Transgender females have been largely cast out by society. Their resilience to this oppression faced on an everyday basis affects their mental health. This issue is contemporary to the current society’s climate, due to the mass media of Caucasian ideologies pertaining to body types. Discriminatory factors and the yearning the fit into the societal norm has created a framework of thinking for transgender youth. The schema these young adults are forming is based on: gender socialization and the development of femininity ideals, experiences of stigma and discrimination, and biological processes. These themes affect a transgender females psyche, causing them to form schemas that influence disordered eating behaviors. However, multi-level sources of strength and resilience work as coping mechanisms to combat the societal femininity ideals.
Research on transgender woman’s beauty ideologies are rarely explored, even though they are the most at risk for societal discrimination affecting their mental state. This is due to the fact that transgender women have only western ‘white’ beauty ideals to look up to. They also lack of representation in the media. Struggling with the oppression and discrimination of school and/or work they try to find outlets to target their feelings of being ostracized. Even though the peer groups form a sense of connectivity within their community, not having health care to get the desired body forms a disembodied sense of self, which can cause depression or lead to disordered eating behavior. Allegra and colleagues discuss the importance of their research, while keeping it potent, they state in regards to disordered eating behavior amongst transgender females: “interpersonal and structural stigma, societal femininity norms may take on a heightened importance; indeed, for some transgender women, conforming to such norms may be part of “passing” as non-transgender, which may be essential to managing stigma, personal safety and even survival” (Allegra 2016). Allegra brings an unbearable realization to the table. In order for transgender women to fit in, they must give up on their identity in this societal climate. It is awful to think that one cannot be authentically themselves, because of underrepresentation in the media and the western beauty ideals. Experiences of stigma and discrimination amongst the transgender community impacts their well-being also, causing not only disordered eating behaviors, but a negative self-image.
Many transgender females struggle growing up due to the prejudice faced in everyday life. Cisgender (those who relate to their sex assigned at birth) women have western beauty ideals influencing their looks, which can cause disordered eating behaviors. However, transgender women have a lack of representation in the media in addition to facing discrimination. The two factors increases the likelihood a transgender women will have an eating disorder over a cisgender women. Growing up in a transphobic environment adds to the pressure to fit in with your family. The fear of rejection leads many transgender women to withhold their gender status. Family acceptance is one key to an authentic self. Living in a transphobic household denies these women the right to feel true to their real selves. The women then internalize their emotions trying to conceal it with something like excessive working out, or eating compulsively (Allegra 2016). Stigma knowingly has a negative effect to changing one’s mindset and mood towards their body image; however, taking hormones designated to change one to their ideal body type creates the same feelings.
Some transgender women have an option of taking hormone supplements to change their original body to their desired body. The hormones have different side effects for various women, but the most common is weight gain. In Allegra’s study, they interviewed women who participated in hormone treatment. “Most participants taking hormones reported increased body dissatisfaction”(Allegra 2016). This bodily dissatisfaction is projected from the views of the Western beauty ideals (for most cultures). In Latin and African American cultures the feminine weight is appreciated. The weight accentuates the hips they aspired to have. In contrast, Caucasian transgender women focus on the western beauty ideals of thinness everywhere, with the accentuation of whitewashed features. Internalizing these ideals creates a dissatisfaction with themselves, causing an overwhelming desire to change in order to fit in with the ‘norm’. This ideology then manifests into an eating disorder behavior. Bodily dissatisfaction with hormone supplements is a kick while the transgender community is already down. Even though there are few legislations, with societal microaggressions, that need to be changed becoming an activist, while finding strength and resilience to combat the negativity is a step towards self-actualization.
Negativity can be counterproductive when it comes to finding your authentic self. Multi-level sources of strength and resilience can lead young transgender youth down a path of body confidence. Allegra and colleagues interviewed transgender youth on how they combat weight and shape control narratives. A portion of the women associated with the study said they used body positivity talk to enforce the love they have for themselves. While others stated that their friends and intimate partners, with their positive community keeps them apart from negativity narratives (Allegra 2016). These changes in behavior of one’s everyday thinking can change their perceptions of themselves. Bringing down body dysphoria (obsessive ideas that one’s particular part of the body is flawed) and creating a new narrative to enhance the love of themselves.
Society today can be cruel with their microaggressions, and implicit associations transmitted to oppressed transgender youth. The following described ways of how disordered eating behavior can manifest in the transgender youth community with: gender socialization and the development of femininity ideals, experiences of stigma and discrimination, along with biological processes. The ideologies of our western society can weigh on the youth of transgender women, but multi-level sources of strength and resilience can change the bodily perceptions of oneself. The issue is within society. In order for change we as a people need to realize the implications of our actions towards others. Stereotyping individuals before understanding their struggle is muddy water to tread through. Hopefully, in our ominous future, we find peace.
Allegra R. Gordon, S. Bryn Austin, Nancy Krieger, Jaclyn M. White Hughto, Sari L. Reisner,“I have to constantly prove to myself, to people, that I fit the bill”: Perspectives on weight and shape control behaviors among low-income, ethnically diverse young transgender women, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 165, 2016, Pages 141-149, ISSN 0277-9536, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.07.038. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953616303999)
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Ashlyn Brown is currently a student at Old Dominion University majoring in Psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is a thick girl with style and grace who is learning to love herself each day. She enjoys reading, She could create movies in her head all day, along with reality television. She hopes to grow in her understanding the meaning of Bodylore and its commandments. With her growth she intends to help others blossom, while learning the hacks of the life and body. May our journey be a safe and powerful one.