Clara Barnhurst

It’s a classic moan, food pictures on the Internet. People sharing images of what they’re eating, usually some at some kind of restaurant, sometimes just whatever it is. People often hold it up as self indulgent, tacky, or in bad taste. It’s not a thing I’ve ever done, but a recent encounter with a darker side of myself forced me to question the idea that these pictures are socially inept.

My dad was the absolute worst about posting food images. They were almost always things his husband cooked that my dad just loved too much to eat without capturing and sharing it for posterity. Course, my stepdad did most of the cooking, so that meant at least three times a week we were treated to an image of whatever was for dinner. We would roll our eyes at him and smile; it was an annoyingly sweet thing he would do.

I always considered this behaviour annoying. Endearing or not, it just seemed pointless. I didn’t care what my dad was eating for dinner (he was the primary offender here), though I know he was showing an appreciation for my stepdad so in that way it was an endearing thing. Even so, it made me want to find the person who empowered him with a phone small enough to carry around with him and flog them. We all know someone who can’t be trusted with a camera, and in my case it was my dad.

Then a friend started sharing her fight with bulimia. What made it especially close was the more she shared, the more I realised I did many of the same things. Reasoning away hunger? Tick. Eating frighteningly small things and calling it a meal? Tick. Once in a while gorging myself on a whole bunch of stuff and using that as a rationale for not eating for a period, sometimes days, after the event? Yup, that’s a tick. You don’t have to throw up to be bulimic. You just have to binge and purge yourself somehow, be it through starvation or whatever else.


Transgender women disproportionately suffer from eating disorders for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are weight requirements for surgeries we need to survive. Self image is a fragile thing for trans* people generally, and it’s easy to get food wrapped up in that anxiety. Our relationship with our bodies is tenuous, particularly as we transition into a state that is more acceptable for us. It shouldn’t surprise me that I’m showing borderline signs of an eating disorder.

I don’t believe I’m bulimic, but I am afraid that my existing habits will push me over the edge. Like every other mental health issue, I’m unwilling to raise it with my GP because I don’t want the gender clinic to get wind of a problem. It’s complicating factor; it delays my gender treatments. They can’t know about it - I’m on my own.

On the upside, I have at least one friend that knows what this enemy is like and can support me. I have a whole network of people who are concerned that I take care of myself and eat properly. My network of friends on social media are also brilliant, so if I need to reach out and just track what I eat then I know I can.

And then, I see a status from my friend admonishing people for criticising her about saying she ate and what it was. No images, just that she ate and here’s the thing she managed to eat. She posted it with the same thought I did: she has friends who are supportive of her and she’s trying to knock this on the head. My reaction was fiercely protective, as I am with my friends, but I also took note: I need to share this with a select group that won’t give me trouble, should I decide to lean on social media as part of an attempt to learn better habits.


It also goes to show that we just don’t know what’s behind a Facebook status. In my dad’s case, he was just being appreciative of his husband. To folks who didn’t realise that was my dad’s way, he was being mindlessly self indulgent. In my friend’s case, she was battling a terrible illness and was reaching out for support. It forced me to sit and examine every time I looked at a post with disdain and consider whether the person deserved better.

The Internet seems to be a place where we dole out judgement. All too often, I catch myself reducing people to their posts. It’s easy to look at a paragraph (or less) and just decide that someone is moaning, showing off, or engaging in an activity that is otherwise reductive in my mind. Updates are framed against my own internal biases, and, in the case of food pictures, I am guilty of making assumptions. It’s not fair on the person, even if those assumptions are correct.

To counter this, I’ve started to ask myself to reason out why that particular post was made: what was the author’s intent? People don’t say stuff for no reason, and while there are folks who are conceited enough to sit there and show off on social media, most of the folks I encounter aren’t. Usually, they’re just people going through life and using this tool to share with those around them.

I think it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt online. It could just be an innocent desire to share, or it could be the management of a serious problem. It’s not like we can afford to get this wrong. Whatever else we may be, we’re all complicated beings with a wide array of histories. It’s best to avoid being reductive when we judge what we share. An assessment of another will often say more about you than the person being assessed.


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