GSA Network Blog

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week - February 20-26, 2011

GSA Network is proud to co-sponsor National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and we encourage GSAs to participate!

What is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week?
NEDAwareness Week is a collective effort of primarily volunteers, including students, educators, eating disorder professionals, health care providers, social workers, and individuals committed to raising awareness of the dangers surrounding eating disorders and the need for early intervention and treatment.  The aim of NEDAwareness Week is to ultimately prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment.  This year, NEDAwareness Week will take place February 20-26, 2011.

Are eating disorders an issue for LGBTQ youth?

A recent study by researchers at Harvard University and Children's Hospital Boston found that gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers may be at higher risk of developing an eating disorder than their heterosexual peers.  The specific reasons for this correlation are unclear.  However, the lead researcher S. Bryn Austin writes, “we know that gay, lesbian, and other sexual-minority kids are often under a lot of pressure,” and can be “treated like outsiders” at school and at home.  Austin adds that isolation, harassment, and bullying “can take a toll on a young person…one of the ways it can play out is in vulnerability to eating-disorder symptoms and a host of other stress-related health problems.”

Check out this article from NEDA:

Eating Disorders and Body Image: What do Gender and Sexuality Have To Do With It?

Why should GSAs take action?
Your GSA can make a big impact on this important issue by taking even just one small action during the week.  By raising awareness, you can help members of your GSA, and your entire school community, learn about how to prevent and address eating disorders.

Eating disorders can affect GSA members, whether they are LGBTQ or straight allies.  While LGBTQ youth may be at higher risk for eating disorders, many youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities feel pressure to conform to certain gender stereotypes.  Nor Cal Youth Council member Ajay Lawson adds that:

“It is upsetting to see so many LGBTQ people feeling pressured to look a certain way whether it be physical appearance or the clothes they wear.  I lost count of all the times I have heard “you don’t look like a lesbian.”  It is so oppressive because then you feel like all you can look like is how the stereotypes say you should look and that you are not free to express yourself in your look. I definitely think that showing people that not all LGBTQ people look the same is an excellent way to bring awareness.”

Just as girls and women receive messages from the media about how their bodies should look, LGBTQ youth receive many messages about how they should look.  Sometimes these messages come from outsiders who expect them to conform to gender stereotypes.  Other times these pressures can come from within the LGBTQ community, making people feel pressured to look a certain way.  Have you ever felt pressure from the media, your family, or your peers to look a certain way?

Nor Cal Youth Council member Irene Rojas-Carroll shared her story:
“Even though I identify as female, sometimes I don't dress or style myself the way that a very feminine person would (makeup, form-fitting clothes, jewelry). Assumptions and jokes about people's gender identity or sexual orientation can make a big impact - in middle school I liked to wear sweatshirts and jeans and always have my hair up tightly, and one day someone called me a boy. He was joking, but it still made me feel bad, and for some time I made an effort to look more like what others thought a girl should look like. On the other hand, I myself have also been guilty of making assumptions about sexual orientation based on people's appearances, but I've realized that it can be very damaging to do so and I stop myself whenever I sense that happening. No one's perfect, but what counts is that we're honestly trying to make it better.”

In response to the higher risk of eating disorders among LGBTQ youth, the complex relationship between body image and sexual orientation/gender identity, and our general understanding of the ways in which body image pressures are interconnected to other systems of oppression, GSA Network is proud to co-sponsor National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2011 and we encourage GSAs to participate!

What can my GSA do?
The possibilities are endless!  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1.  Host a discussion where GSA members are invited to open up and talk about body image pressures they are facing or any struggles they might be having with food or body image.  (Make sure you talk about your group’s confidentiality policy first).  Here are some questions you could discuss:

a.    Do you see body image or eating disorders as an issue that affects your LGBTQ community?
b.    Do you see a connection between gender identity or sexual orientation and an expectation to look a certain way? 
c.    How are pressures around body image similar to, or related to other systems of oppression, like homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia? 
d.    What does being “male” or “female” mean?  Does mainstream society expect men or women to look a certain way? 

2.  Register to be an official NEDAwareness week participant.  It’s free to register and NEDA will support your efforts by providing extensive resources such as a free electronic Educator Packet, kits filled with ideas and materials to make your activities easy and fun.

3.  Get together after school or during lunch to make posters educating your peers about NEDAwareness Week. 

4.  Work with other student clubs to build coalitions.  Eating disorders are present in every community. Show your school that clubs with different goals can work together to reach even more people when there is a common goal.  Turn this into an opportunity for your GSA to build relationships with groups you don’t usually work with, such as the athletic teams at your school.

5.  Does your history or social studies class feature a current events discussion period once a week?  Ask your teacher if you can make a presentation and/or start a discussion about eating disorders and how they affect all of us, especially LGBTQ youth.

6.  Use social media.  Facebook, Myspace and Twitter are all great places to start discussions and raise awareness during the week of action.  Post information about eating disorders, the Helpline Number and a link to additional resources and referrals at

7.  Make a brief daily announcement over your school’s PA system during the NEDAwareness Week.  Ask your administrators or principal ahead of time to make sure they include you.  Use one of NEDA’s Key Messages for your announcement, or write your own.  Download the Key Messages here.

Here is an example of what you might say on Monday:

Did you know that nearly 11 million people in the U.S. are battling eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, while millions more suffer from binge eating disorder?  Our Gay-Straight Alliance club is participating in National Eating Disorder Awareness Week because we want to help the entire school community learn about and take action to prevent eating disorders.

If possible, make an announcement each day on different topics, such as:
Tuesday:  What is body image? 
Wednesday:  Ten “will-powers” for improving body image.
Thursday:  Health consequences of eating disorders.
Friday: How does the media affect body image and eating disorders?

Use this link to find all of the information you need to prepare your announcements.

8.  Invite a speaker to visit your school.  Use this link to find speakers in your area.

9. Check out NEDA’s list of suggested actions and sign up to do Just One Thing.

Organizing and educating ourselves and our larger community about issues like eating disorders and body image is exciting because it allows us to shape our lives in ways that make us feel healthy, safe, and fully ourselves.  Good luck this week!  And let us know what you do!  

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