Open Letter

Editor’s note: This is an open letter drafted by the wonderful people at Nalgona Positivity Pride, Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders, and Adios Barbie addressing racism and exclusion in the eating disorder treatment community. Specifically, it addresses the ill-advised choice of Amelia Island Plantation Resort in Florida for the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals’ annual symposium. Sovereign Bodies is reposting with permission in order to show solidarity with their efforts and to encourage awareness and action in changing the way eating disorder treatment is implemented within communities of color. 

Nalgona Positivity Pride, Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders, Adios Barbie and our comrades find the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals’ location choice of the Amelia Island Plantation Resort for its 2016 symposium offensive, ignorant and symbolic of the ways white supremacy is upheld and perpetuated by the eating disorder treatment field. After one of our group members brought these concerns directly to iaedp, a representative from iaedp’s leadership did not apologize, refused to consider making any changes and claimed they were offended by the conversation. We will not condone white fragility and willful ignorance. As iaedp is considered a leader in the professional eating disorder field, we implore you to model solidarity with marginalized communities.

The Amelia Island Plantation Resort is a site of historical violence and erasure, colonization, displacement, illegal enslavement and forced labor. This legacy of violence includes Spanish missionaries and European invaders whose colonization decimated the Native/Indigenous Timucua people in the 1500s; smugglers who captured black folks and smuggled them through Amelia Island to be sold into slavery; and the white-owned hotels that gentrified the island in the 1970s, extinguishing the area’s existence as a thriving black resort destination (even through the Jim Crow era, during which black resort owners were not allowed on the segregated beaches). The legacy of white violence at Amelia Island mandates addressing, requires accountability and proscribes complicity. This shameful site choice is also indicative of the harmful lack of critical, intersectional thinking that occurs when people of color are not in leadership and decision-making positions. Moreover, this site choice sends the very clear message to eating disorder professionals of color: “You are not welcome. Your histories and community traumas are neither important nor valid.”

We find the lack of acknowledgment or discussion about this issue indicative of the ways in which people of color are erased, silenced, and under/unrepresented in the eating disorder arena; moreover, there is a correlation between eating disorders and historical events, such as the atrocity of slavery. We believe that historical trauma, transgenerational trauma, post-traumatic slave syndrome and the current systems of oppression are factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders in communities of color. iaedp’s all-white keynote speakers include Rachel Yehuda, an expert on epigenetic community and historical trauma. If iaedp cannot see the hypocrisy behind hosting her talk and failing to address similar traumas in black and Indigenous communities, it is surely inappropriate for the association to be a considered leader in the field of eating disorder professional certification standards.

Slavery and colonization in the US may be considered a historical phenomenon, but the legacy of oppression is ever-present. Systemic trauma is perpetuated daily through the lack of quality healthcare services for low-income people of color, the high rates of incarceration of black folks, the long history of police brutality against Indigenous and black communities, the egregious numbers of black trans women/transfeminine people brutally murdered each year, etc. The systemic and intersectional discrimination and violence against these communities has greatly impacted the quality of life for generations of black and Indigenous families. There is also no excuse for the choice of venue given the widespread awareness and support of #BlackLivesMatter, along with the increased availability of educational resources teaching white people how to be effective allies.

We are dedicated to educating others on the link between eating disorders, colonialism and systemic oppression. The time is now for the eating disorder field to change its 30-plus year legacy of treating and advocating mostly for white privileged people. Eating disorder care providers and organizations must reevaluate their values and priorities and work toward serving the greatest need rather than the biggest wallets.

We, Trans-Folx Fighting Eating Disorders, Nalgona Positivity Pride, Adios Barbie and our supporters, ask that iaedp:

1.) Change the location of the conference site or cancel the conference.

2.) Fund representatives from organizations that are on the front lines of anti-racist/anti-oppression work and the intersection with eating disorders, like ours, to collaboratively design and implement a course in the Certification for Eating Disorders Professionals curriculum that solely addresses eating disorders in marginalized communities so clinicians and advocates are better educated on culturally competent/responsive care at the beginning of their careers.

3.) Support our #EDShift campaign, which we will be building over the next few years. This is an opportunity for iaedp to truly acknowledge the problematic choice of conference venue and commit to change and growth in the field. This campaign seeks to enact permanent, sustainable changes in the field including:
-A shift in hiring priorities and practices with the goal that at least 20 percent of eating disorder clinical and leadership positions be held by folx from marginalized communities within 10 years (including increased access to educational tracks and certification);
-Expanded education/cultural competencies for healthcare professionals to better understand and address the complex ways our communities are affected by eating disorders;
-Improved representation of our intersectional stories and struggles in eating disorder media/educational materials and in critical funding for research;
-Increased access to care, including advocacy against the inherited metabolic disorder exclusion that bars many marginalized folx struggling with eating disorders from accessing privatized, boutique eating disorder treatment.

To fully address this discriminatory site choice, iaedp must make a bold move to interrupt the conference proceedings and discuss a framework for accountability and next steps. iaedp must not re-traumatize sufferers already sidelined by the mainstream white eating disorder narrative and the white-centric, culturally ignorant medical industrial complex. We await your response and hope you will stand on the right side of history.


Nalgona Positivity Pride

Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders

Adios Barbie