Proud2Bme | Trauma, Social Justice, and Eating Disorders

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Trauma, Social Justice, and Eating Disorders

By Kira Rakova--For those with an understanding of mental health, the connection between eating disorders and trauma is nothing new. In a society where individuals affected by disordered eating are often shamed for not being able to “just stop,” we must recognize the deeper causes of disordered eating.

When it comes to mental health issues and recovery, therapy, support, and giving a voice to those living with these issues are important. Most importantly perhaps, there must be a dialogue with the public not only prioritizing the prevention, treatment, and support for eating disorders, but sexual violence as well.

In my opinion, there are two key points that need to be recognized and explored in greater depth:

1. The link between trauma and mental health runs deeper than most recognize.

Speaking strictly about the trauma resulting from sexual or physical violence (including rape, intimate partner violence, child abuse, etc), it is not uncommon for this trauma to influence mental health. For example, survivors of rape are 6.2 times more likely to develop PTSD than women who had never experienced rape. And almost 50% of survivors of intimate partner violence develop depression. Many individuals (it is believed to be up to 30%) diagnosed with eating disorders have a history of sexual abuse.

At the same time, those who already live with psychological disorders are at greater risk for sexual violence. Certain studies state that women living with “severe mental illnesses” are significantly more likely to be victims of violent crime, including rape. In such cases, the cycle of mental health issues only intensifies; over half of the individuals living with psychological disorders who are survivors of sexual violence attempt suicide. Considering that survivors of gender-based (and in particular sexual violence) are at much greater risk to experience it again, the importance of recognizing the link between gender-based violence and mental health cannot be denied.

However, it is important to also recognize that this link to trauma is not only limited to gender-based violence. We must also recognize the link between the trauma caused by social injustices and mental health (including eating disorders). All forms of gender-based violence (including racism, (trans) misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of structural oppressions) have a very real impact on the lives of individuals.

Many groups and individuals have come to recognize that eating disorders in queer communities, communities of color, etc, are deeply linked to the trauma of being marginalized and discriminated against. Such an understanding of trauma and mental health helps reveal why, for example, trans individuals are at higher risk of developing an eating disorder.

2. Many individuals have difficulty making the connection between their trauma and their disordered eating.

Some are willing to identify themselves as having experienced sexual violence but not as having an eating disorder. On the flip side, many individuals who recognize that they have disordered eating have difficulty in recognizing that they have experienced trauma.

I believe this is important because it reveals a gap in the conversation. More often than not, the conversation about eating disorders is reduced to the influence of media. While the relationship of media and beauty standards to disordered eating is important to recognize, this reductionist view erases mental health. By reducing disordered eating to a conversation about beauty standards, we erase the role trauma and psychological disorders have in the cause and effect of eating disorders. Plus, when eating disorders are not recognized as mental health issues, it justifies the harmful perception of them being a choice.

On a large scale, recognizing the link between mental health, trauma, and disordered eating is important because it can help lead to healing. Furthermore, at its core it reminds us that societal structures and individual actions have direct and real impact on the mental health of individuals. Trauma, gender-based violence, and eating disorders are all social justice issues.

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

Proud2Bme was first launched in the Netherlands by Riverduinen, a mental health organization that has licensed the concept to the National Eating Disorders Association. Unless otherwise noted, all original content on this site is copyright The National Eating Disorders Association. The Proud2Bme brand, logos, and trademarks are property of Rivierduinen.