Eating disorders affect everyone, regardless of race, age, or socioeconomic class. This is a powerful message shared by Benjamin O’Keefe on a recent episode of The Recovery Warrior Shows.
Benjamin O’Keefe is a social change activist and thought leader known for his transformative work in culture, politics, and entertainment. He’s spearheaded many campaigns for social and political activism. Including in 2013 with his petition to hold retailer Abercrombie & Fitch accountable for discrimination against plus-sized and BIPOC customers.
Benjamin is an early trailblazer in the body-positive movement, and he’s featured in the Netflix documentary “White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch”. He continues to advise and influence many leaders, celebrities, and brands in social activism and change. He also has lived experience with recovering from an eating disorder, and now sits on the board of Project Heal. Benjamin not only talks the talk, but walks the walk in creating social change and justice.
He had a lot to say on the topic of eating disorders not having a “look”. Keep reading to discover the insights he shared in a conversation with Equip Health‘s Kristina Saffran.
Benjamin O’Keefe’s Story
Benjamin’s journey was far from the stereotypical experience of someone with an eating disorder. He grew up in poverty where accessing healthcare was a luxury he couldn’t afford. His difficulty accessing care was compounded by the fact that he was black, male, and overweight. Because of this, no one seemed to notice or show concern when he began to lose a significant amount of weight.
What began as a conscious decision to lose weight spiraled out of control and took over his life. Benjamin became consumed by the disorder, despite eventually having the body that society deemed “acceptable”. The realization that he had an eating disorder was a gradual process, and it took a lot of effort to seek out resources and understand what was happening to him.
I’m thankful and lucky to get to this place of recovery today, because the system was stacked against me like it is for so many marginalized people.
Treatment for eating disorders can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, making it an unattainable luxury for many. Formal treatment was never an option for Benjamin O’Keefe in recovery. While it’s not something he would necessarily recommend, it was more a matter of circumstance than choice. This is why he’s now a passionate advocate for greater access to resources and support for those struggling with eating disorders.
Anyone Can Have an Eating Disorder
A common misconception around eating disorders is that they only effect thin, young white women. The reality is that eating disorders affect ALL ages, sizes, and races. If you don’t fit the stereotype that society expects, your experience can be questioned or invalidated.
What fuels this misconception? According to Benjamin O’Keefe, it’s internalized racism and fatphobia within individuals, the medical system, and the world around around us.
Many of our beauty standards are set off of white Eurocentric beauty standards that are unattainable for many people.
Diet culture tells us we should restrict to try and fit this mold, and feel shame when we don’t. The fact is, most people are not biologically or genetically set up to fit these standards.
The clothing industry also plays a role in idolizing thin, white bodies. Benjamin O’Keefe shared that while 70% of the US population is considered plus size, only 20% of available clothing is made in these sizes. It’s even worse when companies like Abercrombie & Fitch openly state that they don’t want BIPOC individuals or people in larger bodies wearing their clothing brand. This was the public stance that motivated a young Benjamin to start a campaign and advocate for change back in 2013.
Hope for the future
The good news is the tides are turning. There’s been a lot of chance since Benjamin’s campaign calling out Abercrombie ten years ago. He’s excited to see a growing acknowledgement that eating disorders affect ALL people. These changes are saving lives, as so many people who have been ignored are finally being seen.
Other positive changes he’s seen are:
- An increase in culturally competent care
- More diverse eating disorder therapists
- More professionals with lived eating disorder experience
Benjamin also notes that a general increase in access to treatment helps level the playing field for everyone affected by an eating disorder. He shouts out Project Heal and Equip for their efforts to improve care and access for diverse and marginalized populations.
It’s exciting to see increasing access to care in a way that acknowledges the lived experiences and diversities of people. We’re making progress and moving in the right direction.
While Benjamin is excited about the changes he sees within the eating disorder community, there’s still a ways to go at a societal level where fatphobia runs rampant. He hopes we can continue to learn to love ourselves and embrace the fact that people have different bodies that change, and that’s okay. We’re not there yet, but Benjamin O’Keefe remains encouraged at the changes so far, and for the ones that are to come.
Click here to learn more about Equip and how they’re increasing access to eating disorder treatment for all.