Women's History Month and Feminist Theory
Updated: May 9
By: By Hannah de Groot MEd.
March is Women’s History Month! I LOVE a themed post, so this month I am dedicated my blog post to feminist theory and how it can be used to treat eating disorders. Feminist theory is one of my favorite appraoches to mental health treatment and I believe it offers an incredibly empowering take on eating disorder recovery. I will first explain exactly what feminst theory is, and then discuss how it can be applied to eating disorder treatment.
Despite most counseling clients being women, and most master’s level practitioners being women, the vast majority of traditional counseling approaches were founded by and based on the experiences of white men.
Feminst theory is the first approach to be founded by women, and it is based on collective voices of women from various backgrounds. It is rooted in understanding one’s unique identity by considering social, cultural, and political factors that may contribute to their problems. While the original objective of this approach was to provide better counseling approaches for women, it has evolved to encompass individuals of all marginalized backgrounds. Feminist theory considers the ways in which women and other marginalized populations are socialized to unknowingly give away their power, thus creating tension and mental struggles. The most integral concept of feminist theory is acknowleding the oppression, stereotypes, marginalization and subordination clients, specifically women, may face as a result of poltical and societal factors. Feminist theory integrates social justice and multicultural approaches with other counseling techniques to empower clients by valuing their unique perspectives.
A key goal of feminist theory is to empower clients to challenge institutional oppression and social pressures. In order to accomplish this goal, therapists may encourage clients to become aware of pressures they feel to conform to gender stereotypes. For example, women often feel pressured to conform to a specific body type. While ideal body types vary across cultures, they often share one commonality: they are unattainable. Speaking from personal experience, the ideal body type many white women strive for is an hourglass shape, small waist, big butt, thin thighs and flat stomach. I learned about the value of this body type at a young age from the Barbie dolls I worshiped. Not only is the body type unreachable, but so are the measures deemed necessary for attaining it. Diet culture tells women that in order to be beautiful, they should follow specific and unrealistic diets and struggle through grueling, unenjoyable workouts. On top of it all, they must smile through the suffering, be pleasant to others reinforcing these standards, and look pretty while doing it. What does diet culture tell us will happen if we don’t conform to these standards? Doomed to a life of judgment and loneliness for the rest of eternity.
Now, I can understand that men face societal pressures that cause pain and suffering, as well. However, it is important to notice the differences in societal pressures that men and women face. For example, the current ideal body type for men is the ‘Dad Bod’ - an “average” looking body that, rather than appear physically lean, might have a “beer belly” to prove he knows how to have fun. In contrast with the ideal body type that women conform to, it is obvious that the Dad Bod is easier to attain and even encourages leisure.
After identifying discrepancies in societal pressures, clients may be encouraged to replace their internalized messaging with more empowering and self-loving beliefs. For example, rather than believing that noncompliance with diet culture will lead to loneliness and self hatred, clients might find empowerment in dressing, exercising and eating in ways that bring joy and satisfaction. With this transformation, clients are free to live their best lives, regardless of societal pressures.
Lastly, counselors are encouraged to use their voices to fight for societal change. For example, eating disorder therapists who draw from feminist theory are expected challenge diet culture and gender norms directly and unapologetically. At Recovered and Restored, we firmly believe in social, political and economic equality across the gender spectrum. We understand the importance of using our positions of privilege to amplify the voices of others, and help them find empowerment in their positions of oppression. We believe in food freedom, joyful movement and body neutrality. We value you and accept you for who you are - regardless of what diet culture says!
If you have any questions about feminist theory, please feel free to reach out! We would love to help you connect with your identity on a deeper level. For more information, feel free to check out these additional resources:
Corey, G. (2017). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (10th ed.). Cengage.
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Click here to get started with therapy today! : https://www.recoveredandrestoredtherapy.com/.
Recovered and Restored is an eating disorder therapy center founded by Gabrielle Morreale. We specialize in helping teens and young women heal from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge eating disorder and treat disordered eating, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We provide eating disorder therapy in the towns of Horsham, Upper Gwynedd, Lower Gwynedd, North Wales, Lansdale, Hatfield, Blue Bell, Doylestown, and nearby towns with eating disorder therapy. Also providing virtual eating disorder therapy in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida. Some towns served virtually but are not limited to Pittsburg, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Center City, Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Mount Laurel, Cape May, Avalon, Brick, Dover, New Castle, Bethany Beach, Marydel, and Oceanview.