A few months ago, I went to my Group Therapy just like I do every Saturday. I really needed this Group. It had been a rough week and I couldn’t wait to be in a room surrounded by people who could understand what I was going through. We went around the room, checking in, and I brought up the fact that I was experiencing a lot of anxiety and impulses to engage in ED behaviors as a result of the Philando Castile murder.
The room fell completely silent.
I looked around the room at the usually- supportive faces that now looked uncomfortable. They stared down at their toes or gave me awkward apologetic smiles. No one said anything. No one made eye contact. My Therapist shifted uncomfortably in her seat before deciding to ignore the comment and move on.
It was then that I realized I was, once again, the only Person of Color in the room.
During my 15 year struggle with Anorexia Nervosa, I have found myself in this situation many times. I have often been the only POC in Group Therapy, the only one in treatment, the only brown girl on my Therapist’s client roster, or in Drop-In Support Groups. I also have never had- or, until recently, met- a Therapist of Color.
There is this outrageous belief that People Of Color are immune to Eating Disorders because our cultures tend to be “more accepting of larger body types.” It is a completely unfounded and ignorant argument that is reinforced by the fact that we never see ourselves represented in the media or in the recovery rooms. It made me believe that maybe there weren’t other people like me. It made me believe that maybe People of Color really didn’t get ED’s. It made me question the legitimacy of my own Illness and kept me from getting the help I needed for a very long time.
It is one of the reasons I resisted Treatment for too long. I knew that I would be the only brown girl in the room and that feeling was daunting and Isolating.
This was exacerbated by the fact that I found obtaining a diagnosis very difficult. Despite my displaying several critical symptoms of a chronic Eating Disorder, Doctors would always write off my issues as “Vitamin Deficiency” or “Seasonal Depression.” Once, during a time where I was very ill and desperate for help, I told a Nurse out-right that I had an Eating Disorder and she sent me home with a prescription for Heartburn Medication and Papaya Enzymes. I had several white friends who displayed similar symptoms to my own get diagnosed and helped immediately. Whereas I felt that Doctors and even Specialists took one look at my last name and wrote me off.
When I finally was able to obtain a diagnosis and get help, I was treated the same way that the other White Girls around me were treated. Some of these things still applied, like the breaking down of my perfectionism and control issues. But in many ways my Therapist avoided or out-right ignored talking about the cultural factors that were hugely playing into my ED. They had very little understanding of the cultural differences each of my Parents had, and were unaware of the nuances required for talking to each one of them about my ED.
As someone who is Bi-racial, I’ve always felt a little unsettled and out of place in my own skin. My Mom is a White Woman who was in the Fashion Industry and my Dad is a Mexican Man who was an Athlete. There were always meal plans all over the house- on counters, on fridges. My Parents had opposing approaches to food- My mom was discerning and judgmental of food and my Dad was celebratory and encouraging of it. When My Parents got divorced this discrepancy greatened. At my Mom’s house, there was a long list of food that was off limits and at my Dad’s anything and everything in any amount was allowed. My mom was also not used to the Brown Bodies of her daughters and was confused by and critical of the curves I was beginning to develop at a young age. I began to associate Whiteness with restriction and Brownness with Excess and I found myself constantly searching for some kind
of balance between the two. I was also being teased at school for being neither Mexican nor White enough. It was around then that I first remember engaging in Eating Disorder Behaviors.
For me, my ED was never so much about my body as it was trying to squeeze my whole self into one of my Halves.
I would try to explain this to my Therapists. I would try to explain the fact that I felt deeply stressed or triggered by racism or microagressions I was facing as a Person of Color. I would ask how one could continue to eat and move forward when your body and the bodies of your loved ones are under attack? You don’t. You can’t. There is no Recovery Hack for fearing the color of your own skin.
They would try to shift the discussion back to something else that didn’t apply to me. This negation and feeling of deep isolation and “otherness” kept me from getting to the root of my ED and probably delayed my Recovery for many years longer than necessary.
A few years back, when I was still early in my recovery process, I went to the ANAD conference and attended a talk given by the first two Therapists of Color I had ever met. They gave a presentation on just Eating Disorders in Women of Color. They discussed how and what type of Eating Disorders typically effected specific minority populations and discussed that Biracial People are particularly predisposed to EDs as a result of the duplicity they typically feel. I was blown away. It was the first time I didn’t feel so alone and it gave me the courage to actively seek others like me.
I have now been actively on my Recovery Journey for two years. I have learned that I am not two halves of two different things but rather one whole of something entirely different.I have found people like me. I have learned that I am not alone.
As I move forward, I am committed to promoting the stories of POC’s with Eating Disorders to increase our visibility. There is a need for more Therapists of Color, Cultural Sensitivity training, Translators, and Community Outreach for People of Color in Eating Disorder Treatment and I am committed to fighting for them. I made myself a promise that if I survived Anorexia, I would dedicate my life to fighting for those who didn’t. I intend to do just that and get People of Color the resources we desperately need to get better.
Written by Allyce Torres