Who Can Get an Eating Disorder: Whitewashing ED Is Dangerous

September 16, 2018 Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

Who can get an eating disorder? Race, gender, and other demographics just don't matter. Learn who can get an eating disorder at HealthyPlace.

Who can get an eating disorder? The answer may surprise you because, for decades, the cultural perception of eating disorders has been whitewashed in the media and characterized as an issue that only affects Caucasian, heterosexual women. But this narrow understanding is biased, warped, and problematic. In reality, around 30 million Americans struggle with disordered eating behaviors,1 and just a fraction of this number are actually white. These illnesses transcend racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation boundaries, causing a universal epidemic which threatens every demographic ("You Can't Diagnose an Eating Disorder by Looking at Someone"). But the prevailing mythos that eating disorders are only present in white culture negates the experience of marginalized people and often alienates them from seeking treatment. So how can society address this whitewashed perception of eating disorders and broaden the narrative to include those from other backgrounds too? Who can get an eating disorder? Anyone.

Why We Need to Recognize Everyone Who Gets an Eating Disorder

Why Eating Disorder Whitewashing Is a Problem

Eating disorders come with stigma, secrecy, and shame which means the normalization of these illnesses in mainstream culture is lacking. But if eating disorders are visually represented, most often, the image is one of whiteness. This absence of diversity can urge people of different origins to question whether their suffering is valid which causes further torment and isolation. For those who don't reflect the standard profile of an eating disorder victim as shown in the media, it can be twice as difficult to find support, healing, and camaraderie because they feel disregarded or overlooked by the same institutions that could raise awareness for their plight but choose not to. In a culture shaped around the idea of white privilege, this is just another example of how Western colonialism is toxic to minorities.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), "it is sometimes speculated that [people] from racial and ethnic minority groups are 'immune' to developing eating disorders because their cultural identity provides some amount of protection against body image disturbances."2 But NEDA goes on to explain how this assumption fails to consider the social, genetic, environmental, and psychological factors of disordered eating which could impact anyone, both in the dominant culture and on the margins. In fact, the ubiquitous—but misguided—connection between perceived beauty and whiteness can make people of color even more susceptible to abusing or oppressing their own bodies.     

How to Address Eating Disorder Whitewashing 

In order to create a society of inclusion where people from any group or background can access the resources, support networks, and treatment options needed for recovery, people in the mainstream culture must change their whitewashed perception of eating disorders. They need to confront micro-aggressions propagated in the media which tend to omit the experience of minorities from the broader conversation. They need to realize that eating disorders are not limited to one specific demographic and stereotype. They need to understand how acculteration—the process of the colonized absorbing traits and ideals of the colonizer—seduces people of color to view their bodies as unacceptable since they're considered to be outside the norm. And moreover, society as a whole needs to grasp that disordered eating is not an issue which polarizes the majority from the minority, but a pervasive and dangerous illness from which people across the spectrum deserve to find healing.    

See Also:


  1. Hudson, J.I., "The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbity Survey Replication." Biological Psychiatry. February 1, 2008. 
  2. "Eating Disorders and Women of Color: Explanations and Implications." National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed September 19, 2018. 

APA Reference
Schurrer, M. (2018, September 16). Who Can Get an Eating Disorder: Whitewashing ED Is Dangerous, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 23 from

Author: Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

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