Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Geneen Roth is Perpetuating Eating Disorders

NOIn case you are not familiar, Geneen Roth rose to prominence by writing about eating disorders. She has developed a sizable mailing list, to whom she sent the following e-mail (Trigger warning for fatphobia, eating disorder trigger.)

“It’s uncomfortable to walk around in a body that is uncomfortable. It’s hard to let innate brilliance or power express itself when you are schlepping around twenty or fifty extra pounds. It’s not impossible, just more difficult. And since there is already so much inherent difficulty in being alive, what with people getting sick, raising kids, dying, and the earth on the verge of destruction, why not make life easier on yourself? Why not make the effort to discover what enhances your aliveness and vitality? Because when you do, you become less and less fascinated with those foods, activities, and people that don’t. The only best reason to do this is that there, in that vast space, we find love itself, flagrant, unstinting, give-it-all-away love. Not just for our spouses or children or particular community, but for arms and legs and nights and fog, love for the mornings, floors, caterpillars, and trees. Love for the sounds your foot makes on the sidewalk, for traffic and honking horns, for the earth itself. Nothing is left out. Zen teachers call it discovering “your original face.” We do whatever it takes to keep the channel open because when we don’t, it hurts, and when we do, it doesn’t. Also, there is nothing better to do with a life. — This Messy Magnificent Life”
~Geneen Roth

Let’s start with the obvious fact that this is fatphobic bullshit. The belief that fat bodies are “uncomfortable” to live in rests on a foundation of weight-based oppression. It’s uncomfortable to live in a world where space isn’t made for you, where clothes aren’t made for you, where people are constantly comparing your body to other bodies and finding you lacking, where people are actually so brainwashed by sizeism that they believe that weight has anything to do with innate brilliance and power, where the government spends billions of dollars trying to recruit everyone you’ll ever meet to fight a war against you, and where the mailing list that you signed up for to support you in your eating disorder recovery sends you fatphobic drivel instead. I’m not “suffering from obesity,” but I am made to suffer by this kind of fatphobia.

The notion that some people’s entire body deserves to be “schlepped” around, but for others of us, only part of us is worthy of “schlepping” is patently ridiculous and offensive, Roth is one of these charlatans who sell the idea that “‘When people begin respecting themselves, and treating themselves well, it just so happens that weight loss becomes a side benefit.” That’s bullshit and Geneen doesn’t have any kind of evidence to back up the idea that she can help people produce long-term significant weight loss (she has this in common with literally everyone, because there is no method of weight loss that has been shown to work for more than a tiny fraction of people.)

She is also one of these dangerously misinformed so-called eating disorder experts who forwards the notion, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, that if someone is fat they are a compulsive eater who must be treated with paternalism and cannot be trusted as a witness to their own experience.”   (“…if someone weighs 22st…even though they will tell me outright that they are eating only for physical hunger – it’s safe to say there’s probably a reason for that compulsive eating.”) This alone should discredit her completely.

But it’s more than just fatphobic and misinformed paternalism, she is literally perpetuating eating disorders by trying to sell weight loss through sizeism. By telling people to be afraid of being heavier lest they difficult to express their brilliance and power, and (in an ableist argument) have difficulty moving their body, what Geneen is saying to everyone on her mailing list who may be developing, struggling with, or recovering from, an eating disorder (especially those struggling with the accompanying weight gain) is: “the fears that perpetuated your eating disorder, and that help it keep its grip on you, are completely justified. Whatever you do, don’t get fat.”

Which says to someone with an eating disorder, that the (disordered) behaviors that are currently keeping them “thin” are a good idea. When she suggests that weight loss and maintaining thinness is a good idea, including and especially in eating disorder community, she supports the dangerous idea that we should recommend and prescribe to fat people that which we diagnose and treat in thin people.

Like so many before her, Geneen’s attempt to find ways to get a piece of the $60 Billion a year weight loss industry for herself is harming countless people of all sizes.

I recently had the honor of giving a keynote address at the MEDA (Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association) National Conference.  The organization’s leadership – including Beth Mayer, Rachel Monroe, Michelle Pierce and others – has been amazing in embracing intersectional social justice, including Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size as part of their work with eating disorders. (Sadly, that’ s not the case in all of eating disorder community.)

My talk was called Size Acceptance and Eating Disorders – A Critical, Crucial, Core Conversation. The premise was simple and obvious – if we truly want to prevent eating disorders, and allow those who suffer from them to experience complete recovery, then a Size Acceptance paradigm is the only option that makes sense.

Size Acceptance doesn’t just benefit fat people, it benefits people of all sizes, and especially those with body dysmorphia related to weight. The fear of being or becoming fat that drives so many eating disorders would be hard pressed to exist in a society where being fat wasn’t seen as a bad or negative thing.

In a fatphobic world, rife with diet culture, where hating your body and being terrified of being or becoming fat or gaining weight is considered normal, preventing eating disorders, and making a full recovery can be completely impossible.

And that’s the kind of world that Geneen Roth is perpetuating with her ridiculous, harmful, irresponsible, blatantly fatphobic, ableist, and untrue e-mail. I call bullshit, and you should to.  She may not be intending to do harm, but harm is being done nonetheless. Here’s her contact page if you’d like to…a-hem…weigh in and help provide her with the education she needs to stop harming people. https://geneenroth.com/contact/

If you are looking for diverse eating disorder activists and providers, check out this list!

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