Trump Brought My Eating Disorder Back
The new president's misogynistic rhetoric and actions have evoked dangerous behavior for many women.
Image: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images News
There was a brief moment in October when America seemed to care about women. Allegedly, women were so important that Trump's boasts of sexual assault would end his bid for the White House. Billy Bush lost his job. The polls swung left. Republican billionaires redirected their money toward down-ticket candidates. Even GOP politicians disavowed Trump's pussy-grabbing. After all, they "had" (we noticed the verb, the implication of ownership, but still remained hopeful) daughters and wives, and those daughters and wives possessed pussies, and those pussies deserved respect. America, in its dumb-jock way, seemed to be saying, "We got you, ladies; we won't let anyone mess with you." Those halcyon days lasted three weeks—from the afternoon of PussyGate until Comey's October surprise.
Ultimately, America weighed its options and decided that pussy-grabbing wasn't the worst thing.
And then some American women stopped eating. Others already had. Others had been bingeing, or bingeing and purging, for months. Since Trump announced that he was running for president, women have been exposed to constant triggers—body shaming (by someone in a power position, no less), lack of control, stress, and anger, to name a few. "Every single one of my clients had a slip-up on Election Day," says Leora Fulvio, an eating disorder therapist in the Bay Area. "And I was getting calls from old clients who had been okay for years. They wanted to tell me they'd relapsed." This is what we're dealing with nationwide: women dismantled by Donald Trump.
"Trump has a way of bringing me back to the headspace I lived in when my disorder was at its worst," a lawyer I'll call Alice (she wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons) tells me. After suffering from exercise bulimia for six years, therapy had helped Alice to retrain her thinking: She'd accepted that no one was as focused as she was on whether or not her body was perfect. That acceptance had brought her peace. Prior to Trump's relentless presence in the news, and our subsequent daily dose of misogyny, she had been healthy since 2014. "Trump judges women by their appearances and scrutinizes their bodies just as hard and as unforgivingly as I scrutinize mine," Alice says. "And the fact that so many people voted for him indicates that he's not the only one."
Television writer Andrea (who chooses to withhold her last name out of respect for the tenets of Overeaters Anonymous) tells me that post-election, she replaced O.A. meetings with cake and bread. "I used to weigh 400 pounds," she says. "Sugar is the enemy. But I'd always eaten to deal with my feelings. After the election, I was so angry all the time, I started doing that again."
Transcriber Vanessa Hill tells me that her anorexia had lain dormant for about two years before Election Day. "Trump's win was a major shock," she says. "That so many people were in favor of a man who brags about sexually assaulting women? It was like the death of hope for me. I've lost about ten pounds. I'm down to 98."
I am one of these women, too. I stopped eating around the time the Access Hollywood story broke. I hadn't done that in years, but I guess I'd seen enough. So I turned my attention to the rumble in my stomach, the loosening of my waistband. For me, self-denial is subversive because self-absorption feels subversive. I don't have to think about anyone else. I don't have to worry about the world. When I fixate on not eating, my body becomes the center of my universe. I wear my eating disorder like a sign on my chest: under construction, keep out.
Self-denial can be traced back through generations of women who had no recourse. It's a time-honored ritual, a serene "fuck you" to power structures. In the 1300s, Saint Catherine of Siena refused to eat when her parents pressured her to marry. Some Victorian girls were treated for anorexia ("I saw that you wished to shut me up," one told her doctor). In the early 1900s, the Suffragettes waged hunger strikes in prison.
"Eating disorder patients may take the anger and powerlessness they feel towards others, or towards the world, and turn it against themselves," says Nina Savelle-Rocklin, a psychoanalyst and author of Food for Thought: Perspectives on Eating Disorders. "They'll attack their bodies through restriction, or through bingeing and purging."
What cut me more deeply than the Access Hollywood video was Trump's supporters rushing to his defense, threatening to take to the streets with guns if he lost the election, labeling those of us who felt unsafe and stripped of dignity "cry babies," "little bitches," "libtards," and "pussies." Not to mention, I found Trump's swagger reminiscent of the men who have groped me—the French filmmaker who squeezed my breasts when we met, the Wall Street guy who tickled my armpit while I carried a tray of drinks above my head, the boy back in high school who swiped at my crotch through my jeans while I was making out with his friend.
"Research shows very clear connections between eating disorders and sexual violence," says Melissa Fabello, eating disorder scholar and managing editor of Everyday Feminism. Fact: Nearly half of all women have experienced some form of sexual violence, including the 17.7 million women in the U.S. who have been victims of either rape or attempted rape. Fact: We just watched a predator rise all the way to the presidency.
Here's the thing: We are not Victorian girls. We have options beyond spending the next four years taking out our anger on our bodies. We must stop attacking ourselves and instead prepare for the inevitable attacks. We must stop turning inward to avoid looking outward. We must not block out the Donald Trump shit show by focusing on our weight and food.
Our president told Howard Stern that he was attracted to his daughter. He called a beauty pageant winner "Miss Piggy." He expressed his wish to punish women who have abortions. He believes that a woman's appearance should be rated on a scale from one to ten. The GOP, the party that birthed him, can hardly wait to defund Planned Parenthood and get to work overturning Roe v. Wade. Nothing against women, they say. This is not a feminist issue, they say. We believe in human rights, they say. Of fetuses, for example.
This is personal: We are under attack. What is required now is radical self-care, unprecedented strength. If we're going to fight for our rights, we must first fortify ourselves.
For a while, I kept punishing my body: In early November, I canceled a gynecologist appointment and rescheduled it, then canceled the new appointment and rescheduled again, and then, the third time, just didn't show up. The thought of being touched by a stranger—even by a doctor, even by a woman doctor, even as a means of maintaining my health—was too much like having my pussy grabbed. I know that may sound absurd, but this is how far-reaching Trump's toxicity is.
We must keep our doctors' appointments, eat balanced meals, focus our rage, and recognize our worth. If we need help, we must seek help. "If we're critical of ourselves, then someone else who treats us with contempt may register not as a critic, but as someone who knows us well," Savelle-Rocklin says. "Find others who feel the way you do about the current political situation, join an eating disorder support group, and take political action. When you are kind to yourself, you feel good. When you feel connected to others, you feel a sense of community. When these two things are in place, you're less likely to focus on your body or displace your anger and helplessness onto your weight."
Remember where your power lies: in speaking up, in calling your representatives, in marching, in educating, in demonstrating respect and inclusivity to the next generation. We are here. We are many. We are resilient.