Geeks Get Eating Disorders Too

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Illustration for article titled Geeks Get Eating Disorders Too

I am thirteen and at my first comic/sci-fi expo. I'd had no idea what to expect, and I'm stressed out. The place is packed, and everything seems to be anime and everything seems to cost money. It's the height of Dragonball-Z's popularity in New Zealand and there are Gokus competing in Kah-me-ha-me-ha competitions in the hall. There are signings by people from Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek, two more things I'm not into. There is the ubiquitous Xena stall. The Lord of The Rings won't come out till later this year.

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I look around and feel like the only girl in the room, not that you can actually tell. I am a weird, wide-eyed child still round with puppy fat, in blue dungarees, clutching my favourite ‘Hellblazer' volume. I have Batman and Xena dolls in my backpack, but they've been played with and chewed on and generally treated like a toy, not a collectible.

Eventually I find a corner to sit in and watch people. I'm looking out for my friends, most of whom are busy talking Evangelion or Star Trek.

Then I spot them. I'm not the only girl in the room. There are a bevvy of them – And they're all dressed up as Sailor Scouts. I recognise sailor scouts from five years ago when Sailor Moon played on TV after the Samurai Pizza Cats in the mornings before school. I liked the pizza cats better.

But these sailor scouts are older than me, they're thin and pretty and everyone is paying attention to them. Cosplay's not big here, and these five girls look perfect. They pose for photos and simper and smile.

Later, when I mention them to my friends (who are all boys) they make a big deal over how hot those girls were. I look at my thighs and decide to go on a diet.

Five years later and I'm at a roleplaying convention. This is more my pace –- I know most everyone here, I'm even running a game for the first time ever. Before the first round a guy I know comes and sits next to me, pointing out a mutual friend who just got engaged. "There's a reason to keep doing your sports and things," he says, gesturing to our friend "I swear the only way she got a guy was by stealing his soul and keeping it in a jar."

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I am utterly stunned. Yes, our friend is fat. So is her fiancee. So is the guy talking to me. I mutter something. During the first game we all put junk food on the table, and I am in hell. I eat way more than everyone else (or maybe I just think I do) and sit, squirming, till the end of the three hour session. Then I make a break for it. Up to the floor being prepared for the LARP, so no one will be in the toilets. I make myself throw up over and over until I can't get anything else out.

I'm a geek, and I'm bulimic.

I sit weekly among stacks of corn chips and M&Ms, pizza and Pepsi when I roleplay. My mind is NEVER totally on the game. Depending on my mood, a part of it is always there, calculating how much to eat, and how to purge.

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I get this idea that we, as geeks, are expected to rise above the common herd that are influenced by advertising and self-hate. We're so much cleverer than that, so much more accepting! We were the fat kids in high school!

But we're not. After all, geek boys lusts after the thin ones, every geek girl is bombarded with pictures of thin Leia, thin Xena, thin Sailor Scouts. Comics portray thin people as good, fat people as bad. There's a reason Desire is slim and Despair is fat. Women get the same role-models in geek culture as they do in the rest of the world, but that culture is determined not to address this, nor to address the problems it might cause us.

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I've grown up through both geek and jock culture and they're both the same. Dominated by men, a thin varnish over pervasive misogyny. The only difference is where the jocks know the girls have eating disorders, but don't care; the geeks genuinely think that this part of the world cannot touch them.

So it's okay to make fat jokes, cos everyone knows you don't mean them, not when you're fat and 2/3rds of the room is too. And it's okay to mock girls who are "stupid" enough to want to starve or puke themselves pretty, because we all know that geeks are too smart to succumb to such base stuff as the desire for control and perfection.

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The comments on people's bodies that are flat out rude, excused by social awkwardness and "I was just saying". I sit uncomfortably in these conversations. My disorder has only been remarked upon in ways that are scathing. The attempts at recovery which lead to "you've put on weight." in a flat, ugly tone. The times when it has been so bad I stopped eating only resulted in comments like "God, you look skeletal." "Go have a sandwich or something!"

I want to know if I'm the only geek who has an ED. I'm afraid the answer is yes.

Of course, there is another factor –- EDs are women's problems. Geek culture is not "girly" and rejects all notions of "girly". Why bother with body image issues when that's clearly a girl problem. By discussing them geek culture would have to highlight the way id currently uses women's bodies –- confront the paradox that to be welcomed as a woman you must be hot, but to be taken seriously you must be not-hot. And both parties must endeavour to become "one of the boys" (except when there's an opportunity to objectify the hot ones) and not bring up irrelevant girl problems.

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Even when those girl problems might be killing our friends.

No geek has ever looked at me, puffy and red-eyed, or bony thin, or exhausted from exercise and asked "are you okay?"

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"Are you okay?"

No, I don't expect people to be mind readers. But rather than make body-shaming comments at all, ask that question first. Are you okay? Genuinely want to know the answer. Ask it over text, google+, x-box live, or over a coffee.

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So, I'll ask it here –- Geek Feminists, are you okay?

You know what, right now, and since age 13, I'm not okay.

This post originally appeared on GeekFeminism.org. Republished with permission.

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DISCUSSION

I really appreciate this article because it resonates with some of my own experiences. As a geeky teen I thought I was a special unicorn cute geek gamer girl, so I hated on other geek girls (who threatened my unique status) in order to be one of the boys. Then was severely harassed and mistreated by my supposed guy friends when I wouldn't date them. I now avoid geek spaces because the geek sexism I grew up with almost leaves me with PTSD. Hell, I couldn't even hang around Geek Girl Con beyond my own panel because I found it so triggering to be around geeks.

Then, when I'm 20 and my metabolism slows down, I develop ED-type issues. (I would like to get into the specifics, but for all I'm usually personal-is-political and write publicly about my life, I am still terrified if I write or talk about the specifics of my ED habits I'll somehow be discredited in hiring.) I was working at Walt Disney World in their super-exploitative college program, and I realized I wasn't thin enough to play a princess. I could no longer get what I wanted, as I had when I was a teen, from my looks. Then my bad habits began. I think geek culture informed my views about how women should look, even if I'd already become a closet/isolated geek to avoid the harassment.

The funny thing is, I was already a budding feminist at age 20 when I first taught myself how to induce vomiting. Now, at 27-years-old, I haven't stopped struggling. I've transferred a lot of my food-anxiety onto running, which has helped me feel more in control, but I still slip into bad habits a few times a year. (Not to mention the daily guilt if I have to miss a day of working out.) I don't make sense. I'm intellectually fat-positive and all about health-at-every-size, and run in anarchist and feminist circles where there is regular dialogue about patriarchy and body image and acceptance of non-"normative" bodies. I can talk the talk and say every body is beautiful, and hide the severity of my food issues and that I'm secretly comparing myself to other female-bodied people and smugly praising myself for my discipline and fitness. How can it be that I'm intellectually feminist and have an ED?

ETA: I think it is interesting that this author uses Xena as an example of thin women because I have the opposite reaction. Xena: Warrior Princess is the only show that makes me feel good about both my body and being a woman. (Sorry BtvS, you just make me feel good about being a woman, not about my body.) When I watch the show now, and compare it to current shows, the casting seems so progressive in terms of body types. (The bar is really low for progressive casting, and I could still critique X:WP, but I'm just like: wow, not everyone is a size zero! Even the leads! I don't know if such muscular women as LL and Renee O'Conner could be cast as leads today.)