Sunday, August 2, 2009

Race, eating disorders, and a new controversial book cover

I think most of us reading this blog or other eating disorder blogs agree that eating disorders do not discriminate. They affect different races, cultures, and ethnicities. This is truly not new news. I remember nearly ten years ago, there were studies looking at ethnic/racial proclivities towards eating disorders. I was even featured in a Washington Post article about it (sorry, can only read the first few paragraphs as it is archived). So to me, it seems a bit crazy that people continue to not "get" it.

Recently, there have been articles and studies about the increasing or rather "out of the closet" phenomena that African-American/black men and women are also affected by eating disorders. For a long time, people just thought this group of people were immune to eating disorders. They believed that African-Americans' definition of beauty was
different--that curvaceousness was the more appeasing aesthetic. And that this would somehow protect them from ever developing an eating disorder.

Oh how wrong people can be. In a culture where thinness is prided, there is bound to be a cultural shift. In this 2005
New York Times, it explains how blacks join the eating disorder mainstream. From there, there have been other studies showing the prevalence of eating disorders among this population. Most recently, a study
from USC showed that African-American girls were 50% more likely to develop bulimia than their white counterparts, especially those within the lowest income bracket.

Obviously, this is a problem. It is great that research is looking at this population. However, I think there is still a lack of personal story, biography, memoir for this specific group of people. Many times this can be helpful for sufferers to feel less alone.

This is where Stephanie
Covington Armstrong comes in. Stephanie, a playwright and screenwriter in CA, has written a new memoir,
Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat on her struggle with bulimia. I had not even heard of this book until I read this LA Times Blog asking if this book cover went terribly wrong.

The opinions vary with some feeling it is too graphic, while others feel it it blunt, raw, and to the point. Others say they never would have even guessed the symbolism of the cover had the controversy been stirred. I'm not exactly sure how to feel about the cover. To me, it is on the graphic side, but at the same time, it puts the disorder out there. (or at least one form of bulimia)

I have not read this book, so I cannot say whether it is good, triggering, provocative, etc. But what I am glad about is that there is now a book for this audience. Even though there have
been tons of memoirs on eating disorders, people often want to feel a sense of understanding, and sometimes that happens to be because of race or ethnicity. In the end, my hope is that people do not judge the cover of the book, but rather the contents. After all, that is all what we want eating disordered or not.

Note--*Here is a transcript by NPR about African-Americans and eating disorders.


writermom said...


I'm Stephanie, the writer of Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat. Like you I grew so tired of feeling alone and isolated in this disease. I would love to have a real chat. Can you email me at I'm working to help people learn that eating disorders are not only a white woman's disease.


interesting. i am very interested in learning more about eating disorders and asian women, a subject that means a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

I like the front cover, it's honest and doesn't try and make bulimia out to be something pink and fluffy. As Marya Hornbacher put it, it's an act of violence against the body, it doesn't hurt to remind the general public of that.

Lola x

Maeve said...

I really like the cover of the book. The people (on the other site) who said it was overly graphic just made me angry. It was an honest reminder of what bulimia is, and I for one am tired of feeling shame about this illness.

As for the question of race, I have no first hand insight, but rather great sympathy for people who are not getting the treatment they should because of discrimination and stereotyping. I really really really wish more people could get the help they need for eating disorders.

Tiptoe said...

Stephanie, thank you for commenting. I agree that it is important that people understand EDs affect everyone.

The Actors Diet, feel free to e-mail me if you would like. I'd be happy to tell you of my own experience.

Lola and Maeve, it's certainly true that the cover is honest to the portrayal of bulimia.

Anonymous said...

Not quite the same thing--but it's also a belief held by many people that Jews can't have eating disorders... partly because of the "eat, eat, you're so thin" stereotype and partly because it's considered by many inside and outside the Jewish community for it be shameful for a Jew to have one, in light of the Holocaust.
At least this is my personal experience with the situation. It's part of the reason I've remained so secretive about my problem.
Glad to see this memoir. Personally, I like the cover. People have to understand how brutal and ugly these illnesses are.

Tiptoe said...

Yes, "Julia," you are certainly right. I had forgotten about the stigma of EDs within the Jewish community, though I have several friends who are Jewish. The good thing is that there seems to be more awareness within that population, so I think more are getting the treatment they need.

Thanks for bringing this up. I hope you are one day able to let go, so this secret does not hold you so captive anymore.