hateful comments. And my knee jerk reaction was to flood all of their social media handles, possibly send emails, and make phone calls, to call them cowards. I didn’t do this. Mostly because of Chevese Underhill Turner.

Turner founded the Binge Eating Disorder Association, which recently merged with NEDA. She is currently NEDA’s Chief Policy and Strategy Officer. On her own facebook, she shared her frustration and disappointment with how NEDA handled this incident.  She said that change takes time. At BEDA, she had plenty of experience dealing with this type of blacklash, but many of the people at NEDA don’t know how to handle it yet.

Many of the comments on NEDA’s post were not intended as hate speech or bigotry. Several people read a statement that didn’t pertain to their own experiences or beliefs, and so they responded with confusion, disbelief, and at times, anger and cruelty. We are all at a different place when it comes to understanding the dynamics of privilege- but simply stating that race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, etc. plays a role in how society views eating disorders- or even impacts how people develop eating disorders- should not be such a controversial statement. And while people, primarily white, middle class, ablebodied folks, need education on these topics, marginalized people should not have to hold their hands and spoon feed them these concepts. Especially since these people are quick to lash out, directly or indirectly, at marginalized people when faced with ideas they don’t understand. But I also understand as a person with privilege, I am responsible for educating other people.

I remember when a Facebook page called Beating Eating Disorders posted an image that simply stayed, “Black Mental Health Matters.” The responses to this post were far angrier and defensive than the ones I saw on NEDA’s more recent post. Many people, primarily white folks, took this to mean that their mental health didn’t matter. The comments were full of people saying they were going to unfollow the page. Frankly, I think we are better off without them. But I know discussions need to happen. Gaps need to be bridged.

I know I still have a lot of privilege that I will never fully unpack. But I just can’t imagine getting angry when my race isn’t the primary focus for 5 seconds.

We are all on eating disorder pages or social media accounts because we are recovering from the same mental illnesses, or supporting someone who is. But when people refuse to look beyond their own experiences and point of view, they reinforce the barriers to treatment, support, and community so many of us are trying to take remove. These online spaces may be even more important to people in larger bodies, POC, LGBTQIAAP, and especially people in poverty, because formalized treatment is far more difficult to access. And yet these spaces, when unmoderated, can become cesspools of hate and bigotry at worst, and a series of microagressions at best.

Call for Submissions: Eating Disorder Zine

I am working on a series of currently untitled zines, the first of which, I will be distributing at an eating disorder fundraiser in September. The zines are meant to center writing: poetry or prose, visual art, and other pieces from people who self identify as fat, LGBTQIAAP folks (especially those who are transgender and/or non-binary), people of color, people who struggle with “lesser known” eating disorder diagnoses (like Binge Eating Disorder/Bulimia:Non-Purging Type/OSFED/EDNOS/Atypical Anorexia/Purging Disorder/ARFID/Selective Eating/PICA, etc) as well disabled folks. people with chronic illnesses, and people who belong to marginalized religions. But anyone effected by an eating disorder is welcome to submit. The focus of these pieces should be experiences with eating disorders/disordered eating/chronic dieting/body image/weight stigma, etc. There is also room for pieces regarding general mental health. But frankly, I don’t mind if you send me Steven Universe fan art. I will consider all submissions, as long as they do not glamorize or romanticize eating disorders behaviors or self-harm.

I plan to make a digital version and paper version. The digital version will made available for free online, and will be shared on this blog.

Please send any submissions to: TitaniumZine@Yahoo.com

Please do not include any numbers (calories/clothing size/BMI/weight/measurements) or “before and after” photos in your submissions. Please consider reading NEDA’s Guidelines for Sharing Your Story Responsibly.

Please let me know if you’d like to be credited by your real name, a pen name, or remain anonymous.

Any submissions to be considered for September’s issue(s) must reach my inbox no later than than August 25th.

Submissions will remain open for future issues. More issues will be published and distributed in February 2020 for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

I would also greatly appreciate if you could complete one or both of the following surveys. Your responses can be as long or short as you want. You can can leave blank any question that doesn’t apply, or that you don’t want to answer.