Proud2Bme | Dear KJ: How Can I Work for the Eating Disorders Recovery Cause?

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Dear KJ: How Can I Work for the Eating Disorders Recovery Cause?

"Dear KJ" is a weekly advice column by Dr. Kjerstin "KJ" Gruys, sociologist, author and body image activist.  She holds a PhD in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance and is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012). Her work and writing have been featured by Good Morning America, 20/20The Colbert Report, USA Today, People, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, NPR's "Tell Me More" and "On Air with Ryan Seacrest," among others. Find her at

Where did you go to school? What are good programs for someone like me who wants to study the sociology of mental health, specifically eating disorders and body image? I struggled with my ED for years but can now say that I've been in recovery for five years. I want to devote my life to the cause, but I don't know how.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was an undergraduate at Princeton University, where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a certificate (equivalent to a minor) in gender studies. For my senior thesis I designed a study that examined body image among sorority women. I LOVED the experience of conducting my own research, but I wasn’t sure about continuing on to graduate school. Instead, I wanted a “cool” job, so I applied for positions in the cosmetics and in the fashion industries.

I ended up working at Abercrombie & Fitch Corporate, and then at GAP Inc. I enjoyed many aspects of this first career, but I missed the sense of excitement and purpose I’d felt when conducting research on topics I felt so passionately about. I also felt conflicted about working in an industry known for promoting narrow beauty standards (there are definitely ways to work in fashion without doing this, but I didn’t know that at the time).

And so I applied to sociology PhD programs, focusing on departments that had a strong reputation in research on gender, culture and the body. I ended up at UCLA, where I was able to work with Dr. Abigail Saguy, who does cutting edge research on gender, culture, inequality and bodies (among many other things!). It was a perfect fit for me, with fabulous training and many opportunities to conduct the kind of research I’m passionate about. 

That said, a program that was perfect for me won’t necessarily be perfect for everyone. For example, you mentioned a specific interest in the sociology of mental health, which wasn’t my main focus, so I know less about programs with strengths in that particular area. However, the American Sociological Association lists a Section on Mental Health, which is a smaller organization made up of sociologists who share this interest. Their website lists more than a dozen sociology graduate programs that offer a mental health concentration, HERE.

As a sociologist, I’m naturally excited when someone expresses interest in my field, but I also want to make sure you know that there are MANY different ways to contribute to eating disorders prevention, treatment and recovery. I have friends and colleagues from all walks of life who have dedicated their careers to this cause, including: psychologists, therapists, physicians, activists, fiction writers, dieticians, nonprofit leaders, bloggers, politicians and, yes, even fashion designers! Whatever path you take, you will join a dedicated and diverse community. 

Have questions for Dr. KJ? Post them in the comments below!

More by Dr. KJ:

Dear KJ: How Can I Take Care of My Body Without Depriving Myself?

Dear KJ: How Can I Overcome Emotional Eating?

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