“Dear Eating Disorders community. It’s hard to feel like you belong in a world that so often criticises, stigmatises and dehumanises you solely because you live in a fat body. Harder still, it’s difficult if you have a lived experience of an eating disorder and you live in a fat body, because there is seemingly no room for you in this narrative.” – Nicole McDermid
I recently attended the Australia & New Zealand Academy of Eating Disorders (ANZAED) conference in Melbourne. I arrived a day late and was greeted by a buzz of excitement, energy and connection. It appeared that I had missed a profound moment in the history of Eating Disorders treatment in this country.
The previous day’s plenary, ‘Weight Stigma & Eating Disorders’, presented by Sarah Harry, Scott Griffiths and Nicole McDermid, had rocked the conference to its core.
Social Worker, Counsellor and Eating Disorders Coach Nicole McDermid, has shared that after finishing her speech, she looked up to a tear-ridden standing ovation of over 450 Eating Disorders practitioners.
It was a game-changing speech for an Eating Disorders community who still has fatphobia embedded in its core.
Watch Nicole McDermid’s speech ‘An Open Letter to the Eating Disorders Community’.
Here are some of the highlights of Nicole’s speech:
Eating disorder treatment spaces are not always safe for all bodies
Nicole says, “Weight stigma shows up in places that we don’t believe it should and the eating disorder community is no exception.
The terrifying reality is that fat people are continuously harmed in this space. Despite our best intentions, eating disorder treatment spaces are not always safe spaces for all people in all bodies.”
When we reassure others they won’t get fat, we are perpetuating fatphobia
“Microaggressions exist and they are rampant.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard clinicians telling their clients they won’t get fat.
When we reassure those in smaller bodies that the aims of treatment are not to make them fat, we are perpetuating fatphobia. Plain and simple.
We are reinforcing the idea that being fat is the worse possible thing you could be.
This once again dehumanises those of us who are actually living this reality. Who are actually living in fat bodies.”
Please do not shame or dehumanise us
Nicole goes on to say, “Fat people already feel as if they have no place here…Please do not shame us or dehumanise us any further.”
“Our treatment spaces need to be safe spaces for all people in all bodies.”
Fat people are continuously spoken for and about
“Fat people are continuously spoken for and about by those in positions of power and privilege.
Clinicians and researchers speak for us as experts on our lives.
I am tired and I am fed up with clinicians and researchers claiming expert status on something that they know absolutely nothing about.
The obesity rhetoric that we hear day in and day out, positions fat people as problems to be solved.”
Bodies are not the problem
“If we are truly serious about supporting people to heal their relationships with food and their bodies, we have to first stop positioning bodies as the problem.
When you are so invested in making larger bodies smaller, you become part of the problem.
Fat people constantly feel the need to have to explain and justify, to have to apologise for their bodies. Please do not reinforce this shame, blame and disconnection.”
Fatphobia breeds eating disorders
“Weight is not a behaviour and fat is not pathological, and at no point should fat bodies ever be positioned as a problem to be solved.
Fatphobia breeds eating disorders.”
“When clinicians assume the role of expert, this seeks to diminish the capacity for an individual to trust their own body and claim autonomy over their experience.”
People in larger bodies are not represented
“I’ve always felt like I have no place in this space. That somehow my experience of an eating disorder and recovery were not as valuable. That my voice was not as important. That somehow my still being fat excluded me from both practicing as a clinician and sharing my recovery success.”
“People in larger bodies are not represented.”
Challenging our own bias
As clinicians, we can challenge our own bias by asking:
“How does my client experience their own body?
What impact does weight stigma have on their life?
How can I validate this experience of systemic oppression, discrimination and down right hatred of fat bodies, without also reinforcing in some way that my client’s body is a problem that needs to be solved?
Most importantly, I want you to ask, how can I challenge my own bias?
How can I challenge my own prejudice?
What beliefs do I have about people in larger bodies?
How much of this am I unconsciously bringing into the work that I do?
As providers, you have a responsibility to do no harm.”
This is everyone’s responsibility
“Bodies do not need to be fixed, but human beings certainly need to be heard.
Weight stigma harms every body, but most importantly it harms those whose bodies come under constant scrutiny.
People in larger bodies spend their lives attempting to shrink themselves and those in smaller bodies spend their lives being absolutely terrified of one day looking like me.
This is everybody’s responsibility.
It takes courage to take up space in this world. It takes courage to show up in a body that our world does not make room for.”
“If we are silent in the face of weight stigma, then we are giving it permission to thrive. If we are giving weight stigma permission to thrive, we are continuing to fertilise a breeding ground for eating disorders.”
“This is just the start of where things change.”
About the speaker:
Nicole McDermid is a Social Worker and Eating Disorder Recovery Coach, with a Health At Every Size and Non-Diet framework. She works as a speaker and fat activist and writes prolifically on issues such as weight stigma, size acceptance and eating disorder recovery. Nicole also has a lived experience of an eating disorder whilst living in a larger body. Nicole is based in Sydney, Australia and works world-wide online.
For more information, or to contact Nicole about her services:
The Embodied Journey
Do you need Eating Disorder or Body Image support in Perth?
If you need support with an eating disorder or body image, contact Toni Jackson for enquiries and appointments.
For a free 15 minute phone consultation, to discuss your situation and see how Toni can support you, please phone 0439 995 302.
Toni Jackson is a Women’s Psychotherapist, specialising in trauma, body image and eating disorders. She is a Gestalt Therapist, body-centred psychotherapist, creative (art) therapist and HAES practitioner. Toni works in Fremantle and Mundaring, Western Australia, and also provides online video sessions.