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obvious tw for talk about eating disorders and experiences.

I'm sure it's been brought up before but I can't help but notice the contrast between reactions to trans bodily dysphoria and bodily dysmorphia for people with eating disorders.

As a recovering anorexic I feel like I know at least a little of what it is like to think you are 'trapped' in your body, that your body does not suit you, that you do not want to live in it. I wanted to get rid of my breasts and suck out every bit of fat from my body and I derived genuine satisfaction and 'euphoria' from stepping on the scale and seeing that the number dropped, or comparing myself to old photos and looking sicker and skinnier.

Obviously being anorexic and being trans are not the same thing - THEORETICALLY (I am not saying this is in practice the case), being trans should not be physically unhealthy and deprive your body of nutrients and make you susceptible to physical disorders. But I can't help but notice the difference in rhetoric. If I had told people that I wanted a masectomy because I hated having my breasts so much, I have no doubt I would have been told that I needed to see a therapist and come to accept and live with my body instead of changing something that is normal and healthy.

But I feel like now, I could say that and a non-negligible proportion of people would come forward to tell me that I am trans, that maybe my eating disorder is really caused by being a man 'inside' (whatever that means), instead of being a reaction to the experiences I have had as a biological woman (i.e. somebody of the female sex).

Maybe I am wrong, but I keep on feeling like the first step to somebody being 'out' as trans isn't to just blindly accept their assertion, but question what might make them feel such discomfort with their body. Maybe it is true that physical transition is the solution for some, but it seems like such a radical jump to say that it is 'THE' solution to dysphoria in general.

obvious tw for talk about eating disorders and experiences. I'm sure it's been brought up before but I can't help but notice the contrast between reactions to trans bodily dysphoria and bodily dysmorphia for people with eating disorders. As a recovering anorexic I feel like I know at least a little of what it is like to think you are 'trapped' in your body, that your body does not suit you, that you do not want to live in it. I wanted to get rid of my breasts and suck out every bit of fat from my body and I derived genuine satisfaction and 'euphoria' from stepping on the scale and seeing that the number dropped, or comparing myself to old photos and looking sicker and skinnier. Obviously being anorexic and being trans are not the same thing - THEORETICALLY (I am not saying this is in practice the case), being trans should not be physically unhealthy and deprive your body of nutrients and make you susceptible to physical disorders. But I can't help but notice the difference in rhetoric. If I had told people that I wanted a masectomy because I hated having my breasts so much, I have no doubt I would have been told that I needed to see a therapist and come to accept and live with my body instead of changing something that is normal and healthy. But I feel like now, I could say that and a non-negligible proportion of people would come forward to tell me that I am trans, that maybe my eating disorder is really caused by being a man 'inside' (whatever that means), instead of being a reaction to the experiences I have had as a biological *woman* (i.e. somebody of the female *sex*). Maybe I am wrong, but I keep on feeling like the first step to somebody being 'out' as trans isn't to just blindly accept their assertion, but question what might make them feel such discomfort with their body. Maybe it is true that physical transition is the solution for some, but it seems like such a radical jump to say that it is 'THE' solution to dysphoria in general.

14 comments

[–] destroyyourbinder 35 points (+35|-0) Edited

Eating disorders and gender dysphoria/trans identification are highly comorbid with each other. I'm not sure I've ever met a transitioning female who had a healthy relationship with eating, food, or the fat on her body. I think a number of girls these days who have eating disorder/body dysmorphic issues that are classically female are getting tracked into trans identification as it's a socially acceptable way to continue disordered thinking-- you can literally get prescribed a drug that will make you "less fat", and the fundaments of your disorder will not be challenged, as you'll be encouraged and enabled to keep picking at your body for life.

I've spent a lot of time casually thinking about what the difference is in society's reactions to eating disorders versus society's reaction to young trans-identified girls, as psychology and key institutions have chosen to openly enable the latter whereas there is a line with the former. While we broadly encourage in women and girls a highly disordered relationship to food and the body, there is a point where we label a woman's fixation on such things individually pathological. We do not encourage the behaviors associated with a diagnosis of transsexuality in children-- or at least we did not use to, I think this is more complex now-- it is automatically a sign of potential pathology and if children do not desist from them, this increases to a level of alarm where intervention becomes "medically necessary".

It has always struck me that policing young women and their behavior-- through psychology now that it is a specific discipline tasked with such things and especially now that it is embedded in schools and everyday life in a way that was unthinkable even when I was a child in the 90s-- is a major task of any patriarchal society and inculcating a generation into "proper" gender roles. Eating disorders became a "threat" but widespread dieting, pathological exercising, dangerous weight loss drugs and medications, quack devices, and surgeries to modify the apparent "fatness" of your body were widely promoted as not just a way to achieve a socially appropriate image but actually healthy for girls and women. The line was drawn somewhere that was WAY after things that were damaging to a woman/girl's actual bodily, mental, and social health. This is not to say that there isn't something unique about eating disorders-- they are a peculiar kind of obsessive mental illness that often contains a biological feedback loop once the metabolic and gastrointestinal systems suffer enough problems-- but it's political where psychology decided where an illness occurred and where what was within normal mental health ended-- or even what counted as positive goal setting or life changes.

There is a lot of projection upon young girls and women, and I suspect these political lines get drawn somewhere where a woman's economic value-- to herself, family, or husband-- is threatened. Where she can no longer use her sexual or reproductive viability to make exchanges, socially or otherwise. A woman is often considered ill when something takes utter precedence over her ability to exchange her beauty, social graces, sexuality, caretaking, etc. or when it threatens her ability to do so. Eating disorders are deadly-- they are the mental illness with the highest mortality rate due to their health consequences-- and they are uniquely life-disruptive to self and others. They ought to be treated on the basis of their threat to health and safety, yet we often hear the public tut-tut about them because well if she wanted to be pretty she went too far, doesn't she realize that's not attractive.

I have always suspected that the group of girls prone to gender problems-- whether we call it gender dysphoria, transsexuality, or transgender identification-- is a group of kids that are often considered already "lost" by society. They don't have a lot of economic value as girls. They are a group of girls and women who are often homosexual, may have medical or developmental disabilities, are prone to mental illness, are likely to have divergent value sets from their families and culture, may be highly creative or politically motivated in ways that get channeled into resisting social norms, etc. It hit me about a year ago that this group of young women neatly tracks women who used to be lumped under the term "unmarriageable" and have been defined under various 20th century institutions and regimes as "antisocial"-- the kinds of women persecuted by the Nazis under a catch-all category and the kinds of women subject to lobotomies, punitive electroshock, etc. I believe eating disordered girls overlap substantially with this group but the crucial difference is that they are seen as complying with social norms-- they're "trying" very hard-- right up until their compliance is seen as malicious compliance. Gender nonconforming and trans identifying girl children aren't trying-- they're trying in the wrong direction, forcing families, schools, and others to "manage" them and their behavior.

Society enables gender dysphoric girls because they have no value to trade as girls-- if they're antisocial enough, it's tolerable to the system that they literally destroy themselves in the process of gender transition, or they become shut-ins unable to participate in broader society and are thereby treated like the rest of the disabled population. If they have some agreeableness to comply, then it's best that society convert them to something outside the woman category because they do not want these girls to affect the economics of women's choices and the literal resource trade of women (i.e. they'd develop some sort of way of being valued beyond beauty, caretaking, sex and reproduction, etc.) The agreement is not to literally make these girls boys or men, but that "we don't demand you participate in the woman trade, you don't say shit about it ever again". It's buying conditional silence about misogyny and nerfing these women's public participation in life in order to give them a freedom-from-being-a-worthless-woman card. The few societies that have female third gender categories often make a similar kind of demand-- you get certain honorary privileges as a man (never all of them), but you don't get to have solidarity with women anymore.

To be honest, I haven't heard a lot in the media about eating disorders for ages-- it's dropped off the public radar even though eating disorders apparently have increased by about double since 2000 and the age of onset has dropped substantially into the 8-12 year old range. There is an extreme tolerance now for self-harm in women and girls to the point that the public discourse doesn't seem to recognize at all that self-harm is even possible-- all women "like" what they do to themselves, we should take all women and girls' self-declarations about the necessity and value of their behaviors at face value, any goal is healthy to have, subjecting yourself to pain and distress becomes gratifying as soon as you declare it so, etc. Shit you'd only see on the deepest darkest pro-ana forum or body dysmorphia self-hate fest is normalized in influencer behavior and public reddit forums, and so on. There is no recognition that a woman's value-- to herself or others, and even in a bare economic sense-- has anything to do with her own health and stability so long as she can mimic the appearance of it or excuse others from caring. Women's value has gone from brood mares to pornographic trading cards, and there's no longer any incentive to give a shit about whether she'll live to tomorrow nonetheless is healthy and happy.

[–] Carrots90 4 points (+4|-0)

So well written

Please feel free to make your own post!!

This is great

They are a group of girls and women who are often homosexual, may have medical or developmental disabilities, are prone to mental illness, are likely to have divergent value sets from their families and culture, may be highly creative or politically motivated in ways that get channeled into resisting social norms, etc. It hit me about a year ago that this group of young women neatly tracks women who used to be lumped under the term "unmarriageable"

Wow, this is so on point. You’ve just blown my mind too!

There is an extreme tolerance now for self-harm in women and girls to the point that the public discourse doesn't seem to recognize at all that self-harm is even possible-- all women "like" what they do to themselves, we should take all women and girls' self-declarations about the necessity and value of their behaviors at face value, any goal is healthy to have, subjecting yourself to pain and distress becomes gratifying as soon as you declare it so, etc.

And again…

Women's value has gone from brood mares to pornographic trading cards

… and again. Boom.

[–] Iridescence [OP] 2 points (+2|-0) Edited

Wow, this was a really haunting and insightful reply. Thank you.

Women's value has gone from brood mares to pornographic trading cards

... that one's going to stay in my mind for a long time.

[–] JeanD 1 points (+1|-0)

Thank you, that was really good. I'm not surprised that eating disorders have even increased since I was a teen in the '80s. I mentioned in another comment that I had anorexia as a young teen, and one of the things that surprised me was the sharp turn from applause at how thin I was, how great I looked, to 'you're too skinny', then hospitalization. My family spent months 'encouraging' me to lose weight by shaming me if I ate anything 'bad', or too much, to the point where I just pretty much stopped, and then got praised endlessly.

My doctor sounded the alarm to my mother, and flipped her from 'thank god she's losing that puppy weight' to 'this is a serious problem'. Hospitalization and force feeding came only weeks after that. I really couldn't understand where the line was, it was incredibly disorienting.

There are still so many rewards for anorexics who can stay above the line, even as adults. It's scary how easily you can slip over it.

I gained some Covid weight and tried intermittent fasting this summer, and the forums around IF are seriously pro-ana in disguise, all the language is the same. I slipped really easily back into that mentality and it was terrifying. But again, everyone around me was congratulating me on losing weight, great job! I managed to stop on my own, but you hear about IF everywhere. Diet culture is all around us, and the winners are clear.

If I were a teen now with social media the way it is I would be trans or dead.

[–] Penthesilea 9 points (+9|-0) Edited

Yes. I got sucked into an ED and an enormous part of it was that I was a lonely teenager who hated herself and pro-ED forums were a place where I felt supported. No one would tell me my behavior wasn’t healthy and I had a “community” — as long as I was still harming myself. (Not surprisingly, the main website I visited back in 2015-2017 now has a huge trans member base.) When I hit puberty I would shower with the lights off because I thought even looking at my own body was somehow bad or “sinful” (raised in a modesty religion) and I would constantly fantasize about cutting off body parts I didn’t like. I’m convinced there is no dysphoria except plain old body dysmorphia that targets primary and secondary sex characteristics. For girls with EDs, it’s pretty much the same thing. We subconsciously recognize our bodies as the reason for our mistreatment in a patriarchal society and we want to distance ourselves from them.

EDIT: i just remembered also that i was really happy when my period stopped at 14 due to starving myself. I was terrified of pregnancy and resented that (according to my religion) I was basically required to set aside my own goals and identity to be a wife and mother. I hoped to make myself infertile so it could never happen to me. By current standards, I would probably be considered some flavor of trans for all that.

Glosswitch makes this comparison too:

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2016/08/anorexia-breast-binding-and-legitimisation-body-hatred

Glosswitch on anorexia and social contagion: https://tinyletter.com/Glosswitch/letters/the-ok-karen-3-but-is-it-catching

Her writing is incredible; I’m floored every time.

[–] subaruiner 2 points (+2|-0)

YES. was thinking about this recently. i had this yearish period in my early 20s where i was obsessed with the idea of just NOT having a body and being a floating mass of personality. i was working in a coffee shop and was so on display in that job and was sexually harrassed pretty much daily and it really felt like the best thing to do was become as nonexistent as possible by not eating. i had such a hatred of how people reacted to my body/me as a woman. i wonder whether i’d have fallen down the gender rabbit hole if it were another time.

[–] Roseelesbian 2 points (+2|-0)

Yep. I've heard the comparison before and it makes an excellent point. What you think will make you happy won't always end up making you happy nor will it always be good for you whether that be with wanting to be skinny or wanting to resemble the opposite sex.

[–] Criticalcat 1 points (+1|-0)

I’ve seen a lot of ED Internet personalities ‘recover’ and become ‘health and fitness’ bloggers, who eventually need another intervention rebrand when they finally realize they’ve just switched to orthorexia and compulsive exercise. It reminds me of what I’ve seen in many trans influencers. Coming out trans and gender validation -> hormones and surgery -> surgery regrets and horror stories, medical malpractice complaints, less gender talk, discontinuing hrt or dilation, still mentally unwell, substance abuse.

[–] InfiniteGames 1 points (+1|-0)

More like, influenced by having an imaginary friend in childhood.

Good luck to you on your journey.

[–] EasyEating 1 points (+1|-0)

the way people talk about their dysphoria and body is soooo similar to how anorexics talk about their body. I’ve thought this for months.

[–] JeanD 1 points (+1|-0)

Yes, me. I was anorexic as a young teen (11-13), hospitalized, force fed, then turned to bulimia largely unnoticed. I think about this a lot when I see these young women struggling with their bodies. Imagine if affirmation was the model for dysphoria then?

Frankly I'm not convinced that dysphorias are different. I think all body dysphorias are rooted in the same place, but we interpret them through cultural lenses, both the wider culture, and our 'local' cultures e.g. our friends and families.

The change in your bodies that happens through puberty can be really distressing for girls (and boys for that matter), and we interpret them through our peer groups. If I had social media as a teen I'm not sure I would have survived. I might have been trans as well. Taking testosterone and cutting off my breasts would probably have sounded like good options for me at the time.