An Interview with Chloë Grande, an Eating Disorder Recovery Advocate (Part 2)

Photo credit: Rachel Sulman

Do you think the media’s promotion of toxic beauty standards affects the development of eating disorders?

I have thought about this question so much because I grew up not being on social media. I didn’t have Instagram, not even Facebook, so social media wasn’t to blame for my eating disorder, but there were still media portrayals. I read many magazines like Seventeen magazine, so I was exposed to all these ads and photos that were photoshopped, but I didn’t know they were photoshopped. We’re always going to be exposed to media. Eating disorders were still around when our parents were teenagers, and they’re still going to be around when our kids are teenagers. Overall, media plays a factor, depending on what type of media you consume. I wasn’t consuming much media, but I was still pretty impacted, so maybe the more media that you consume and if it happens to be based on comparisons, I think it’s easy for that to be very triggering. Therefore, I try not to follow a lot of influencers or celebrities on social media. I try to keep it just to friends and therapists. It’s a hard question because the media impacts standards, but I think there are ways we can mitigate the impact of the media and try to combat that. But it’s hard since we live in a society where diet culture is the standard, so it takes work to go against that.

Since diet culture is the standard in present society, is it refreshing for you to see more people being open about their eating disorders?

For sure, a hundred percent. It makes me so happy to see that, because I never talked to anyone about my eating disorder for a long time, like at least five years, so it was just my family that knew when I was first diagnosed. It wasn’t something I talked about openly with my friends, and the most interesting thing is now when I have conversations with my friends from high school, probably 90% of us had eating disorders, and we didn’t know. So had there been maybe more conversation or a level of comfort where we would feel okay talking about our mental illness, I think that would have been comforting. The worst part is just feeling alone and feeling like you’re the only one going through this horrible disease, so it’s great that people are talking more about it. I would caution not to feel pressured to talk about your mental illness if you’re not at a good stage or a comfort level to do that because that can backfire. So, fortunately, I feel like I’m comfortable enough to do it, and it’s great to see platforms like the ones you’re promoting, where you’re also doing it in a positive light.

How do you think plastic surgery trends like the BBL trend impacted how people perceive beauty standards today?

Beauty standards are constantly changing. I feel it’s impossible to keep up with them, so for example, when I was growing up, I was made fun of for having thicker eyebrows, and now it’s a trend. It’s just crazy to think that the trait I was bullied for is now something that’s in demand or seen as trendy, and then maybe next year it won’t be trendy, so I don’t think you need to love your body and appearance, but if you have an acceptance about things that you’re born with or passed down from your family, having that sort of inner peace and being okay with that is something that can help combat against these trends because I don’t know how people keep up unless you’re doing plastic surgery. I think there’s also not a level of transparency around surgery, and one of your articles touched on this as well. When you’re talking about BBLs where it’s that slim thick figure, that’s impossible. Nobody can look that way naturally. With filters, I was reflecting recently on how it went from just a cute dog face filter on Snapchat to these crazy filters where you don’t even recognize your face, and people are bringing in these filtered looks to plastic surgeons to have them replicate it, so it is sad, but I don’t think it’s inevitable. I like to remain hopeful and think that we’re getting to a point where there is more visibility and knowledge about the harmful effects of surgery. BBLs are dangerous, and I know even with breast augmentation, they’re horrible stories of women developing cancer later and having them removed, but that was because they got the surgery at a young age and weren’t aware of the risks, so I think a lot of it comes down to sharing information that hasn’t been available before. It’s horrible that surgeons are preying on young girls, as well. There’s so much to say about this topic, and it could be a whole conversation in itself.

What are your thoughts on the differences between the body positivity movement and the body neutrality movement?

I can relate more to body neutrality because I grew up hating my body. It seems almost impossible to go from hating something to loving something, and I think it’s more realistic to be a bit more neutral and accepting about your body. But again, it depends on the person. I know some people relate deeply to the body positivity movement, so if that’s what makes you feel better, by all means, go ahead. One thing I do like about the body neutrality movement is I’ve seen many posts where they say your body is the least interesting thing about you, and I love that because it takes the lens off of this focus on loving yourself and always being happy with what you see in the mirror to other factors like your personality or your hobbies or interests outside of your body.

A topic that’s not often spoken about is the effect eating disorders and beauty standards have on men. Do you have any thoughts to share about that?

I completely agree. I was thinking recently about how difficult it must be for men to talk about eating disorders. If it’s difficult for women to talk about it, there’s even more shame with men who are open about it. So again, I think that’s something that is changing. And from what I read, too, certain eating disorders affect men almost at the same rate as women. For example, binge eating disorder is almost as common in women as in men. With men, there’s more focus on gaining muscle and looking fit and having that sort of gym physique, whereas for women, there’s more focus on leanness and not having muscles, so I think they can manifest in different ways, but it must be harder for men if they face double the stigma. Basically, don’t make comments about anyone’s body in general.

How do you think negative comments influence the development of an eating disorder?

People say things they might not think will affect you as much, but they do, and they can make you feel insecure about yourself. Now, hopefully, there’s a bit more recognition that you shouldn’t comment on people’s bodies, but I think you can’t control what people say, and you can’t take everything personally. You have to take things with a grain of salt. It can be difficult to stand up for yourself, so my strategy, which might not be the best, is to try to change the conversation. If it’s a bigger group of people, then I’ll start talking about something else. But something I recently started doing, and I started with my family because I’m the most comfortable with them, is I pull them aside just individually and let them know that certain comments are triggering for me. Most of the time, there’s no bad intention. They generally don’t realize, so I can’t blame them entirely. When you let other people know, you’re not on your own, and other people can also change the topic, so it’s something I’m working on. I think it’s something that’s challenging to do. If the status quo is to criticize your body and to pick it apart, it’s tough to get to the point where you can shut down those conversations.

Did you ever have those kinds of comments that made it harder for you to recover from your eating disorder, especially during your gymnastics career?

I naturally had a more muscular body, and part of it was because I was doing gymnastics, but also, that’s just the body that I was born in. I had a negative perception of myself, as I didn’t feel feminine. It was something that I wanted to change about myself, so comments highlighting my muscules could have been compliments, but I took them the wrong way as they were a pain point. Looking back, those people probably didn’t realize what they were saying or the weight of their comments. But now I know I wouldn’t make those comments to somebody else. Even if you mean it with good intention, it can be harmful because you never know someone’s journey and what they’re struggling with, and we shouldn’t care about other people’s bodies. There are so many other things to talk about and focus on.

Where to Find Chloë!