Tag reading "NOT OK" lies on wet ground

On not being OK

This is a guest post. The author is an anonymous geek woman.

Trigger warning for body shame and eating disorders.

I am thirteen and at my first comic/sci-fi expo. I’d had no idea what to expect, and I’m stressed out. The place is packed, and everything seems to be anime and everything seems to cost money. It’s the height of Dragonball-Z‘s popularity in New Zealand and there are Gokus competing in Kah-me-ha-me-ha competitions in the hall. There are signings by people from Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek, two more things I’m not into. There is the ubiquitous Xena stall. The Lord of The Rings won’t come out till later this year.

I look around and feel like the only girl in the room, not that you can actually tell. I am a weird, wide-eyed child still round with puppy fat, in blue dungarees, clutching my favourite “Hellblazer’ volume. I have Batman and Xena dolls in my backpack, but they’ve been played with and chewed on and generally treated like a toy, not a collectible.

Eventually I find a corner to sit in and watch people. I’m looking out for my friends, most of whom are busy talking Evangelion or Star Trek.

Then I spot them. I’m not the only girl in the room. There are a bevvy of them – And they’re all dressed up as Sailor Scouts. I recognise sailor scouts from five years ago when Sailor Moon played on TV after the Samurai Pizza Cats in the mornings before school. I liked the pizza cats better.

But these sailor scouts are older than me, they’re thin and pretty and everyone is paying attention to them. Cosplay’s not big here, and these five girls look perfect, they look like they belong in a swimsuit. They pose for photos and simper and smile.

Later, when I mention them to my friends (who are all boys) They make a big deal over how hot those girls were. I look at my thighs and decide to go on a diet.

Five years later and I’m at a roleplaying convention. This is more my pace – I know most everyone here, I’m even running a game for the first time ever. Before the first round a guy I know comes and sits next to me, pointing out a mutual friend who just got engaged. “There’s a reason to keep doing your sports and things,” he says, gesturing to our friend “I swear the only way she got a guy was by stealing his soul and keeping it in a jar.”

I am utterly stunned. Yes, our friend is fat. So is her fiancee. So is the guy talking to me. I mutter something. During the first game we all put junk food on the table, and I am in hell. I eat way more than everyone else (or maybe I just think I do) and sit, squirming, till the end of the three hour session. Then I make a break for it. Up to the floor being prepared for the LARP, so no one will be in the toilets. I make myself throw up over and over until I can’t get anything else out.

I’m a geek, and I’m bulimic.

I sit weekly among stacks of corn chips and M&Ms, pizza and Pepsi when I roleplay. My mind is NEVER totally on the game. Depending on my mood, a part of it is always there, calculating how much to eat, and how to purge.

I get this idea that we, as geeks, are expected to rise above the common herd that are influenced by advertising and self-hate. We’re so much cleverer than that, so much more accepting! We were the fat kids in high school!

But we’re not. After all, geek boys lusts after the thin ones, every geek girl is bombarded with pictures of thin Leia, thin Xena, thin Sailor Scouts. Comics portray thin people as good, fat people as bad. There’s a reason Desire is slim and Despair is fat. Women get the same role-models in geek culture as they do in the rest of the world, but that culture is determined not to address this, nor to address the problems it might cause us.

I’ve grown up through both geek and jock culture and they’re both the same. Dominated by men, a thin varnish over pervasive misogyny. The only difference is where the jocks know the girls have eating disorders, but don’t care; the geeks genuinely think that this part of the world cannot touch them.

So it’s okay to make fat jokes, cos everyone knows you don’t mean them, not when you’re fat and 2/3rds of the room is too. And it’s okay to mock girls who are “stupid” enough to want to starve or puke themselves pretty, because we all know that geeks are too smart to succumb to such base stuff as the desire for control and perfection.

The comments on people’s bodies that are flat out rude, excused by social awkwardness and “I was just saying”. I sit uncomfortably in these conversations. My disorder has only been remarked upon in ways that are scathing. The attempts at recovery which lead to “you’ve put on weight.” in a flat, ugly tone. The times when it has been so bad I stopped eating only resulted in comments like “God, you look skeletal.” “Go have a sandwich or something!”

I want to know if I’m the only geek who has an ED. I’m afraid the answer is yes.

Of course, there is another factor – EDs are women’s problems. Geek culture is not “girly” and rejects all notions of “girly”. Why bother with body image issues when that’s clearly a girl problem. By discussing them geek culture would have to highlight the way id currently uses women’s bodies – confront the paradox that to be welcomed as a woman you must be hot, but to be taken seriously you must be not-hot. And both parties must endeavour to become “one of the boys” (except when there’s an opportunity to objectify the hot ones) and not bring up irrelevant girl problems.

Even when those girl problems might be killing our friends.

No geek has ever looked at me, puffy and red-eyed, or bony thin, or exhausted from exercise and asked “are you okay?”

“Are you okay?”

No, I don’t expect people to be mind readers. But rather than make body-shaming comments at all, ask that question first. Are you okay? Genuinely want to know the answer. Ask it over text, google+, x-box live, or over a coffee.

So, I’ll ask it here – Geek Feminists, are you okay?

You know what, right now, and since age 13, I’m not okay.

Note on comments, from the moderators: because this subject matter is sensitive, you may wish to not use your regular pseudonym. However, please use something more unique than ‘anon’ or ‘anonymous’, so that multiple people aren’t read as the same person. Pick something that is new to this thread. You could use, eg, a single letter like ‘K’ or ‘Q’, or a non-specific phrase like ‘Another Geek Woman’.

Also, if you want to be not recognised, use an email address that does not have your regular gravatar associated with it. With gmail addresses and some other domains you can do something like myusualaddress+randomstring@gmail.com.

You are also welcome to comment under your usual name or pseudonym if you wish.

Update from the moderators:

  • please do not offer people unsolicited advice, particularly medical advice, in this thread
  • this means: if you want advice, please explicitly ask for it “what do people think I should do?” “what should I look for in a health professional?” “what advice do people have?”
  • requests for advice on how to acquire an eating disorder will not be published, nor will requests for advice on weight loss strategies

Some existing comments may violate this, but more will not be published.

This post was submitted via the Guest posts submission page, if you are interested in guest posting on Geek Feminism please contact us through that page.

102 thoughts on “On not being OK

  1. zombiesympathiser

    dear anonymous geek woman,

    as a young woman i also had an eating disorder. i was a geek (and still am). i still suffer from body image issues and feel surrounded by people who make judgments about women’s bodies. you’re not alone. i hope you can stay strong and get help. i believe in you!


  2. anonymous A

    Moderator note: please see the post about using the name “anonymous”. You’ve been renamed “anonymous A”. A ableist word in this comment has been changed to “—-“.

    You know, I’d say this has less to do with the actual geek shows portraying women, and more of a problem with the people attending the conventions that find it necessary to say this shit about weight. And frankly, I think this makes it not just a nerd-woman problem, but a woman problem. I understand that the “nerd” mentality is to turn a blind eye because “herp derp geeks can’t possibly be so —-“, but in reality a lot of people see it that way (not just nerds). I’ve heard it said numerous times outside of conventions that women who have eating disorders are “—-” or “spineless”. [Mod note: slur removed twice.]

    That said, geek shows have offered me some of the best and in-depth female characters I’ve ever seen. Zoe and Kaylee (Firefly), Starbuck and Boomer (Battlestar Galactica), Jadzia Dax and Kira Nerys (DS9)…the list goes on!

  3. Amy Diaz

    I am so sorry. Are you okay? I used my real name and email in case you want to let me know.

  4. E

    You are most definitely not the only geek woman who struggles with body image issues and disordered eating. At the very least, I am right there with you.

  5. Megpie71

    I don’t have an eating disorder now (or at least, I don’t think I do). But between the ages of approximately twelve and twenty-three, I was perpetually on some diet or another, or binging my way off them. I never really got as far as bullimia (I could never make myself throw up) and I wouldn’t have been recognised as an anorexic back in the 1980s (when I was a teenager) because back then, one of the key symptoms of anorexia was that you lost weight. And I never did – or at least, not for long. But I remember having to abruptly leave the room during “health education” classes which showed videos about anorexia and bullimia. At the time I didn’t understand why – just that I couldn’t be in the same room as those things and remain comfortable. Now, I recognise it for what it was: I was triggered. I recognised the behaviours and the thinking behind them, and I knew I was doing exactly the same things – it was just that I wasn’t actually showing the exact same set of symptoms (I can remember a high school acquaintance telling me, when I confided that I was scared silly by the anorexia video, that there was no way I was anorexic, because I was too fat).

    Around age twenty-one through twenty-three, I did some reading which made me reconsider my options. For a start, this was around the time that Naomi Wolf’s book “The Beauty Myth” was published, and reading that made a lot of things clear to me. Secondly, I was lucky enough to find a copy of “When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies” on the shelves at my then-workplace (I was a student, working retail part-time to pay bills). I was also going to regular sessions with self-help groups to try and get a grip on the depression which was becoming a major facet in my life. I gave up dieting – or rather, to be more honest, I reached a weight of around 100kg, and realised that no matter how much I tried, dieting wasn’t going to work for me. So I had to learn alternative ways of being female.

    (I realise a lot of this doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with being a woman in geek culture. That’s because I wasn’t formally part of geek culture at that stage. I didn’t recognise myself as a geek until I was about twenty-six, when my partner basically handed me a copy of the Jargon File, said “read that” and watched me go “Oh my gods, that’s so me!” all the way through it).

    In later years, I came to be working in IT, mostly in helpdesks. I was “one of the guys”, something I’d never had a problem with (I’ve never really been able to think of myself as being an attractive female person, although my partner does believe I am. I think he’s deluded, but hey, it’s a functional delusion). And one thing which rankled, which always rankled: while there was lip-service paid to the notion that women could be as good as men at IT, the ones the guys were interested in talking to and working with were always the attractive, pretty ones. I can remember overhearing a conversation between two guys at the (public service) helpdesk I was working at one time, where one of them was going to be part of an interviewing panel, and the other guy was suggesting getting “more babes” to work at the helpdesk. Never mind that the two physically largest women on the desk (myself and another of the women there) out-geeked the majority of the helldesk staff by about a factor of three – most of the guys on the desk were more revhead than geek – and consistently out-did them on the customer service metrics to boot. No, don’t bother getting more intelligent people. Just get more pretty ones.

    Now I’m doing a BSc. in Computer Science part-time. I’m 40, so I’m about twice the age at least of the majority of the people in the classes I’m in. The populations are, as expected, almost overwhelmingly male, and the loudest of the informal discussions tend to be the gender-normative ones, where the girls are effectively being told to go back to the humanities side of the campus, where we belong… because we’ll never measure up to the artificially inflated figures these guys are playing with on their screens. And I get angry, but I don’t know how to express the anger in a way which will get me heard, or better yet, get me listened to.

  6. tiffehr

    Hell of a post. Thank you so much for posting your story and asking if others are okay. I am—though I’ll be sure to ask others as you’ve asked us GF readers.

  7. lizzy

    I’m 25, pretty nerdy, and since the age of 16 have been bulimic/anorexic/EDNOS (it cycles). I’ve been a sci-fi/fantasy geek since I can remember, and have had body issues since around the age of 9 (I started dieting in third grade). I can’t say the extent that the two are related, having never before really made the connection, but this piece certainly has given me something more about which to think. I could delve into the details, but suffice it to say, you are not alone.

  8. Wolf050

    thank you so much for this article. i was just at ny comic con(my first) and it was awful seeing the skinny girls being so objectified and inviting it. not that im any better than they are; i certainly struggle with my body image. nerdy guys are worse than jocks; theyve idealized women to a point where they cant interact with them without being sexist. i hope as more girls “come out” (i know i often hide my gender online) and become visible in the geek community, the men will learn.

    [Mod note: please be careful about not blaming people of any body type for social problems based solely on their body type. The “inviting it” part verges on victim-blaming; any further comments along those lines won’t be approved.]

  9. gqgeek

    I’m not okay.

    I was sick a lot as a kid. I was nine the first time a doctor put me on steroids to strengthen my lungs. They made me gain weight quickly.

    I was ten when my mum put me on a 1000-calorie-a-day diet.

    I’m twenty-three now and have been dieting on and off ever since. I’m still fat and still sick, and I’ve been working myself to the bone at a shitty retail job that just exacerbates how sick I am. I’m perpetually exhausted and in pain and have been having recurring chest pain for nearly a year.

    I saw my surrogate aunt for the first time since I started my job a few days ago. The first thing she said was, ”You’ve lost weight! You look so fantastic!”

    But really I’m just very, very sick and my job and perpetual exhaustion make it very easy to ignore my need for food.

  10. Closet Nerd

    This is a woman’s issue. But it is definitely still a geek issue. Of all places, nerdom should be a safe place. It is NOT. Women are immediately shut down if we ask for acceptance in a place where acceptance should be the rule not the exception. I grew up in a place where I had to hide who I was. The things I thought about, read, cared about. The few times it showed through I was teased mercilessly.

    Those jocks then talk to me later and have NO CLUE what they did to me. The depression I’ve been in and out of since I was 11. One of them I talked to, he had no clue. He said it was a joke, no big deal. This is ignorance and entitlement talking. It’s not ok.

    I thought when I got to college and found I could finally live my own life, when I found conventions that it would all be puppies and rainbows. People I could be myself around? I think I’m way more aware of when I’m being fake than other people because of my childhood. Those are not the kinds of people I found. Those were few and far between, just like the rest of the world. I came out of the nerd closet and found I had to keep fighting bullies.

    It just makes me sad and so, so disappointed. I said it already, but nerds of all people should understand being put down. Being talked at. Being treated like second class citizens? Sound familiar ladies? I’m telling you, geek culture is where the future of feminism could lie.

    This is where it starts. With brave women like Anonymous. With brave women like DCWomenKickinAss who put up with being called a feminazi bitch. With the women who started GeekGirlCon. Nerd women who tell their stories. Nerd women who speak up. Nerd women who make a safe place for all nerds. No matter race, color, gender, age, size, or whatever. Nerdom is where the revolution starts. Where we ask if people are ok. Where we start BEING HUMAN to each other.

    I’m not ok. Thank you for asking. I’m also not ok with the way we’re treated. No one should be.

    Thank you to the person who wrote this post for starting a difficult conversation. You’re so brave, keep fighting.

  11. Pinky

    As Lizzy says, I wouldn’t say you’re alone. While I’m not into the gaming side of things, I can relate to the comments about EDs being ‘girly’ and thus not to be discussed with your male freinds, even if they are your closest friends.

    AS a bi girl, I struggle sometimes with the not eyeing off of hot women in my world. And just need to remind myself there is a time and a place.

    And that double standard ala your friends who got engaged is not isolated.

  12. Jean

    I was an anorexic geek. And, yeah, my geeky friends didn’t notice. Oh, I got comments about being skinny, bony, etc., but no, no one ever asked, “Are you okay?” My geek boyfriend’s response to my weight loss was to grab my thigh, jiggle it, and tell me to eat a sandwich. And then he went right back to calling me “fatty.” I hated this; he thought it was funny – because it’s okay to call someone “fatty” if they’re not actually fat, right? That’s not cruelty, that’s humor! And I guess it was my own fault if I wasn’t laughing.

    To be fair to all of them, I did work very hard to hide my eating disorder. It helped that I hit my lowest weight in the winter and could hide it under heavy winter clothes, and I ate in front of other people a lot. They just didn’t know that what they saw me eat was all I ate.

    But, yes, to this day, none of my geeky friends know I ever had an ED. It is so stigmatized. I’m sure it would be good if I told people and showed that, yes, even very smart women can get eating disorders. (And no, it’s not about attention, because maybe you would have noticed if it had been.) I can’t handle taking on that role, though. It’s still too hard to talk about.

      1. K00kyKelly

        This comic is amazing. It deals very well with the emotions and realtities of her experience. The body dismorphia issue and inablility to put facts related to her ED in perspective shows how she become caught up in her own reality despite her logical nature and intellegence. Geeks are not immune.

  13. brain in a jar

    You’re not alone. I’m an eating-disordered geek, and I know several other geek women who have restricted, binged, purged, starved.

    I think that when geeks have eating disorders, they frequently approach their disorder in a geeky way. Obsessing about numbers, obsessively learning everything they can about nutrition, physiology, the psychology of eating disorders. Making spreadsheets of it.

    My hope is that we can also use our obsessiveness and intelligence to recover.

  14. Trish Fraser

    You’ve done me so much good this morning, thank you for posting this! It’s so horribly easy to forget that there’s a community of us, and we can say “Are you OK” to each other, and care, and it’s even more horribly easy to think that there might be a community, but I probably don’t belong in it…
    So, thank you, and are you OK today?

  15. Hailey

    Hi, I’m using my name, and also put my e-mail and my tumblr.
    I have and ED which in English I don’t know the exact name but It’s some sort of compulsion, (similar to bulimia I guess), but I don’t make myself throw, I just cant stop eating to the point that I “naturally” throw, but not always. This ED gave me a lot of weight and with that, health problems like high blood pressure and muscle pain etc. though I’m 22 yo.
    I had a similar xp, I but I was at an anime/manga convention, and I couldn’t stand that ppl, that stares, and at that time I was a boy (or at least IDing as one), and all that worship to those girls doing those cos. So I gave up from this ‘world’ after going at some events, cause I couldn’t stand all this. Today I’m geek only at home, I dont mix with ppl/events of RPG, card games, anime/manga, tech, any of this, cause I’m afraid to be mocked and feel ashamed somehow, I just attend feminist/genderqueer groups that I feel safe, that I know that’ll not judge my body and some GQ groups even do work of empowering GNC bodies.
    I’m also doing treatment to control my ED and lose some weight as I’m at a health risk.
    So you’re not alone, if you ever wanna someone to talk you can always contact me. I think we need to be united cause sometimes to stop hating our bodies it takes other ppl to help you, like I’m getting better with the feminists/GQ groups as I feel empowered.
    *hugs* =)

  16. Kali

    I’m a lifelong geek (sci-fi fanatic, technology-lover, early computer adopter) but more of a humanities geek (ask me about semiotics!) than a science geek until the last few years when I started to geek out over neuroscience. I’ve had an eating disorder since… forever. My mom was sure I’d look like her very large mother-in-law and so I was on a diet from age 3. (My mom was incredibly fat-phobic — it was so bad she refused to eat in restaurants where large folks were eating. Oh, and she was anorexic decades before they knew what that was.) Didn’t help that I was raped at twelve, either. So I’ve spent most of my life bouncing between bulimia and anorexia despite being in therapy for years at a time, reading tons of books about the problem, and trying my best to build something close to a “normal” relationship with food. The usual issues with guys, too — they were crawling all over me in my anorexic body-builder phases, and I was totally invisible as female in my plump phases. Female friends were always jealous when I was starving myself — it was hard to find support for healthy eating and of course I had the same body image problems as many (most?) other women. And I didn’t find much more acceptance in the lesbian community (I’m bi), where body nonsense is just as much in play as anywhere else. Seems to me that there really is no place or time in which women are allowed to not think about the way we’re shaped.

    At 50+, I’ve decided to stop looking for a “cure” — I figure the best I can do is build a healthy balancing mechanism so I don’t go too far either way and wreck my health. Ironically, I love cooking, and I’ve been building a web site that I hope will allow me to explore my love-hate relationship with food and eating. Not too much up there yet, but I just started working on it a couple of weeks ago. It’s something to do when I can’t distract myself with my academic work.

    So you are surely not alone. And I think that speaking about the problem publicly (even anonymously) is very healthy. I will never go back to the days of pretending to myself and everyone around me that nothing is wrong. But I’m pretty clear at this point that what’s wrong is not me. It’s a culture that values what women look like over every other quality and skill they possess. And the cure (which will come too late for me) is to change the culture. In my opinion, the first step in changing is to quit hiding and confront the problem publicly. So thanks very much for your post.

  17. em

    You’re definitely not alone in this, I too was (still am, a little) a bulimic geek. I was never properly diagnosed, but I more than fit the DSM criteria. I started bingeing and purging when I was 16, and at the height of it I was doing it at least twice a day for weeks at a time. I’m sort of lucky, in an odd sense, because I never lost weight to the point that I looked unhealthy. Still, the positive feedback I got for the weight I did lose didn’t exactly help my mindset.

    Geek culture in general is definitely not a haven for body acceptance, especially if you’re female. In my case it wasn’t the root cause, but it definitely had its influence. I remember frequenting the /cgl/ and other cosplay forums, which, to put it mildly, is not good for one’s body image. There’s this vibrant culture of judgement based on appearance, and by extension rampant fat shaming, which admittedly I took part in. So seeing these pictures of perfectly normal people being called ugly, fat, worthless, untalented left a mark on me, to say the least. I also never much got into cosplay for this reason.

    I’m lucky in that I’ve mostly gotten over this, especially since getting into the feminist scene has made me reevaluate my motivations for losing weight. The word fat, for example, I now don’t automatically assume to be an insult. I’m not sure if I can ever completely divorce the association of fatness with unworthiness, but it’s much better now having participated in this sort of discourse. It’s also good to know that I’m not alone in this rather specific struggle.

  18. JD

    From the time I was around 13 or 14 until I was 18, I was anorexic. I would eat, typically, one meal per day consisting of a small spinach “salad” which was nothing more than spinach and olive oil and vinegar sprinkled over. Because I usually ate in my bedroom at my desk while playing video games, when my mom did cook, it was a simple matter to go to my bathroom and scrape the food into the toilet.

    To this day, I have an unhealthy relationship with my body and with food. I no longer starve myself, but I will binge and then feel horrible for doing so. I am attempting to live a healthier lifestyle now, I’m more physically active than I have ever been and I have discovered that I love to cook.

    But it was difficult to get to this point. It helped to have a significant other who thought I was beautiful no matter what size I was, who met me when I was so thin my ribs were showing, and who still thought I was sexy when I started eating again with a completely destroyed metabolism and my starved body ballooned. Throughout it all, my partner only ever wanted me to be happy and healthy so we could live long lives together – and that means eating properly instead of starving myself.

    I don’t think an ED is something you ever truly get over. But today . . . today I am okay. I hope you are okay too.

  19. Emmers

    I’ve never had an eating disorder, but some days it feels like society is bound and determined to *give* me one. I have a naturally fast metabolism, but universally in my family your metabolism slows once you hit 30 or 40, so I will *be* fat when I am older. There’s no getting around it — growing up, I saw my mom go through and endless parade of diet and exercise jags, to no avail. My plan is just to continue eating healthily and exercising, and accept whatever weight that puts me at.

    But people are *going* to give me shit about it. They’re *going* to assume that I’m lazy and I eat nothing but Twinkies. And this enrages me. But what can I do about it? I can’t change their idiotic assumptions about how the human metabolism works, so…I guess I’m going apathetic. I dunno.

    Thanks for this space.

  20. Gweezer

    I am not OK.

    I used to be OK. I mean, I have been fat all my life, I grew used to it, it was the norm.

    But then I started trying to loose weight, and I couldn’t. I exercised for hours a day, I ate the tinniest proportions I could to curb my hunger (often having nothing but a granola bar as a meal-big difference from the fast food I was raised on) for eight months. Eight fucking months of making dieting my full time job (and I’m sure most of you know how seriously I mean that) I even went to nutritionists and personal trainers and the whole nine yards.

    I lost three pounds.

    Three pounds in eight months.

    Finally I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism (which basically makes it impossible to loose weight), now we’re trying to find the right levels with the hormone therapy, and everything is supposed to be OK.

    But it’s not. It never will be. I can not put the soul crushing despair I felt failing to loose weight into words. Everyone always told me that diet and exercise would do it, but it didn’t. It failed, I failed. I was just so god damn fat there was no way to fix it.

    Now I’m…..well, I’m considering bulimia. I know, I know, I’m too smart for that, I’m not some young kid who doesn’t know what she’s doing. But….

    I can’t eat without hating myself. I don’t care if it’s a fucking salad, I can not take one single bite without hating myself for it. It’s horrible. I don’t know what to do.

    I swear the thought of just simply throwing that all up becomes more and more fantastic everyday. It has almost become more tempting then eating in the first place.

    I don’t know what to do.

    I don’t know what the fuck to do.

    1. Cygna

      A lot of that, I went through too. 6 months of personal training and a 1400-calorie “eating plan” and I lost zero pounds. A year after I quit, my weight (which had been stable for several years) increased by 40 pounds with no changes in my life. I blame the diet. It was my last one.

      All I can tell you is, the only way out I know is to try Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size, and work on loving the body you have right now instead of wishing it were different and hating yourself because it’s not. Which isn’t an easy road either. I’m having a lot of self-acceptance fail right now, and I am Not OK about it – really deep into my beliefs that if I were thin and sexy like the women geek culture holds up, I would have love in my life instead of turning into the cat lady who is only ever hit up by completely socially incompetent people who make me feel worse about myself than if no one approached me at all. I had a great costume last night for Halloween and because I am fat and didn’t have my boobs on a platter, I might as well have not existed.

      And so I am Not OK either. (I was just never “disciplined enough” to go from dieting to full on ED though boy I have sure “admired” the women who were. How sick is that?)

      But I love you and I’m sorry you feel so terrible and hopeless. I really hope you can find a way to hate your body less.

    2. Watering can

      First, it’s not your fault.

      Please, next time when you do see your doctor, tell them about this. If they are assholes about it, it is not your fault. Change your doctor, find someone else. Ring Lifeline anonymously or whatever the other available organisations in your place of residence, see if they can hook you up to a place.

      And lastly, it is Not. Your. Fucking. Fault. Please please please remember that.

  21. Watering Can

    Given how hard people try to hide their ED, what’s the best way to go about asking if they are okay?

    Sometimes I wonder if I have an ED myself. The cosplay side of things certainly did not help, consider that the cosplay community just love the body shaming. The fact that I saw this post and immediately envied the anon over that she could be “stick thin” while bulimic says something – all I can think of is that I’m fat when I’m bulimic and I can only be slightly less fat when I’m starving.

    1. Lala

      Just “Are you okay?” You don’t have to ask them if they have an ED and chances are they won’t tell you, at least not right out, but just by letting them know that you’ve acknowledged there is in fact something wrong going on, it doesn’t even have to be an ED, and that you’re there for them, it can help. At least that’s my 2 cents.

  22. anongeeklady

    You are not alone.

    I’m not going to go into my story at length, but let me say this: I grew up as a “nerdy” (geeky) girl, going to science fiction conventions. I wasn’t noticed much because I didn’t “show off” what assets I had like the other girls.

    Eventually, I moved away from my home state to go chasing a dream in a town that is extremely image conscious. I developed anorexia nervosa. A male friend from Fandom, who I hadn’t seen in a year or so came to visit me. He didn’t notice that I was “too thin.” When I finally opened up to him, and said, “I’m anorexic,” his response was, “no you’re not!”

    Of course I was furious with him, and started explaining the situation. He still said that he wanted to see test results before he would believe me. (His response was something like, “I’m a scientist, and the son of a Doctor; You should get tests done to see if you’re okay.”)

    I starved myself further after that, in a desperate call for attention, finally getting down to somewhere around 80lbs at 5’4″. Then I “hit bottom”, confessed to my therapist, and got help.

    Today, I am a normal weight. But there are definitely days–when someone talks about how “hot” someone with big boobs and small everything else is–when I just want to go back into the eating disorder.

    It’s not my place to tell you what to do, but I suggest that you try confiding in a friend. Eating disorders are “shameful” because we don’t talk about them. But when we do, people are surprisingly kind. When I was in recovery, but still at a really low weight for my height, I got a lot of compliments from girls in stores. “Wow, you’re so thin and pretty!” was common. I finally started saying, “Thank you, but I’m recovering from Anorexia.” It usually took people aback, but then I’d usually hear, “You know, my cousin/sister/aunt/friend has some eating issues/an eating disorder/seems too thin.” sometimes followed by “How can I help her?”

    I’m sorry to hear that you are going through something this hellish. EDs are a nightmare, because they come from your mind. I don’t know if you can see emails from here, but if you can, feel free to email me if you want to talk to someone who has a compassionate ear.

    [Mod note: careful about using normative terms like “normal weight”; implying that there’s such a thing as a normal weight for everyone is body-shaming. I understand that you meant you’re at a healthy weight for you, but in these discussions it’s very important to use I-statements and emphasize that what’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for everyone.]

    1. Watering Can

      Wow. So essentially they knew people who are anorexic, and they’d still use “you are so thin and pretty” as a compliment to someone they don’t know?

      Says so much about our culture.

  23. Lala

    Wow, this hit way close to home for me. I’m a geek and I’m bulimic and, at 23, have been for almost a decade now. One of my early motivators was cosplay, desiring to be able to look as “perfect” as the characters I loved.

    I hate whenever I’ve seen this mentioned, the harm of how the image of the ideal women in geekdom is hardly different anywhere else, and it’s dismissed as “only stupid women fall for that” and “geeky women are smarter than that!” As though when they fall to worshiping those ideals, they’re any smarter than me for buckling under them.

    OP, I hope you can be okay. I know I’m not, but your words at least makes me feel less alone.

    1. Jayn

      Yeah, it kinda sucks the fun out of cosplay, doesn’t it? I generally don’t have body image issues, but cosplay is one of the few places where they crop up for me, since a lot of female characters in anime and video games wear revealing clothing. Almost always this will include a bare midriff, which is the one thing I have a (image-related) hangup about.

  24. Another bulimic geek

    Hi, I don’t regularly frequent this website, but I just want to let you know that you are most certainly not alone. I think there’s this misconception in geek culture that eating disorders happen to girls who are shallow or unintelligent. As a girl in the top ten percent of her class at a very competitive liberal arts college who is also recovering from bulimia, I can assure you this is not even close to the truth. There is so much fat-shaming for girls in geek culture, and it is so, so damaging. Change really needs to happen in the way geeks treat women, and it needs to happen soon. I love science fiction and fantasy, and would love to keep hanging out with that community. But if the misogyny and fat-shaming continue, I think more and more women like you and me are going to be alienated from that community.

  25. O__O

    Another geek girl chiming in, had anorexia from 13yo to 15yo, still have body issues.

  26. Just Another Geek Who Had An ED

    You’re not the only one. As is obvious by now. Not exactly something I share with people frequently; partially because I stigmatize the thing myself and partially because I don’t want to feel like people are watching what I’m doing/eating. And I generally don’t want to talk about the whole thing too much. I’ve been in remission for about 8 years now, but have a terrible body image. ‘Interestingly’, the women who end up having ED’s tend to be more intelligent than others. In that sense alone, it’s no surprise that so many geeks have ED’s. Also, geek women are still women. We deserve to be respected by male geeks as women, and really just as humans who have emotions, too.

  27. Name *azurelunatic

    Yes, in high school I slipped into what I would now consider anorexic eating and exercise patterns. It has been over 10 years but I still have to be vigilant to not go there again.

  28. spitfire

    I had an eating disorder at 12. I’m finally, more than 14 years later, starting to get healthy in my thinking about my body.

    I’m pretty confident in saying that there are lots of women in geek culture who had eating disorders. Even a few guys. You are not alone.

  29. sgeek

    There is an image of the female geek in culture — the bespectacled, awkward, waif. This is an image I identified with as a preternaturally skinny and myopic preteen. When puberty came with its curves, I felt displaced from the only pop culture image I could relate to. I no longer felt at home in my body and longed to return to my slim fit jeans and unisex t-shirts.
    …and so in junior high I became anorexic.

    I’m no longer eating-disordered, but I still wonder if other geeky women share this experience, and if it differs in significant ways from the experience of other women.

  30. Geek on the borderline

    I’m so glad you posted this. It sums up what I think about geek and nice guy attitudes about this nicely. I am not anorexic or bulimic but I have seriously thought about adopting such a lifestyle. To this day I find jutting hipbones and prominent collar bones attractive. I have tried to deliberately throw up at least once after eating. If I could get myself to do it, I imagine I’d be a full blown bulimic. Geek guys often will tell you to accept yourself as you are but from the games they play, comics they read, etc. they are just as affected by beauty attitudes as women are. Unfortunately, most of them will lust after the beautiful alpha female and then complain that women always turn them down without giving a thought to the girls who don’t look perfect. I was appalled and hurt by what DC did to Amanda Waller. As an obese female comic geek, what does that say to me? It tells me I’m not worth looking at. DC had to change a woman’s whole body shape just to please the market that I am a part of.
    So thank you so much. You have encouraged me and please know that you are not alone and if you ever need a listening ear, I as well as probably everyone here are here to help.

  31. goblin

    Thank you so much for writing this. So much. It made me cry. I’m not sure I count as a ‘proper’ geek – all manuscripts + no maths – but a lot of what you say rings true. I was anorexic or some variant thereof for a decade,and altho i’m ok now – and lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are by and large caring+generally supportive – I wasn’t for a very long time. Your honesty helps open up discussions we all need to be having,and thank you so much for it.

  32. The writer of the post

    To everyone who has commented here, and shared their story, thank you. Thank you so much for letting me know I’m not alone. I am completely moved by everything you’ve said. It is a phenomenally hard thing to talk about, and to discuss. But it needs to be discussed. We need to look after ourselves and each other, to talk about the hard things.

    I’m not sure whether I’m going to be able to beat my disorder, or how long it will take. But I hope I can do it.

  33. Aphre

    I’m not okay.
    I’ve struggled for years with an eating disorder, but it’s an EDNOS and I’m too afraid that no one will believe me. I’m afraid they’ll think I’m too fat to have an eating disorder. I’m afraid my boyfriend will tell me to eat less and purge more.

    I hope that soon I’ll be okay. I want to thank you for this post; I feel a little less afraid today than I did yesterday.

  34. Reena

    I didn’t develop an ED until two years ago, but it changed everything about my self image. Since I was about 8, I’ve been dealing with a host of other mental health problems that fellow geeks are happy to commiserate about: depression, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorder (I have some pretty rotten genes). But two years ago (at age 20) it all manifested in a binge eating disorder; food was one of the only things that could still give me pleasure- so I used it to excess when nothing else would. I had always been a healthy weight, up until that point, not that it stopped me from hating my body. But now- now I had EVIDENCE to hate my body. Not only was I quickly gaining weight, I had new stretch marks on my thighs, my breasts, my hips, my stomach- everywhere. Everybody was useless- the girl geeks were condescending (“have you tried NOT eating so much?” or “do you want me to say something when I think you’re eating to much, or will that just make you feel bad?”), and the guy geeks hadn’t the faintest idea of how to deal with this development. I didn’t end up getting diagnosed- let alone treatment- until a year later and 100 pounds heavier. I’ve gotten some treatment for it with a dietician, but my insurance won’t cover it, and my parents can’t afford to pay for it anymore, and I definitely can’t afford it, and so I’m doing my best and plodding along with just therapy.
    Halloween is the worst time for me, though, as I’m not much of a cos-player/convention-goer. I don’t like people to see my stretch mark scars, so even though I’m progressing with my body image issues through therapy, I didn’t feel comfortable wearing anything revealing. I would have loved to have been Amy Pond in a kissogram outfit- but what if people saw the stretch marks on my thighs and calves? Hell, who am I kidding, what if people saw my THIGHS AND CALVES AT ALL?
    I saw all of these Halloween pictures or cos-play pictures of geek-girls on reddit- and the ones who make it to my front page are (surprise, surprise) thin. It started to feel like I’m the only one… then I got linked here from the TwoXChromosomes subreddit- and lo and behold. We’re not alone.

  35. Mary

    Update from the moderators:

    * please do not offer people unsolicited advice, particularly medical advice, in this thread
    * this means: if you want advice, please explicitly ask for it “what do people think I should do?” “what should I look for in a health professional?” “what advice do people have?”
    * requests for advice on how to acquire an eating disorder will not be published, nor will requests for advice on weight loss strategies

    Some existing comments may violate these requirements, but more will not be published.

  36. oneMoreVoice

    Thank you so much for this post. It helped me put things into a perspective I hadn’t previously thought of before.

    I have always been considered the “geek” of my friends, most of whom are those very girls you’ll see scantily clad and looking very hot in whatever they choose to wear. Being surrounded by such people definitely puts pressure on me to change my own appearance–this is what I attributed my six year ED to.

    Now, when I think about it, I cannot put the blame fully on them as I had been doing. I read your post and look to my own past and realize that I went through the very same issues as you. As an enthusiast of all things related to the “geek culture”, I now see that it was this very culture that influenced and lead to the beginnings of my ongoing battle with weight. When I think about it now, none of my childhood heroines were in the least bit fat.

    There doesn’t seem to be many solutions for a quick fix from the subtle pressuring of the expo and convention goers or our preferred choices of media. I’d say to ignore it and be yourself, but that would be hypocritical of me. There are days I still succumb to the temptation of purging after a binge.

    But, I know there is a world for us out there that is accepting for us as we are. We just have to step out of our comfort zone. They say we are our own worst enemies, and maybe those like us are equally critical because we are a reminder of themselves. Who knows.

    However it may be, just know that you are not the only one.
    Know that it is okay to be as you are. Together, we’ll accept ourselves, and together, we’ll find a way to no longer not be okay. Thank you again:-)

  37. Izzzie

    You are not alone.

    I have struggled with my weight and my geekiness in equal measure for a fairly long time. When I went on exchange to Japan in year ten, I started binge eating to cover my loneliness. I gained what to me was a huge amount of weight in a space of only three months, and upon return I was told rather unkindly (but in what I’m sure was a well-intentioned manner) by my rowing coordinator that I shouldn’t bother coming back to training because I’d “sink the boat”. I never went back to such rigorous disciplined exercise during high school. This was when I started staying home, reading more and more fantasy novels, trying to escape my life.

    My dad was good about it, for the most part, but he’d tell me I “needed to do something about that extra weight” every day. The turning point came when I realised I weighed more at 15 than my father, who was head and shoulders taller than me. So I “did something about it” – I began regularly purging, and I still remember the day my dad told me I was looking really great lately, and to keep it up. I almost burst into tears on the spot – because I’d thrown up all three meals I’d been fed that day, and my well-meaning father assumed I was intelligent enough not to fall into that trap, and that I was okay, and to keep it up.

    I got a geeky boyfriend who had been a longtime friend of mine in an effort to make me feel better about myself- but it was a relationship forged of friendship and loneliness rather than actual love, so when I realised things were falling apart with us and I felt that I’d ruined the friendship in the process, I purged more and more. I dropped three dress sizes and about ten kilos over the space of a summer. I restricted. I hung out with my geeky boyfriend and got more and more into anime and punk rock and wondered why I avoided DC comics like the plague – because they presented this impossible image that I could never be. My boyfriend hung out with other girls on a tour to France. There were photos of him dancing with them, touching them lightly on the hips in a way I couldn’t stand to be touched because of “love handles”. We broke up. I became geekier. I lost more and more self esteem, and when I started going to conventions while I loved the geekiness getting into cosplay almost ruined it again for me because of the bitchy fatphobic comments from not only spectators, who had no idea the heart and soul and dedication and hours that went into constructing your perfect costume, but from fellow cosplayers as well, who knew all of those things (or should have), and hearing them tear each other down damn near broke my heart. We should know better. More than that, we should ALL know better.

    I am an intelligent woman. I got into Law and was studying Law/Arts, before I realised that the pressure of a law degree I didn’t want was killing me and sucking me further into not eating, hating myself, and feeling so, so much pressure to be good enough. I am not good enough. I have slipped so, so far back into those behaviours that I thought were “so very high school”. I have recently sought help for my EDNOS for the very first time, and while it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, with counsellors meaning only the best telling me that “I’ll grow out of it” and to stop worrying so much, I hope for the future. The only problem is, if these environments do not change and become a safe and relatively trigger-free space, such progress will never be maintained – and it will never become easy to ask for help, which is sometimes the hardest thing to do. I remember a friend and fellow geek look at me with approval for my Princess Peach art nouveau-style shirt at the beginning of the conversation and then make me feel wholly uncomfortable a few minutes later by exclaiming in disgust “are you on a DIET?!” when I pulled out a can of tuna and some rice crackers for lunch. There’s an expectation that if you don’t care what someone thinks of you in terms of your geekiness, you don’t care what anyone thinks of you in terms of the way you look or your weight. For many geeky ladies (and men as well), this doesn’t follow at all. We need to learn that while we may have accepted our geekiness, this does not mean that we are wholly accepting of ourselves, and assuming that fat humour is okay and that nobody is suffering only silences those of us who are, making us even more afraid to stand up.

    “Your body is not who you are.” “You should know better”. “Nobody cares what you look like as a female geek, as long as you have BOOBS.” These are all things I have been told by well-meaning geek friends. But you know what? No. WE should know better. We should know that just because we are intelligent, interesting, rational people who happen to have geeky qualities does not automatically mean we are all okay. I know I am not. I know there are many more like me that are not. But until we learn to respect each other and stop putting each other down for these things because “you should know better than to have an eating disorder”, these people are going to feel marginalised and unseen in communities that should be the most accepting of all.

  38. KT

    I started experiencing body confidence problems when I was 14, and have struggled with various eating patterns since – though I’ve never been diagnosed. I’m now 24.

    I had never made the connection between geeks and (apparent) body confidence, or geeks and desire for perfection before. It amazes me, now, that we feel so alone.

  39. Yael Tiferet

    I am more okay than I have ever been before that I can remember, but no, I’m not okay.

    I remember seeing my picture in the paper for founding a Star Wars club in my small town at 13 and all I could think was how fat I was. A little while after that I starved myself down. I love dance and I danced thru my teens into my early 20s. I also starved myself a lot, but not so much that people noticed.

    In my 20s I became tired all the time and started to gain weight, and doctors kept telling me for years and years that it was because I was getting fat that my health kept getting worse. I got to a point where I accepted myself, but it was hard to get the doctors to accept me; it wasn’t until I had begun to accept that I probably had fibro or CFIDS or something like that and to do some research that I figured out I had all the symptoms of celiac disease, which the docs never noticed.

    Once on a gluten free diet, I started to lose the weight I’d gained from eating all the time because I got no nutrition from the food I ate and was constantly hungry. But then I started noticing how much more I liked myself the smaller my clothes got and how tempting it was to judge myself again and how tempting it was to restrict calories again sometimes. I haven’t done that and I won’t.

    I’ve been the hot girl in the costume; in my late teens/early 20s I learned I could get away with a lot if I took my dancer’s body out in a hot costume and went to a con, but at the same time, I NEVER felt I was pretty even when I was objectively really hot by conventional standards of hot…because I couldn’t ever get down just one more size or wear regular boots (I have muscles in my legs from dancing and lifting weights, after all).

    And I also put up with a certain amount of sexual harassment because I believed I’d invited it, after all everyone said so. And I put up with other women behaving like I was a tourist and even got to the point where I started to judge them. Then I gained weight and I got to be taken seriously again, and I hated that too. Now I just don’t know.

    When I was trolled for my fandom projects one of the things the trolls kept harping on was how “fat” I was. (Basically 90% of the online harassment I’ve faced has been “you’re a fat Jewish lesbian.” Which is 2.5 out of 3–bisexuality exists–and really that shouldn’t be insulting at all, just, you know, factual.)

    I’m doing better than I ever have. But I still freak way the hell out if I try on clothes and I take a size that’s the same number as one of the sizes I used to take because the manufacturer’s weird or it’s cut weird. I still have days where if I’m a little bloated and something doesn’t zip up as easily as it did last week or last month, I wonder if I’m going to pack it all back on and am tempted to skip lunch.

    I know how it happened; I grew up around constant dieting talk at home and was subjected to it from age 13 onward. It came from my dad, not my mother–but my dad was the one I got along with, the one who took me to geeky movies and Star Trek conventions and bought me comic books. And when things were really bad at home the one thing I could control was what I ate and how much I danced. Which was all the time, sometimes; either I watched TV or I danced to music alone, anything to get me out of the world the rest of my family was in. I’ve had loads of therapy.

    I sometimes don’t think any of us are really okay.

  40. Weird

    No, you are not alone. I’ve had an eating disorder for most of my life, apparently, and am now in therapy. I think realizing that you’re not okay is the first step to healing – and putting the word out there is amazingly brave! <3

  41. AModernFeminist

    I am a geek, I have been for a long time. I also went to an incredibly intolerant all girls school and I am black. I have faced the same pressure to be thin and to be girly and it was insufferable.

    I got close to eating disorders on several occasions. But I was lucky; I got that ‘are you ok’? I still have some body image issues but, thanks to the help I’ve gotten, I’m not in such a dark place any more.

    Now I am a feminist and a determined one! I wish more and more young male geeks could read your story and stories like yours and understand what it is to be a geek and a woman. Then maybe the misogyny can be broken.

    Thank you; your courage is inspiring.

  42. Khamsin

    No. I’m not okay. I’m working on becoming okay, but like so many of us, I’m not there yet.

    I’m a 28 year old bipolar, anxiety prone geek lady, and I’ve cycled through disordered eating patterns my whole life. Hoarding, restricting, binging, purging. Stress is the worst. That generally puts me in a restrictingpurging process.

    My parents were both geeks. I grew up with weekly D&D games in the living room. My first sentence was “There’s a dragon, guys, roll dice!” My aunt and my uncle were part of the D&D group. I was given the Dragonlance series to read in fifth grade. I like to say I was a geek from birth.

    I was a bookish, introverted little girl, and looking at pictures of me then I was pretty average. I had some baby fat, but that would likely have simply fueled my growth spurt (I’m 5’11”). However, my father constantly informed me (and my sister, who’s 6’2″ now) that we were “fat pigs” and would restrict our food intake and force me to run laps of our block until I vomited. So I would hoard non perishables to eat after I’d been sent to bed and developed severe anxiety around exercise. I now have literal panic attacks about something as simple as riding a bike.

    When I was 16 my father left my mother for being “too fat”. I live in terror that the same thing will happen to me. I know my partner would never do that, but what if? He’s an anime-watching, superheroine-loving geek too. I will never measure up to those images.

    I don’t know how to be okay. I’d really like to learn someday. Until I do? Thank you for asking.
    Linked here via Jezebel

  43. Jordann

    My heart goes out to each and every person who is not comfortable in their body. This article strikes me, and it is incredibly unfair the pressure we women put on ourselves in today’s society. It reminds me of advice I once got: Every woman is a diamond. We are gorgeous, and we are worth it. When the light shines, we sparkle, glowing radiantly. When the light does not shine, we glitter. Never forget, you sparkle.

    If anyone needs a friend, my real email is attached. <3

  44. Joey

    You’re certainly not alone. I’m a geek, and I was anorexic / self-harming from age thirteen until I was about 23. I think this is an incredibly brave post, thank you for making it. I hope you can find help and support.

  45. Eirien

    It’s sad to hear she was having so much trouble. It sucks how the media is nowadays, telling women they have to be underweight just to be beautiful. :(

    Maybe I was ‘lucky’ while growing up – I never had an issue with gamer boys or my weight. If any boy told me I should lose some weight to be ‘prettier’ or thinner I’d have laughed at him and walked away.

    If I grew up a decade later who knows, I might have been more self-conscious. People of all genders and body types need to know that they are special for who they are, inside and out. Screw the media expectations.

  46. NanMcGrew

    Thanks so much for posting this. I’m a geek girl and a recovered bulimic, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard fellow geeks discuss this before.

    I think the feminine ideals that drive us crazy might be even more damaging than the “mainstream” ideals of supermodels and “Gossip Girl” actresses. The ideals presented in fashion magazines are difficult to emulate – but ours are downright impossible, since they’re so often cartoons, superhumans, aliens, and cylons.

    It took me a long time to figure out how to date and/or be friends with geek boys and men when they can have such a disconnect between the perfect women they desire/fear and the women they know in real life. That’s what leads to people holding the ludicrous belief that there aren’t many/any female geeks. We’re all over the place – we’re just invisible to those who only count as women those who look like Caprica Six.

  47. Lady J.

    I’m not okay either. But I’m also not alone. Thank you so much for posting. (hug)

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