No, Actually, “Eat a Sandwich” is Not “Feminist Activism”…

…and I’m going to tell you why.

Because the policing of women’s bodies, whether you are being cheeky, or saying it to a plastic doll, is not cool. It’s hurtful and not useful, and has no place in feminist discourse. Can we move past that point? Huh? That’s a pretty Kindy thing, IMNSFHO.


Moving on.

*The rest of this post is going to use some harsh language that describes my experiences/anger/frustration with Anorexia and Bulimia. I am direct and vulgar and sometimes a little flippant with how I describe my past behavior, and that is how I survived it. This may be triggering to some people. I also swear. A lot.*

There is a point when you are struggling* with an eating disorder that you might find yourself thin. Perhaps painfully thin. Maybe dangerously thin. You know this. You are aware. You haven’t avoided solids for this long, or barfed up all of that dinner you were pretending to enjoy without realizing what this means to your body. You might have some misunderstandings about what your body is actually needing…but you pretty much know.

In fact, everyone knows. All anyone can fucking talk about is how good you look now that you are so skinny…but wait…you just passed so good and have moved into too skinny…(because there is never good enough…too fat or too thin you will never be in)

Seriously, girl, eat a damned burger.

Or a bacon sandwich.

Eat something.

Because, you know, it’s that easy.

In fact (shifting voices), the only thing that anyone said to me that wasn’t so fucking insulting that I didn’t want to scream was “I am not going to insult you by saying how much harm you are doing to yourself because you are a smart girl and I know you know, when you are ready, I’ll be here”.

I watched all the shockudrama’s that were meant to scare me because ZOMG my STOMACH could RUPTURE and I was DOING THIS to MYSELF!

*for shame*

I saw Tracy Gold and the mom from Family Ties and countless others on the after school specials during school and I fucking knew.

How could I not? I knew what the result was…that was the damned point.

And I knew I was sick.

I. Didn’t. Care.

And that was scarier than anything…that I felt helpless inside my own body to stop it.

Eat a fucking sandwich.

As if I wouldn’t just throw it back up.

As if that bottle of ipecac wasn’t in my glove box.

As if I wasn’t really good at tearing it into pieces to make you think I was actually eating it only to drop some and crumble some and throw the rest away…

No, I wasn’t embarrassed of letting you hear me pee…the water running was a cover for something else…

Eat a fucking sandwich.

Tumbling around inside my head…as if it never occurred to me to do.

As if I had the power to just eat that fucking sandwich.

The hurt and the denial and the lies…and shit yelling at me just didn’t help…

Because who the fuck carries sugar packets in their purse?

And do you know when that shit started?

When I was a teenager.

We shouldn’t infantilize teenagers by saying “b-b-but they don’t get that this message isn’t aimed at real people”.


Teenagers are people…with feelings…

And if anyone can tell you about what it feels like to hurt because you sit outside the socially accepted norm of appearance, it is another teenager…

being told to just eat a sandwich isn’t that funny if you are dealing with body issues

and burning yourself with a curling iron because you don’t know what else to do…

Eat. A. Damn. Sandwich.

It’s not funny or witty or clever or great new empowering activism.

It’s awful.

It’s hurtful.

It’s waking up in your own bile.

And it is possibly terrifying the hell out of someone.

Unpack that one.

*I don’t like to use “struggle” any longer when discussing disability. My experience with EDs was a struggle. There is no other word in my vocabulary, which spans a few languages, to explain it. I struggled, fought, and am still not sure I have won this one.

About Ouyang Dan

is an extremely proggy-liberal, formerly single mommy, Native American, invisibly disabled, U.S. Navy Veteran, social justice activist and aspiring freelance writer currently living in South Korea on Uncle Sam's dime. She has a super human tolerance for caffeine and chocolate and believes she should use those powers for good. She said should. She is not a concise person, and sometimes comes on a little aggressively in comments. Sometimes her right arm still twitches when military brass walks past her, but she would rather be reading YA Lit or pwning n00bs. She can be found being cliche about music, overthinking pop culture, and grumbling about whatever else suits her fancy at her personal website, random babble.... She also writes about military issues for's Women's Rights blog. If you have something interesting to say email her at ouyangdan [at] disabledfeminists [dot] com. Lawyers in Italy looking to hold lottery winnings in her bank account may wait longer for reply.

42 thoughts on “No, Actually, “Eat a Sandwich” is Not “Feminist Activism”…

  1. This is very timely for me.

    (I’m relapsing. But at least my SOs know that anything they say — or even do — is, essentially, counterproductive.)

  2. I want to thank you ALL for the positive comments.

    I was sooo nervous posting this. It is a very emotionally charged topic for me.

    julian: Keep fighting. It’s hard, and nothing I or anyone can say will help really, but remember it’s about you.

    Reach out if you can, take the help you can handle, and don’t give up on yourself.

    *offers hugs*

  3. Ouyang dan – the more emotionally charged, the more important it is to get it out, whether other people see it. At least for me.

    “Eat a sandwich” = you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what’s going on with your body, but thanks to this helpful citizen, you do now. Why so mean? [/sarcasm]

  4. I think this is a great honest, very brutal expression of how these words can make those who have struggled with eating disorders.

    I posted it on my Facebook page because it is so important to realize words are powerful, words can hurt, and maybe people are too numb to casual “jokes” they think are funny in the media.

    Eating disorders are not funny, they are deadly.

    Thank you for this post. I really found the brutal honesty something a lot of others can relate to.

    It gives a voice to those who have struggled or who are struggling.

  5. “I am not going to insult you by saying how much harm you are doing to yourself because you are a smart girl and I know you know, when you are ready, I’ll be here”.

    I’m going to try and remember that in case my son or daughter or their sons and daughters ever find themselves in a similar place.

  6. This was fantastic, how I related to everything you wrote! When I was struggling with my ed I hated those types of comments…it’s like I heard it as an accusation, never as a compliment. And it always meant I had to lie about why I was so thin, which made me so uncomfortable. I wish people would just straight up refrain from making comments about other people’s bodies. Unsolicited body comments are never appropriate, imo, and can be incredibly triggering for anyone who has/had an ed.

    “Eat something.

    Because, you know, it’s that easy.”

    Yes yes yes.

  7. Helen, I am not going to lie, it was the first and only refreshing thing anyone ever said to me. I was actually able to pass it on to a girl as a camp counselor one day, as the only adult with any experience with eating disorder, while everyone was hand wringing and wondering what to do…

    Emily, I don’t think people realize how things are perceived on the other end. I was told when I was restaurant drone that perception is everything. How someone perceives what you are saying is probably more important than how you meant it, a lot of the time. I think that gets lost in feminist spaces, especially when we hear people defend things by saying “I didn’t mean it like that. Uh. Words mean things.

  8. YES.

    And just as bad…if i actually do happen to eat something, the people who see me and jokingly say, “Oh you better not eat that, you’re getting!” Yeah, you think you’re being funny, and you think it’s okay to say because you think I am skinny, but it’s NOT okay. And now I’m probably not going to eat whatever it was I worked up the nerve to eat.

  9. Ouyang dan – Sometimes, people really didn’t mean it that way, and if they’re not utter jerks, they won’t mind if you correct them, if you want to. Most of us want to be better people, want to learn.

    However, just because the intent wasn’t to insult/belittle you does not mean that your feelings and reaction aren’t valid. (You in general.)

    I remember something from my literature class last fall, a school of thought or term that says that what a work means is dependent entirely on the reader, not the author. The author has no control. But I digress.

  10. Maybe later I will be able to offer an intelligent, insightful response but now all I can say is: I identify with this. SO. HARD.

  11. Kaitlyn, I hear that, and can understand intent in some instances. Meloukhia and I were discussing how sometimes we actually don’t mean things that way just today, despite the fact that we seem to be the newly named Internet Language Police *snerk* and in spite of what I said above (but it still holds mostly true). It’s just that there is using a hurtful phrase/word and then giving the disingenuous argument said hurtful phrase/word wasn’t meant to be used in a hurtful manner and then there are times that we really think with our fingers engaged on the keyboard and shouldn’t have or perhaps didn’t communicate clearly in which case the person at fault should be willing to immediately own it and move on… my question is, how, exactly, am I supposed to take “eat a sandwich” except in a non-body policing context? How else is that to be interpreted? Even as a joke it is cruel and mean spirited. Call me a humorless crippled feminist…

  12. I’m going to try and express myself very carefully, and make my intentions super-clear: I am incredibly glad you wrote this. The reason I am so glad is that, well, guilty as charged. While I have never said this to someone (as that would be, you know, incredibly rude), this article forced me to admit to myself that I *have* thought it, and even said it to third parties, in response to faraway people I have arbitrarily decided look mean, or movies/magazine photos/etc. So the only comfort I can draw from never having actually said it to the subject of my remark is that now that I realize just how fucked up that was, I can at least thank my lucky stars I never did it to someone directly.

    But did I say it about a third party to a friend who I didn’t know was struggling with an ED? Maybe. Jesus.

    I very much hope that my coming into this comment thread and pleading guilty does not in any way make you uncomfortable, seeing as I’ve just admitted to doing something incredibly shitty and hurtful. It seemed worth the risk for the opportunity to publicly attest to your having made me deeply challenge my own ideas. Yesterday I would have said “Of COURSE I don’t judge women’s bodies.” I would have been wrong.

    Thank you for writing this. I was beginning to have inklings of the theoretical problems with size judgments of any kind (thank you Shapely Prose), but I had never considered the personal dimension you convey so movingly in this post. That is, of course, my failure, and it’s not your job to educate me, but I hope you were hoping someone would read this and get a smack with the proverbial clue-by-four, because that’s what I just got. Thanks.

  13. siwangmu:

    I have no idea how the author of this post feel, and certainly cannot speak for her, but, from me: CONGRATULATIONS!

    You just learned about the invisible-if-you-have-it-freakin’-obvious-if-you-don’t thing called privilege, something I only recently really explored myself. I lack privilege in being female, disabled and poor, but I now realize that I have privilege in being white, heterosexual and cisgendered.

    This has forced me to do a lot of thinking, some of it very uncomfortable, but that’s a feature, not a bug.

  14. Kaitlyn, it’s not about what people mean, it’s about how someone feels; intent is not as important as perception.

    And, really, what other meaning could there possibly be to “eat a sandwich”?

  15. Yeah, I’ve never understood “eat a sandwich” and other similar remarks. Frickin’ brutal. I did not struggle with an ED, but I was naturally skinny (not thin) and in my early 20s I boozed more than I ate. And perfect strangers felt compelled to walk across the way in the mall to my store and chide me about my size. When I was working, I couldn’t very well lash out. Oh, but when they caught me on breaks. . . I probably said some cruel things in response that I wouldn’t be proud of if I remembered them. But I meant them.

    Even amongst groups who speak out against the policing of bodies, there is really hateful talk about those with actual EDS and perceived EDs (“skinny bitches”). Or they’re just spoken of as victims – not everyday people, our neighbors, family, ourselves. It’s inexcusable, really.

    EDs are supposedly on the rise in men and boys. I can’t even begin to understand how that is dealt with in the frame of masculinity. Women are “supposed” to have food issues. Healthy, “real” men eat their weight in biscuits and gravy. So a man with an ED could be perceived as extra-defective. Although being a woman is fraught with social problems, I thank my stars that I am raising a girl and therefore don’t have to help a boy-child navigate masculinity.

  16. Even amongst groups who speak out against the policing of bodies, there is really hateful talk about those with actual EDS and perceived EDs (”skinny bitches”).

    I hate it most from people who seem to be well-meaning. They say, “Real women have curves! If my wife was any thinner, she’d look like a boy!” (I have heard all of these at one point or another). And they often DO mind when they are corrected. They mind very stridently, with arguments about why THEY think it’s OK to police a particular set of bodies.

  17. Ugh, “real women have curves” is my least favourite “empowering” saying EVER. “Real women” are WOMEN. Doesn’t matter what their bodies look like. And how people who claim to be body positive can say things like that is beyond me; it’s just privileging one kind of body over another.

    ETA: This thread has reminded me of a rather painful period in my life; I’m fat, but a few years ago, I lost a lot of weight when I got extremely sick. Compliments about weight loss which I had to grit my teeth through aside, I also got a fair amount of “eat a sandwich” crap. This when I was calorie-loading and everything I ate just melted away. It was unbelievably frustrating to be simultaneously told that I was “finally looking good” (really, direct quote) and that I was “too skinny” and “should just put on some weight,” and I was like “I’M TRYING.” It definitely didn’t help with the whole “trying not to be sick anymore” thing for my weight to be constantly policed.

  18. Being a person on the complete other end of the spectrum, I will admit I have been guilty of making some of these comments. I think the reason I made them was a form of striking out against some of these I thought were striking out at me. One of the best things that has happened to me has been working with someone who is naturally very slender and wants to gain some weight, and seeing her struggle has helped me be more aware of the size issue being about all sizes.

    Thank you for writing this to help give me further insight. It’s a struggle for all of us and instead of fighting against each other, we should be working together against the ignorance.

  19. @ meloukhia, your comment about the weight loss is similar to what my friend/co-worker is going through. She ihas had some of those comments made to her and even had one person say she shouldn’t lose the pregnancy weight because she looked so much better with weight on her. Learning that someone said that comment to her, made me angry on her behalf and for everyone who’s had that comment or similar ones made to them.

    Of course, the other end of the spectrum is ‘You’d be so pretty if you just lost some weight.’ Or ‘You have such a pretty face, you just need to lose some weight.’ Too bad people feel like they have the right and are entitled to make such comments to anyone.

  20. Oh yeah, fall outside of the norm, and you’re fair game. And those comments always value appearance over health. People don’t say “eat a sandwich” because they think doing so would make someone healthier. I’m getting myself all worked up. Gah!

  21. LeeLee, you are so right. The comments are always in connection to appearance rather than wellbeing. It’s easy to get worked up about it. It’s sad that shape, size and appearance are more important than health and wellbeing. Perhaps one day, in a perfect world, it will be all about the health.

  22. Perhaps one day, it will be about minding one’s own business. Helpful commentaries about somebody else’s health or ability status are also noxious, just in a different way.

    It would be so amazing if people could just not comment on other peoples’ bodies without invitation.

  23. “Healthy, “real” men eat their weight in biscuits and gravy. So a man with an ED could be perceived as extra-defective.”

    But at the same time, they’re not allowed to get fat.Heavy with muscle, yes, but not fat.

    Weight policing sucks.

  24. Since this is the most recent “language” post, I’d like to ask why I feel scared of asking people to stop using phrases and words.

    My cousin used “gay” to describe New Moon (because she thinks it’s terrible, not because of some research of the series that would address homosexuality). And then the person responding to her (who I don’t know) used it again. I responded asking her not to use gay as an insult.

    Now I’m worried about her response.

  25. Since this is the most recent “language” post, I’d like to ask why I feel scared of asking people to stop using phrases and words.

    Well, because people frequently do react in a hostile way when they’re asked not to use oppressive language. It’s usually because they resent the implication that their actions are hurting people, or that they would choose to be offensive. I totally support and applaud your calling your sister out, but I think you are reasonable to expect a somewhat negative reaction. That’s pretty common.

  26. Thank you so much for this post. “Eat a sandwich!” and “Real women have curves!” are some of the most divisive things that get said in the name of body acceptance, and too often they serve to derail otherwise useful conversations on what’s wrong with beauty standards and the policing of women who don’t meet the ideal. There needs to be a disconnect between criticising the media’s obsession with thinness and criticising actual thin women for being the way they are; and people need to stop thinking as if flippant remarks about eating a sandwich or not throwing up are helpful or acceptable.

    Not-so-strangely enough, I almost never see this kind of thing in dedicated fat acceptance circles, maybe because the people writing there have actually figured out that you can’t make things better for one group of women by marginalising and dehumanising another.

    Side note, and I hope this isn’t derailing: for the friends or loved ones of a person with an eating disorder, expressing your concern without expressly linking it to the person’s weight (“are you okay?”, “I’m here if you want to talk about anything”) can be a lot more helpful than size-related comments. When someone tells me I’m looking thin, it’s confusing (because I struggle to see myself as anything close to thin) and puts me on the defensive right away, and phrases like “dreadfully thin” and “it hurts to look at you” only increase the tension and pain. I realise that watching someone you love suffer from an ED IS extremely distressing, but how the concern is communicated makes a difference.

    It’s also worth mentioning that ED’d people may already be afraid that everyone around them is keeping tabs on their (the ED’d person’s) weight and food intake; reinforcing this can make the self-consciousness even worse.

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