Eating Disorders have historically been pegged as a mental illness that affects affluent, white women and girls. One of the first high profile cases of Anorexia Nervosa was Karen Carpenter, a white American singer who died of the illness in 1983. Since then, there have been many other famous white females who have admitted to Eating Disorder behaviours publicly (think Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Portia de Rossi).
While these women have definitely raised the profile of Eating Disorders across the globe, their stories promote that same age-old myth – that Eating Disorders affect white females and no one else.
Julissa Minaya is a 16-year-old mixed race girl from Dallas, Texas who is currently in recovery from an Eating Disorder that started when she was just a child. She was heavily involved in dancing, acting and figure-skating when she was younger, all of which put an immense focus on her body. “My acting coach told me that I would probably be more successful in the career if I was smaller,” she remembers. “So I went on my first diet when I was like 10 or 11 and then it just spiraled from there.”
Julissa says that going to private school in Texas also contributed to the onset and continuation of her illness. “The schools that I’ve gone to have been predominately white, so I was with a bunch of girls that didn’t look like me,” she says. “They were all really thin and tall and I wasn’t.”
When Julissa started her recovery about a year ago, she relied heavily on social media for inspiration. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find anyone in the online Eating Disorder recovery community who looked like her. “I definitely didn’t see a lot of representation, especially being mixed because I’m Dominican, Puerto Rican, Black and German,” she says. “A lot of the time with my identities I feel kind of lost, especially growing up being surrounded by so many white people and so that kind of followed me through the Instagram community. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me or anyone who was a person of colour.”
Instead of giving up Julissa made the brave decision to start her own Instagram account to share her journey through recovery as a member of the BIPOC community. “I think that my voice matters, especially bringing in the perspective of a person of colour dealing with an Eating Disorder and having one so young,” she says. “So, I definitely wanted to share a perspective that is not like everyone else’s.”
Julissa hopes that her account will help other people of colour feel more seen and heard in the Eating Disorder recovery space. She says that if she had seen more representation it would have definitely helped push her towards recovery. “My recovery probably would have started a little sooner or made me feel less alone because when I was following Instagram accounts and watching YouTube videos it was all people that just looked the same,” she says. “I just kind of felt left out because I was like, oh, I don’t identify with these people past the fact that we all have Eating Disorders.”
Julissa believes that the fact that there aren’t as many people of colour talking about mental illness online is a societal issue. As a society we are more receptive to straight sized white females talking about Eating Disorders than fat people, men or people from the BIPOC or LGBTQ+ community. She says that within BIPOC community mental illness is something that isn’t often talked about, even though statistics show that they are disproportionately affected the most. “It’s definitely an issue within our communities and within society,” she says.
Julissa’s experience putting herself out there online has been mainly positive and she is happy that she is able to be a voice in the Eating Disorder recovery space for the BIPOC community. “I love being able to know that my story could be helping at least one person,” she says.
You can find Julissa and learn more about her story on Instagram under julissas.recovery.
Are you a member of the BIPOC community? How do you feel that the Eating Disorder recovery space can better support you in your own recovery?