In the world of packaged prototypes, post-op photos, and predetermined plastic destinies, we’re all at stake to be compared to one another. The world of healthy eating habits is a war-torn zone filled with people posting selfies along the way, documenting the damage and the drama. In Marissa LaRocca’s new novel, “Starving in Search of Me” the author, activist, and vlogger for the LGBTQ community unveils a vulnerable vignette of herself from youth to now. This revolutionary disclosure diary was created on the basis of sharing her story with others.
“By putting my truth out there and getting to share my work with others adds a whole other, glorious layer to it. I have spent hundreds, probably thousands of hours on this project and if I can inspire just one struggling young person out there to feel a little more relief in their skin, it will all be worth it. There is no greater feeling than when people write me to tell me I have made an impact on their life,” Marissa LaRocca tells GO.
As a fellow queer who personally struggles with a “closeted” problem, I highly recommend this book. It’s not just for those who may identify with eating disorders. Rather, it touches upon many realms related to such. As a person who struggled with alcoholism for years, this trying-and-true story was very relatable to my experiences.
There’s a “closet” metaphor that can be understood in these situations of secrecy. Especially regarding sexuality and LaRocca’s book highlights this extended metaphor. When discussing her disorders and sexuality, she attempted at keeping both aspects of her life “in the closet,” as to appear “normal” to the community around her. This metaphor would begin to manipulate and manifest a monster within. I can relate, feeling I presented “fine” on the outside, when on the inside I felt out of control and abominable (when drinking). LaRocca’s wise words, guidance and genuine input about her intimate life were tidbits of truth that were incredibly helpful.
In fact, I jotted down dozens of quotes and examples into my own notebook. Taking the time to hand-write these humbling truths helped me understand the book’s further reach into the world of “self-help.” When approached to read and review this book, I had no idea how helpful her words would be to me. The intersectionality of queer identity and body image in “Starving” is a literal continent of unexplored crossroads.
LaRocca touches upon this, by clearly addressing how gender identity and sexuality intersect with eating disorders within her narrative.
“I have personally encountered an overlap between eating disorders, dissociative disorder, and gender dysphoria. One driving force behind my eating disorder was that I wanted my body to appear more androgynous. It was also driven by my resistance to being a woman. This was my form of gender dysphoria. Long before I even knew I was a lesbian, I just wasn’t into embodying society’s idea of “what a girl should be,” Marissa LaRocca (pg 126).
Psychotherapist (and sister) Kristy LaRocca, MA, LMHC, of Live Your Truth Mental Health Counseling in NYC, provides this poignant point about the abundance of external stressors impacting queer-identifying people. She tells GO, “Much of our discrimination is delivered to us in much more subtle, insidious, and micro-aggressive ways. A gender non-conforming person not having the option of a non-gendered bathroom. A bisexual person feeling implicitly ostracized by both the queer and the heterosexual community. A gay man or lesbian having to sort through more Valentine’s Day cards at the store than they should have to, just to find one that isn’t explicitly heteronormative. Some might call this minority stress. Whatever we want to term it, these subtle daily stressors stack up over time and affect the psyche of most queer people, even subconsciously.”
It’s In The Numbers
There are studies, books and essays about all of this (NEDA research, “The Satisfied Soul: Transforming your food and weight worries” by Shosana Korbin, and “Being Queers Means” by Nadia Cho). Meaning there are many truths and facts out there that are fighting the battle against misinformation for the masses. When asked why she wrote “Starving,” LaRocca responded, “I wanted to make recovery more accessible to people who are struggling. Recovery is something to celebrate. And I think it’s important for those who recover to let themselves be seen and share their stories and spread awareness to inspire others. For me, doing so feels like an important responsibility.”
Beyond the desks of both LaRocca sisters is continuous research and development of this intriguing enigma.
I consulted the Trevor Project , a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. “Research suggests that eating disorders disproportionately impact some segments of LGBT populations, and in our first round of research we present these numbers,” says Calvin Stowell, Chief Growth Officer. The full report will be available at the end of February 2018 aligned with National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
The 2018 survey was conducted online within the United States by The Trevor Project with input from the National Eating Disorders Association. It focused on over 1,000 individuals on the LGTBQ spectrum. The study found 40.41% of those who identify as genderqueer or gender nonconforming and had been diagnosed with an eating disorder with binge eating disorder being the most common. This is an alarming percentage. Given that many genderqueer people are coming from a place of learning to find peace with their physical, mental and emotional well being. Within the research it was found, 45.42% of those who identify as gay or lesbian have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, with anorexia being the most common.
There was also research conducted on the experience of discrimination and the association with eating disorders. As Dr. Kristy LaRocca explained to GO, “There are these aspirations and sociocultural pressures to look a certain way in order to be accepted. These are notably two factors which contribute highly to an increased risk of developing eating disorders.”
Marissa LaRocca confirms a similar, conscious school of thought: “As compared to their heterosexual-identifying counterparts, members of the LGBTQ community typically face more oppression and discrimination from their families, and from society, for their expression of gender identity and sexual orientation. Since LGBTQ people are minorities and are frequently treated as second-class citizens, they tend to internalize more shame, which can manifest as anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, or other mental health issues.”
Another take-away point from The Trevor Project research suggests that 39.6% of those who reported that they had been the subject of discrimination because of their sexual orientation reported having been diagnosed with an eating disorder. There a fascination on people who identify anywhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. The idea of gender and sexuality existing on a spectrum is still a rather new concept for some. Meaning the traditional roles of what “men” and “women” look, sound and act like are being completely reconditioned to work with present reality. Queer culture, in some realms, can be discouraging to physical fitness. For me, going out, partying for and with other queers prompted poor physical health. That played into my mental health which spilled over into my emotional wellbeing. I didn’t like the way I looked or felt but still pursued this destructive yet social lifestyle — in order to feel connected to my community.
Between The Pages
Reading “Starving,” was refreshing as LaRocca dissected her narrative in a responsible and respectful way. Offering insight into her childhood and nonetheless narrating how the inside didn’t reflect the outside. The stages and phases of puberty are none to be tampered with. Even today, in 2018, there are agendas from businesses like Weight Watchers targeting teens by offering “free memberships” to promote “the development of healthy habits at a critical life stage”. A truly fragile and fundamental time in a person’s life is their teenage years. The effects from commercial society influence can be everlasting, as explained by Marissa:
“But not all trauma is caused by acute traumatic incidents. Sometimes trauma, like the kind I experienced, can be developmental,” Marissa LaRocca tells GO.
This developmental factor is crucial in the understanding of disorders; the beginning, middle and continuous existence they have in a person’s life. There’s healing that happens, and certain aspects that are never fully healed. That’s okay, and that’s what was so revolutionary about LaRocca realizing what was needed in order to begin a healing process.
Admitting her need for help was a crucial breakthrough point in the novel. LaRocca making the conscious decision to try this approach of getting help was one of the most courageous moves possible.
“My healing journey has been by no means linear,” LaRocca tells GO. “In the grand scheme of recovering from an eating disorder, even the backwards steps are giant leaps forward, in that they present you with the opportunity to forgive yourself, and to surrender to the inevitable truth that you’re not perfect or invincible.”