*Content warning: This episode contains personal experiences with disordered eating habits and body image concerns.
MaryGrace is joined by Thomas O. (he/they) and Charlotte (she/her), two SOGIE peer educators. They share their own personal experiences, observations and opinions on the societal and external factors that impact body image. They also discuss the connection between gender expression and the ideal body norms that are unrealistic for so many people in the LGBTQ+ community.
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MG: Welcome to the Well Duke's podcast. My name is Mary Grace and I am your host once again today. As this is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week when the podcast is being released we're going to talk a little bit about eating disorders and go a little bit specifically into body dysmorphia. So I have some lovely guests here, we're going to go ahead and introduce themselves.
Charlotte: Hi, I’m Charlotte, I go by she/her pronouns. I’m a peer educator with SOGIE. SOGIE is Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression. We are located in the Student Success Center. We share an office with CMSS. As a peer educator I go to different classrooms and teach about the LGBTQ+ community as well as help facilitate different events on campus
Thomas: Hi my name is Thomas Oxpro, my pronouns are he/they. I am currently a vocal and music education major on campus so I work with a lot of music but almost as like my alter-ego the rest of my day is spent here in the SOGIE offices. I'm the student outreach coordinator for SOGIE programming so I work close with managing our social media and managing our volunteer program and their events as well. I’m very excited for this podcast today.
MG: I’m so excited to have y'all with me today. So we know that eating disorders have historically been associated with straight, young, white females, but as we are well-aware they are not exclusive to impacting just that community. And so we're going to talk a little bit about people from all demographics and talk about the combination of long-standing behavioral, biological, emotional, physiological, interpersonal, and social factors that lead to eating disorders. I think a lot of times we see eating disorders as, you know, a need for control or a need to lose weight, something along those lines, to look different. But I really want to focus in on today that it's not just because someone wants to look better within the realm of how our society pictures the perfect body and that there's so much more to that. So I would love for you all to start with a little bit about why you're passionate about talking about eating disorders and maybe how you seen the impact of that within the lives of some of the students at JMU.
Charlotte: I personally have disordered eating and identify with a lot of the traits of body dysmorphia, as well as having several friends and colleagues at JMU that also have disordered eating or eating disorders and/ or body dysmorphia so it definitely impacts me very personally, and, again, it’s seen very often in LGBTQ+ communities which is a community that I'm in and very passionate about so it definitely impacts me quite a bit.
Thomas: Yeah, so on my end, I myself have not personally dealt with specifically a diagnosis on the aspect but I struggled with a lot of personal body dysmorphia/ eating throughout my entire life, whether that has been when I was younger and it was just a fear of going into that societal expectations of what the perfect body is. You see that all on TV and in cartoons where the main character has the perfect body, and so I grew up as a child, kind of, always very self conscious about which way my body is going to go, how is it going to grow, and now that I’m older, it’s almost kind of like it’s taking those ideas and opinions I thought as a kid, and now that I have established and found myself within the LGBTQ+ community, unfortunately, it’s kind of found its new host for my fears, worries, anxieties, and so forth. As we’re going to talk about this, too, I’m specifically very passionate with studying the different subcategories of the queer community, and what I mean by that is, specifically, also with a lot of gay men, there’s a lot of categories, especially in the hookup scene, you have bears, cubs, twinks, twunks, and the list can go on, but unfortunately with these subcategories, that perfect body element is also placed within the queer commnuity and that is something that I really love being passionate about and I love trying to figure out ways to break down this.
MG: I'm not necessarily like a research person so I'm glad that there are people like you who are researching this because as you all may know there isn't a ton of research on eating disorders within the LGBTQ+ community, and that's definitely something that could use a lot more research especially since the research that we do have is showing that gay males are thought to only represent about 5% of the total male population but among males who have eating disorders it's about 42% of them who do identify as gay so with that we just want to share about how it important it is to connect notice of the signs of these eating disorders, notice when your friends or colleagues might be exemplifying some of these eating habits and I think Charlotte something that you mentioned is disordered eating rather than one of these specific traditional eating disorders that we might have heard of and that is more of a spectrum that I feel like you can land on with disordered eating. A lot of times whenever we hear about yeah like they have these very strict guidelines when we say disordered eating we really just mean this is something that has become more prominent in our lives than it maybe should be or taking up more space and that energy could definitely be in other places because we are really busy college students and so part of that really is that mental struggle like that mental health piece with in eating disorders and how that impacts our lives. I also real quick wanna go ahead and breakdown what body dysmorphic disorder is and that is a mental health problem you might be feeling upset about the appearance of your body it gets in the way of your ability to live normally and many things that our flaws apparent in that appearance and so like maybe focusing one area of your body or even just looking in the mirror constantly to check back in that with that because the way you see your body maybe isn't how everyone else does. So what are some signs or symptoms that you might have noticed within the LGBTQ+ community that you know, you might want to be looking out for whether that's within yourself or within a friend
Thomas: yea, so I can start on this specifically as we were talking about before I'm gonna specifically address you know gay community especially with a lot of the hookup scenes and everything that they're kinda two different branches that lead down to a lot of body dismorphea and dysphoric thinking of or views on one body and that kind of goes with the scene of a lot of people pushing this perfect ideal body of what a gay man supposed to look like and that really affects a lot of people a lot of other kind of subgenres if you, you know for people who even use subgenres insert categories sub communities within the LGBTQ+ community you know you're affecting bears other plus size queer people and it really affects a lot of it's not even just like confidence of sexuality but with leads to kind of that sense of oh I want to be quote UN quote better, I want to look better, I want to be this ideal body that everyone wishes that I am and that unfortunately is such a horrible thing to do on so many people into the community it affects so many members of the queer community just to hear that they're supposed to be this ideal body and that unfortunately is still going on today the other factor going into this is not even specifically involving hookup scene but just intersectionality in general you have let's use for an example queer gay man who also may be plus sized unfortunately those are gonna be two categories in today's society that have a lot of people that look down on both of them so this also leads to a lot of body dismorphia or this morphea a lot of this negative views, negative connotations ,and negative perspectives on one body and that's just because of the intersectionality of it all that you you know a lot of plus sized queer students children are always bullied specifically because of their weight to which leads to a lot of issues. I myself have gone through other you know issues of adversity, family really not accepting a lot of kind of paths you know my identity in terms of the queer community and that unfortunately it's also affected my personal views of my own self so there's a lot of different ways a lot of kind of external conflicts that are forced onto queer youth where people in general especially queer people that are plus size and all queer people in general that affects how people eat 'cause if people are also going through all this trauma I myself have you know had days where I'm like I'm sad but I'm also not hungry and you kind of lose your appetite about that and so that's kind of my take on a lot of the issues that are revolving around the queer community in general with body dismorphea and so forth it's just kind of like it's what's causing a lot of it is unfortunately because of the expectations of what a queer or gay person is supposed to look like and kind of the societal and external factors that are just weighing down on queer people constantly
MG: our society does have this view of like this perfect body and this is what you should strive for and not everyone is suppose to look like that and that's OK because there are so many different people and so many different bodies and all bodies are good bodies that is not easily followed though a lot harder to sit there and see yourself in the mirror or compare yourself to others and say I don't look like them I could really work on this piece of myself or for a gay man to look in the mirror and be like Oh well this is kind of like the subcategory that I feel like I fit into but maybe I don't look like the typical game man or maybe I'm not super fit and there are so many factors especially the lack of support that needs to be addressed within eating disorders in the LGBT community that lack of support from family or from friends whenever coming out can easily be translated as well into those eating disorders and if you don't have that support system it definitely puts you in a place where you feel very lost. I think the one thing that I really want to highlight here is this SOGIE is a great place on campus to be that safe space and I think you all have already shown a great example of how you have been able to be a safe space and a brave space and not hold our students to the expectations that society does Charlotte did you have anything that you wanted to add on this piece
Charlotte: yeah so as I mean being fully transparent I am a white cis-woman and I am built like smaller I have always been like rather skinny and so I feel like I kind of fit the traditional eating disorder like look I guess 'cause like you said earlier I feel like when you think of eating disorders you normally think of the skinny white woman and it's I mean I fit into all of those roles but I also identify as queer and so I think that adds like TJ said another layer of complexity into that I've definitely found myself restricting my eating but not in a way not in a way that really fits into any of the categories of like into anorexia or bulimia or any of the specific eating disorders which is why I like to categorize it it's just disorder eating 'cause I know that something isn't right and that it's not like healthy or normal I guess to be like restricting the food the way that I do or eating the way that I do but I don't fit into any of the specific categories and I definitely do feel that I will look in the mirror and see all of my flaws which I think is a common human thing but I think with eating disorders especially and disordered eating and, and again like TJ said just always being judged because I'm a woman because I'm queer just because I have anxiety and like all of these pressures from society as well as just kind of the natural human feeling I think that people might be judging you sometimes I think if all kind of adds up together and it just puts all this pressure on where it's like oh I'm not I don't look perfect and so I need to fix that in a way I typically don't have the issue of not eating because in my mind somewhere my mind is always says Oh well I know that you may keep this but you actually have to eat so I am always able to get myself to eat three meals a day even if they're at like weird times or it's not like the most fulfilling meal but I definitely do feel guilty after usually after just about every meal breakfast is usually like a routine for me and so I do the same thing every morning and so that one I can feel pretty safe with but the other things are kind of up to what I'm feeling that day or what's available or my plans for the day and so those are like able to change and so those are usually because I don't have it all planned out and like oh I'm gonna eat these exact foods you know I'm going out and I'm eating different things every day and so I there's so much more much higher chance than me feeling guilty because oh I should have eaten that or I should have like limited the amount that I ate or I already have a cookie earlier today I can't have another one now which is a big thing for me especially with sweets where it's like oh I already had ice cream today I can't have a piece of chocolate later like I've already filled my quota in my mind for sweets or I had like I went to Starbucks and I gotta chai latte and so now I can't I can't have a piece of cake later or I can't have this piece of candy and so it's interesting and if I do that I feel guilty about it later so it's like this cycle
MG: yeah a couple of the things that I really noticed that you shared that I think are probably fairly common but they definitely don't feel like it because they isolate you in that sense that you do feel that guilt around it or you feel like a lot of your day is spent you know thinking about food and keeping a routine in order to make sure that you're eating and for one I commend you for being able to do that and making sure that your body is getting the nutrients and energy that it needs but I think a lot of the things that you know you mentioned can be very common experiences not only within the LGBT community and so I appreciate are you sharing those those pieces because I can notice little pieces of that that I might even experience and the range of eating disorders just being such a large spectrum and knowing that like you know I'm skipping lunch multiple days a week like that's not healthy I know I need to eat but I'm so busy I'm not prioritizing eating those are the little things that you don't realize I guess like pile on top of each other until you really are experiencing that like disordered eating where you know you have to specifically think about Oh yeah I have to eat breakfast lunch and dinner I also noticed that like routines help you feel safe and I think that is a great tactic for anyone who is struggling with possibly disordered eating making a routine for yourself can definitely be something that allows you to get your nutrients in and plan ahead of time so that you know what you're eating but I definitely think you know the level of it of which it's consuming your mind space is hard and that's part of the big piece that shows that it is also a mental health disorder it's not just those pieces of society that are maybe getting to us it's something more than that. I know that one of the pieces I specifically wanted touched on today would be the experience of trans students and body dysphoria because I know a lot of times body dysmorphia leave your picking out some specific about your body that you don't really like but body dysphoria really focuses in on like I don't identify like it doesn't feel right that my body looks like this in a completely different way
TJ: yeah I was just going to talk about how well I guess this start also I specifically do not identify with in the trans community. I identify actually more I feel as myself more representative of the genderqueer community because I was assigned male of birth and though identify a lot with my masculine side and so forth I generally view myself as not fitting within those binary terms of what society views a male as and so I kind of I found my way into of course you know my pronouns are he/they and representative gender queer and so forth but my big thing I really wanna talk about actually is how there's sort of there there is such a correlation when it comes to body disphoria and body dysmorphia comes to gender dysphoria I know that myself I recently started you know getting the idea that I might not be or it might not identify within you know that cisgender binary like you know that linear line of binary and that kind of also triggered a lot of my more negative views about myself thinking you know I don't like how my body looks then you know the specifics of body dysmorphia as well as sort of body dysphoria it kind of was like all coming in at once and there's sort of correlation with that as well as I also believe that there is a correlation that comes from just like external conflicts as said before that lead into a lot of body dysphoria, a lot of body dysmorphia and so forth I know that in terms of like personal lives I only had recently come out as genderqueer and within these past couple months I have gone through more of an issue with my appetite I had recently gotten sick not from COVID but I recently had developed some stomach thing I don't wanna get into it were on the podcast but after recovering from it I had also you know lost such a big appetite and my body was just kind of like alright let's stick with this and starting to hit the gym more and unfortunately also with hitting the gym after you know getting sick and after everything kind also turned more into a not even like a positive commitment but I had like a negative correlation to it like I was hitting the gym like I had the prove something to people and not all came from really like when I started developing senses of gender dysphoria now not saying that gender dysphoria is a bad thing and that this will happen to everybody 'cause it will not but what I am trying to say is that you know for if you have friends, family, or yourself that may be going through some of the gender dysphoria, check in on the people I have friends that message me every single day actually I have two friends that message me at about 2:00 o'clock everyday so I'll probably get a message soon and it just asks if I eaten today and I'm like oh thank you so much for reminding me because like I as I said on music major I'm on campus all day so my idealisms of eating is like 7 in the morning eat like maybe a yogurt and then I'm not gonna eat something until like 8:00 o'clock at night when I finally get home and that's not healthy and I'm really trying to better myself on that but really like you know the best thing to do especially with like signs and general is if people are going through tough times just make sure you check on them it you know you don't have to force down you know onto them like have you eaten have you have to like with anything that happens because that's also not a positive thing to do but you know if you were able to check on them with anything going on. I have a friend who had done COVID last year that unfortunately it developed into a very severe case of eating disorders from that and she has dealt with other levels of adversity before in the past and so unfortunately I fear that that kind of just like toppled onto her and so definitely make sure that you're just checking in with your friends when you know things are happening in the news in a local area or just like with them self that's the best thing that's the best advice that I can give in terms of helping students especially our trans peers in the trans community
MG: checking in with your friends and just like making sure they eaten, like let's normalize that because I always do that with my friends and especially when we have busy days just checking in and then seeing if there's anything I can do or give the best snack even obviously that takes the level of empathy and caring for one another but I definitely think that that is one of the best ways to not only like keep yourself accountable but to better each other definitely noticed it as you were questioning and exploring a little bit more about like what your identity truly is how you felt some correlation to having to watch what you're eating or having to go exercise more and you're right that won't happen to everyone but you know if your friends are maybe going through a time of questioning or exploring their sexuality or exploring their gender identity like there are so many different things that can go into eating disorders and so just checking in with one another is so important Thomas I'm glad that you mentioned that one and I really want to make sure that that one is heard. Charlotte, do you have anything else that you wanna add on this topic?
Charlotte: yeah, so I cannot personally trans myself I am cis-woman but I do have a lot of friends and family who are trans or identify trans and I think they like Thomas said this checking up on them is a big thing I know a friend of mine his parents are rather strict about his food and I think it hasn't helped his transition where he is plus sized and so they worry that it's not healthy or they're just like they're worried about his eating habits and I think the way they go about it is rather unsupportive it's like you just said they're kind of trying to force it then it's throat rather than really trying to work with him or understand like why is like he has these habits or like if there's a deeper cause to it and so I think just checking in on them is really great point and just supporting them like you said as well I think even if like your friends don't have eating disorders or anything I think just checking in on them especially you know they have a busy day just to make sure they've eaten very important cause again just to show a level of empathy and I just I think that's really important you know we need to eat three meals a day that's the healthiest thing so just make sure that everyone is ok.
MG: I'm right there with you and I think that something that we often forget even or maybe not forget but more so that our society doesn’t appreciate or acknowledge is that every person's genetic inheritance influences their bone structure or body shape and weight all differently. There isn't that expectation that we should all be the same because we should be celebrating the differences and encouraging those healthy behaviors. I think there is also a piece of that in which your body gains nutrients, gains energy from eating, being able to ensure that not only are we doing that ourselves but our loved ones are as well. just shows that we can break down that stereotype I guess and that it happens much slower than we wish we could just flip a switch and there would be diverse bodies all over TV and all across our campus, and it just obviously just doesn't work that way.
TJ: Yeah, I just actually want to touch on that very quickly, because you brought something up and it just reminded me of something in my head, talking about how we wish there was a diverse and acceptable diverse community of bodies and so forth. Unfortunately in today’s society, like everything else that society has done, everything is forced into a binary, it's forced into a if or that, either or and unfortunately that has affected gender, it’s affected orientation and affects everything else in our life even done to body size. So unfortunately a lot of people believe in today’s society that body size is either fit or fat. And there isn't any in between because you're either fit or fat. And then fat is used as a negative connotation and a whole negative view and you see that in cultural memory with movie or tv for as long as you can remember watching TV shows from the early 2000s to the past and you'll see some jokes some movie being made that makes fun of body weight and so forth and it really comes down to our society having to understand that like actually everything is, everything is a spectrum. Everything is not just one linear line, there is no specific set form that a body should be. You don't have to be fit to be healthy is the line that is so big SO BIG to know and there are definitely people that are bigger than me that are also way more healthier than me 100%, 100% guarantee that they can run faster than me too, I hate running, I hate running with a passion. That’s the thing to note because as this binary is created there are going to be people who might not be going to view their body in the binary but now they have to assign their body to be in one of the categories or they are forced to be assigned into one of these categories. And that in itself is an effect of a lot of the ways people view their bodies today, it's just that we really have to break that binary, like everything else. It's like an ongoing theme, break the binary.
MG: breaking the Binary is a great way to really frame this as well, becasue its not just fit or fat, we have levels of health across all ranges of weights, when searching for ideal weights in charts and formulas, all of can be really misleading because if one we dont know how to use it then we might not be using it correctly and also I thing there is still an inherit law to the weight charts like BMI and some of the things that dont fully encompass what is actually healthy so we know that transgender individual experience eating disorders at rates significantly than rates of cisgender individuals and I was also able to find some research showing that a sense of connectedness to the Gay community was related to fewer current eating disorders, which suggest that feeling connected to the Gay community may have a protective effect agianst eating disorders. So really feeling like you are connected to someone and to like a group of people it seems to be what really makes a difference. That's one of the best ways to utilize SOGIE for that reason and also to find a space on campus where you can just feel safe. You don't have to feel like you are being judged and I know SOGIE has done a great job at doing that and creating programming to help break that binary. Is there anything you all would like to highlight from some of the research you have either done or been able to share through some of the programing on campus?
TJ: Well i actually want to touch on, well i want to confirm that you said that with LGBT+ individuals when they have more of a connectedness to the Queer community there is a corrlelation to less dysmorphia and so forth, am I correct in you just said that?
MG: Yes, that is what the research from NEDA is showing
TJ: see that is so upseting to hear that there is this positive right here but there is still a large percentage of the queer community that still struggles with body dismorphia and that also just goes to the fact that there is so much adversity within the queer community alone. Here at SOGIE we work towards a lot of intersectionality, a lot of diversity inclusion and equity, we work towards trying to bring all aspects of the community together and unfortunately there is just a lot of different communities that are still discriminated against even within the entire community alone and unfortunately that is also something that needs to be addressed its those external conflicts, like one resolve that we can find can lead to a positive progression of another. And so ways also to help with your peers and so forth, especially in this sense,you know, is this idea of working towards a society especially in a Queer community that doesnt have so mush discrimination against its other queer community members but really working toward loving eachother that would potentially help some more people within these lines of body dismorphia and body disphoria and feeling like they belong in this community and specifically goes to the a lot of the trans community speccifcially that unfortuatly there is a lot of people that still do not view them as part of the community and that we accept the trans community 100%, in open arms, in that they will always have a place within the queer community as well as all the other letters that we have in this beautiful alphabet mafia that we have.
MG: I really appreciate you all taking the time to sit down and talk with me for a little bit because I feel like this is something so important to be discussed. Our society often does not like to discuss some of this and it doesn't like to acknowledge that all bodies are good bodies so whenever we can do that I think that there is more than enough time to stop and do that. Of course SOGIE is a great resource on campus for anyone anyone who is a part of the LGBTQIA+ community
TJ: There are so many letters!
MG: Yes, I was making sure I got them all in there! So SOGIE is definitely a great place to visit if you are looking for a community on campus. Do you all have any programs?
Charlotte: So we just want to thank you for having us on and to be able to talk about this in an open and safe space. I think it is really important to be able to talk about this and to normalize these discussions. Like I said earlier SOGIE does have an office on the first floor of SSC its on the left side of the pharmacy, we share an office with CMSS, the center for multicultural student services, you can come in and see us there we also have the lavender lounge right next store, its labeled lavender lounge in bright purple letters it is fantastic, we have our wonderful plant linda, we have our self expression closet, we have a library with open resources for everyone, we have free printing, it is a very open and safe space, we have people in there all the time, there is usually free buttons, stickers and people there to chat with. It is a fantastic spot if you ever come and stop by.
TJ: I want to share upcoming in the spring 2022 semester, we have open house for the lavender lounge and the CMSS offices and you can see some of the staff and some of the new staff including our new director and new assistant director as well we are having a clothing drive during this time as well as more in the future, this will be on March 2nd from 11-1, around the 1st week in april is trans day of visibility we will have a speaker come and have a pretty big event. Those are two big things to put on your radar. Thank you for having us.
MG: You'll be able to find links to all the resources mentioned in the episode description. Now if you don't already follow us on instagram, you can find us @JMUUrec for some great information about all the fun things we’re doing over here at UREC. Thank you for tuning in, and don’t forget to listen to our next podcast. Until then, be well dukes!