By Ines Namuth PZ ‘25
In honor of national eating disorder awareness week, the Claremont Students Health Services ran its first series of events aimed at engaging students in meaningful related discussions and activities.
Although disordered eating has been around since antiquity, only recently has it been recognized as a serious issue. As with most institutions of higher learning, the 7Cs are no stranger to the increasingly common development of eating disorders among students.
On Monday Feb. 27, registered dietician nutritionist, Whitney Tawney, introduced guest speaker, Jes Baker, to students gathered to hear Baker’s perspective on her experiences, and activism in the world of disordered eating. Despite the recent trend of ‘body-acceptance,’ Tawney said, schools like the 7Cs are sadly an exception in acknowledging the urgent need to address the severe impact from eating disorders on students’ ability to function while navigating the ups and downs of college life. Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate among mental illnesses, Tawney said, and affect around nine percent of Americans. Since the pandemic, hospitalizations related to the disorder have nearly doubled and transgender people are four times as likely to develop the illness, explained Tawney.
In light of the grim data, Baker’s work centers around the motto, ‘not one more life (is lost),’ she explained. Also blogging as ‘The Militant Baker,’ she has devoted her career to coaching and educating people on what a meaningful and compassionate relationship to our bodies can look like, she said. Baker took storm after her campaign, Attractive & Fat (A&F), attacked Abercrombie’s harmful and exclusionary ads and sizing that affected adolescents trying to squeeze into their pint-sized skinny jeans. As a somatic practitioner, Jes Baker works at the crossroads of body liberation, writing books, coaching, and giving speeches, all of which she explained we can learn more about on her website.
However, her body acceptance work goes beyond the surface level campaigns of body-inclusivity and visibility, as she explained through a decolonized lens of view the interconnectedness of life and living systems. One major source of inspiration, Robin Kimmerer, highlights this need of reconnecting with the land through her lineage of indigenous knowledge from the Potawatomi people, said Baker.
While traditional western knowledge stresses the mind-body dichotomy, Baker draws much of her knowledge from a belief in developing a reciprocal relationship with your body that draws from your environment, community, and mind, she said. This marked a shift towards embodiment and as she explained further, somatics.
Derived from the Greek word ‘soma,’ meaning body, somatics is the noticing and the expression of our internal states through movement and voice. This concept, Baker quoted from another source of inspiration, Marika Heinrichs. Many people are unaware that our body receives information before our mind actually processes it. Therefore, when we work bottom up we can cognitively analyze and integrate our brain and body. Baker compared this process to a melody that, with somatics, gains the richness, nuance, and depth of a symphony.
Similarly, we belong with and to our body, people and the ecosystem. That is, we are more than humans in an urbanized environment; we are part of the cosmos and already belong even if we don’t feel it. This state of dissonance with our surroundings, which does often stem from relational trauma, leads us to feel attached but unengaged, ruptured, unsafe, and feeling betrayed by the people and natural world around us, said Baker.
In a colonized world, systems of oppression rely on rupturing the safe relationship we have with our bodies. Baker described civilization, colonization, and capitalism as forming the harmful triad that deters our feeling of belonging with our body, self, other people, and the living ecosystem. Moreover, our bodies store history from ancient relationships and traditions, Baker said. We are in the process of uncovering and remembering our past, and this transmutes through our everyday experiences.
This holistic outlook on eating disorders and the ruptured relationship with our bodies opens up a world of opportunities for discovering what healing might look like. In the body positivity movement that has become popular in the media, we are still left with the question, what comes after that? How do we belong, and shift the relationship to bodies as being about more than ourselves and part of a complex history that we have yet to learn the full story of?