Elevate Difference

Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia

When I was growing up, I thought of bulimia and anorexia as "White girl problems." Through the media and interaction with peers, I had been given the impression that Black women did not experience body image issues or struggle with eating disorders. As I got older, I realized that these assumptions were wrong, but I still could not find stories of African American girls or women who had contended with anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive overeating.

In Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat, Armstrong tells her story of growing up poor and hungry in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and Norfolk, Virginia. Armstrong's childhood is transient—her mother moves her and her sisters often—and characterized by a constant hunger for food, love, and acceptance. She writes of choosing her childhood friends based on their afternoon snacks and the content of their refrigerators. Armstrong endures foster care and is sexually molested by an uncle when she's a preteen. The emotional pain and sense of betrayal eventually leads her to compulsive overeating and bulimia in isolation. She continues to live out the transience of her childhood by moving back and forth from New York City to Los Angeles while trying to escape herself and her disease.

Armstrong experiences difficulty in finding help with her disorder; she writes of a particular incident in which she is treated like an oddity because of her race. To make matters worse, Armstrong feels the need to keep the secret of her bulimia from her family and friends because she wants to project an image of a strong Black woman to the world, even while going home at night to binge and purge. Thankfully, Armstrong eventually recovers through attendance at twelve step programs and support from her family and friends.

Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat is an important contribution to writings on anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating and body image among women of color. Armstrong presents an example of how a woman can free herself of food addiction and help others by telling her story.

Written by: Rekesha Spellman, November 24th 2009