Dear Dr. Darcy:
I’ve been in a relationship with my partner for just under a year. Recently she began losing weight and though I never thought she was overweight, but I supported her decision to become healthier. However, she seems to have met and gone beyond her weight loss goals, and at this point I don’t support her continued weight loss if her reasons are superficial. We have discussed our joint aversion to society’s perpetuation of eating disorders and the media’s relentless campaign to set physical standards of beauty that are unattainable. Now I find myself wondering if my partner, who I fancied a feminist, has a budding eating disorder. The idea of being with someone who has an eating disorder is unattractive to me as it implies that what lies in her heart is not what she espouses.
Your issue with your partner sounds more like a philosophical issue you’re having with yourself and with feminist theory: Can a real feminist suffer from an eating disorder or are they mutually exclusive? I wonder if this pontificating keeps you at a safe distance from pondering your emotional response to having a partner who may be in trouble, particularly since your question lacks any reference to concern for her well-being.
Unfortunately feminists are not immune to eating disorders. The presumption that eating disorders are exclusively attributable to the preoccupation with physical appearance is a misnomer. Eating disordered individuals often echo this sentiment because it’s the only explanation that they’re conscious of. However, it’s the underlying issues that comprise the core of the problem, and the extent to which those issues are probed and understood will determine their prognosis.
Your partner’s feminist values don’t shelter her from issues plaguing our gender, and while eating disorders are often understood as the endless quest to attain thinness, note that this is a gross oversimplification and that the root is usually far more complex and can have little to do with aesthetic goals.
I suggest you tell your partner the following: 1) You’re concerned about her health because her weight loss goals seem to have no end. 2) You’d like to support her; you’re allowing for the possibility that you’re overreacting; you’d like to receive feedback from someone objective. 3) You guessed it: You’d like to explore couple’s counseling.
Draw upon your feminist ideology to find empathy for your partner. She needs you. Don’t judge, abandon or question her values. You might never forgive yourself if you miss this opportunity to help her.
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Dr. Darcy Smith received her Masters degree from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from New York University. She has been a practicing social worker for over 10 years and is in private practice in both New York City and New Jersey.
*By submitting questions, the writer acknowledges that she has no rights of confidentiality and that her question or a version thereof may be printed in GO Magazine. Correspondence between Dr. Darcy Smith and a writer does not constitute a therapeutic relationship and such a relationship and the rights/privileges associated with such can only be established through a scheduled, in person session.