I’m usually a fan of longtime Guardian favorite Hadley Freeman, so I was surprised to read the following, written in support of her assertion that parents shouldn’t let their daughters choose to become vegetarians.
When Lena Dunham announced that “a lot of times when you are a vegetarian it is a just not very effective eating disorder” she was duly pilloried. But speaking as someone who has been a vegetarian for 30 years and has a certain amount of knowledge about eating disorders, I’m going to defend Dunham here, even though she slightly missed the real point. Vegetarianism is not an ineffective eating disorder – it is a potential gateway to eating disorders.Obviously not all vegetarians become anorexic and not all anorexics are vegetarian (although in my experience, in regards to the latter part of that sentence, there is a heavy overlap). But vegetarianism encourages people to divide foods between the good and the bad, and it then becomes a legitimate means of limiting one’s diet. Your daughter has a whole lifetime ahead of her to think of food as something other than a pleasurable physical necessity. Why let her start early?
I really don’t know where to start with this. First, the suggestion that vegetarianism is “a potential gateway to eating disorders” seems to come out of nowhere (and has no evidential support, as far as I can tell). The thought that careful ethical consideration about food choices is the sort of thing that might lead to an eating disorder seems both to woefully misunderstand the pathology of disordered eating and to insult young women’s capacity to handle ethical decision-making. I’d have thought that a young woman who makes, for whatever reason, a conscious decision to avoid meat might be lead to, I don’t know, careful ethical consideration of other parts of her life. But apparently young women are just too delicate and fragile to handle the way in which “vegetarianism encourages people to divide foods between the good and the bad”. That’s just too much for girls. They’ll end up with an eating disorder, the poor things!
The idea that vegetarianism is “a gateway” to eating disorders manages to be disrespectful both to young women with eating disorders and young women who choose to become vegetarianism. It suggests of the former that their complex, multifaceted disease might be little more than the side-effect of confused thinking about food. And it suggests of the latter that they need to be protected from their own ability to consciously, deliberately think about the ethical implications of the food they eat. What nonsense.
(You can read Freeman’s article – on “How to Parent Girls” – here.)