Parallel Session 13

Understanding the Intersection of Social Justice and Body Image #BodyJustice



Body image trauma does not develop in isolation, out of thin air. While, particularly in the case of eating disorders, there are biological and psychological factors that contribute to the experience of negative body image, sociocultural factors cannot be understated – especially when attempting to incorporate an intersectional lens into research and advocacy. Enter body justice: a radical perspective that maps out various intersections of oppression, such as racism and anti-fatness, when exploring the gradual development of an individual’s body image trauma. How do our social locations play into how we experience our bodies? Why is this social justice lens, an often overlooked perspective, necessary in effective eating disorder work? This workshop will take participants on an energetic and interactive journey along the path of body justice, offering three new cutting-edge lenses to understand systemic body oppression, illuminating the footpath with concrete action steps to help us reevaluate the limitations in our work. 



The relationship between feminism (social justice/oppression/anti-oppression training) and body image and eating disorders is a clear one; but it’s also one whose theory and practice has fallen out of favor in research and practice. While there was a surge of feminist theory in eating disorder research during the latter half of the 20th century, it has decreased in popularity. Partly, this is for good reason: Much of what we understand as feminist theory as applied to eating disorders is based on an outdated lens. While the Second Wave laid a foundation for how we understand food and body issues through a feminist perspective today, the movement has evolved – and those of us in the body image and eating disorder field should to evolve with it.


This workshop begins with a conversation about how feminist theory has historically been applied to body image and eating disorders. It will affirm participants’ concerns about feminism by naming the ways in which Second Wave feminist theory was shortsighted, while also being clear about the ways in which it was helpful. This will lead into an explanation of what feminism and social justice and racial justice have come to mean today and why they are necessary worldviews. This will include careful explanation, with the use of multimedia and audience participation, of concepts like oppression, privilege, and intersectionality, in order to build a foundation to then discuss its application to body image and eating disorders.


Body equity is the reason many attend this conference. It centers a perspective that maps out intersections of oppression, like racism and anti-fatness, when understanding the gradual development of an individual’s body image trauma. But does it go far enough? This workshop proposes a new perspective, aiming to excavate the good intentions within body equity. Using body justice, we can trace the deeply-rooted systems of oppression that cause experiences of trauma. For example, white supremacy is the system that causes experiences of racism. And able normative supremacy is the system that causes experiences of ableism. These perspectives are important to grasp in order to view healthism culture as the toxic pond water that asphyxiates feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. In this example, healthism is the system that causes experiences of ableism, anti-fatness, and mental health stigma. This workshop will offer three new cutting-edge lenses to use when thinking about systemic body oppression, while dramatically expanding our understanding of body image. This workshop will take participants on an energetic and interactive journey along the path of body justice, illuminating the footpath with concrete action steps to re-think new limitations in our work.


Groups historically excluded from body image and eating disorder discourse (such as people of color, disabled people, LGBTQIA+ people, and fat people) will be explicitly discussed throughout the workshop. Then, concepts such as fatphobia, healthism, and ableism will be brought to light in order to express the importance of incorporating an understanding of systemic oppression when discussing food and body issues. The presentation will end with a brief Q&A. 


Knowledge Level: Beginner, Intermediate


Presenter Biographies

Melissa A. Fabello, M.Ed. (she/her) is a body acceptance and eating disorder activist, scholar in the field of sexology, and Jurassic Park enthusiast based in Philadelphia, PA. Currently, Melissa works as Managing Editor of Everyday Feminism, the largest independent feminist media website in the world with an audience of millions. She has also utilized her online platform in various other activism and advocacy pursuits, including extensive work with The National Eating Disorders Association, The Representation Project, Adios Barbie, and Laci Green. A licensed educator with over a decade of experience working with diverse populations, Melissa currently gives presentations at universities, organizations, and conferences on topics related to feminism, media literacy, and body image. She is also a doctoral candidate in Human Sexuality Studies, where her research focuses on how women with anorexia nervosa experience skin hunger. Please visit her website ( for more information and follow her on Twitter @fyeahmfabello.

Sonalee Rashatwar (she/they), L.S.W., M.Ed. is social worker, sex therapist, and grassroots organizer based near Philadelphia, devoted to infusing social justice in her work by curating cutting-edge, interactive workshops on decolonizing sex positivity and fat sexuality. As a second-generation immigrant of Indian Hindu parents, she is dedicated to educating professionals on the unique experiences of the post-colonial South Asian diaspora. She is paid for her labor as a sexual assault counselor with clinical specialties in sexual violence, racial justice, body image, and culturally-responsible modalities. In her downtime she organizes with two South Asian collectives around radical youth education and adult politicization. As a core organizer for East Coast Solidarity Summer, she fundraises year-round to provide a free, week-long summer camp for South Asian youth. To learn more about her politics follow her on Facebook and Twitter @SonaleeR and Instagram @BlessMyFatHeart.