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I have been passionate about doing advocacy work for quite some time. In addition to advocating against diet culture and fatphobia, I have also been involved with disability justice and mental health activism for most of my post-college career.
A while ago, I experienced some discrimination and exclusion due to the activism I had been involved in.
Specifically, I was told that my writings on disability justice and mental health activism made me unprofessional and that I needed to keep my viewpoints to myself in order to graduate school and be hired.
This led me to experience a great deal of self-doubt and question a lot of things I thought I knew. I started to question whether I was indeed unprofessional and naive for publishing some of my writings and engaging in disability justice activism. I wondered whether my viewpoints were wrong.
Related: Finding Your Voice through Activism
I started to put more and more pressure on myself to keep my head down and not speak out too much. I took down many of my writings and tried to stay mostly quiet.
This also led me to question what I thought I knew about diet culture and fatphobia.
What if my views on these issues were unprofessional and incorrect as well? Along with the pressure I put on myself to seem more “normal” and not stand out too much, I started to pressure myself to watch my weight and diet, which eventually spiralled into disordered eating behaviours.
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I eventually sought help for my eating disorder. In treatment, I was strongly encouraged to “listen to my body” and trust my body’s signals around hunger, fullness, and movement. My therapist and dieticians instructed me to respond to my body’s needs and preferences rather than to cultural messages around what constitutes “healthy eating” or “healthy body size.” This was greatly helpful to me in unlearning the notion of “good foods” and “bad foods,” and solidifying my commitment to anti-diet values.
Related: Talking About Your Eating Disorder
When I tried to talk about the role that ceasing to write or be engaged in activism had played in the development of my eating disorder, however, it was often dismissed and overlooked.
Many clinicians seemed to agree that engaging in this kind of public activism could be seen as unprofessional and would be unwise, especially for someone at the beginning of their career. I was encouraged to keep my head down and not “overshare” online about any of my experiences as a disabled person or a person receiving mental health treatment.
Some of my viewpoints, such as the need for more non-coercive alternatives to involuntary hospitalization, and the need to recognize the trauma that can sometimes result from the misuse of involuntary treatment, were outright dismissed and shut down.
I felt in many ways conflicted.
One the one hand, I was being told to listen to my body’s signals and trust the wisdom of my body. Yet my disability justice and mental health activism also came from the wisdom of my body. My viewpoints had been shaped by personal experiences of ableism as well as some negative experiences within the mental health system, which had an impact on my whole body–my thinking, my emotions, how I physically felt.
My viewpoints were also shaped by countless others who have shared similar stories and experiences navigating the world as individuals with disabilities/mental health diagnoses.
My need to speak out about these topics came from my entire body. Was I supposed to trust my body’s signals about food and movement only, but suppress my body’s deep need for speaking out about social justice topics that matter to me?
Ultimately, I realized that my body’s signal to speak out and be engaged with activism is just as important and valid as my body’s signals to eat and rest.
For practical reasons, I have accepted the need to be strategic with which viewpoints I share and the way in which I engage in activism, but this does not mean I must completely keep my head down or refrain from activism altogether.
I hope to see future approaches to treatment that acknowledge the body not only as a source of expertise on food and movement needs but also as a source of wisdom on emotional and psychological needs, including the need to speak out, be heard, and contribute to social change.
For me, writing this blog is as crucial a part of listening to my body as eating dinner later tonight.
I think expanding our definitions of what constitutes “listening to one’s body” can foster a greater appreciation for eating disorder recovery as a radical act of self-care and self-acceptance rather than merely meeting nutritional or weight restoration needs.
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