Episode 55: Eating Disorders in Fiction with Emily Layden
Emily Layden is a writer and former high school English teacher from upstate New York. A graduate of Stanford University, her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Marie Claire, The Billfold, and Runner’s World. She joins us in this episode of Peace Meal to discuss her debut novel All Girls. We explore the depiction of disordered eating and anxiety in the book and society more generally, using Emily’s experience with the co-occurring concerns as context along the way.
We center our conversation on one of the characters of All Girls, Macy, who struggles with clinical anxiety and an eating disorder resembling ARFID. Emily tells us about her decision to write Macy as she did, eschewing graphic descriptions of behaviors to highlight Macy’s anxious thoughts instead. She describes what she hopes All Girls adds to the larger conversation about eating disorders and the adolescent females among whom eating disorders are particularly prevalent. Emphasizing the importance of taking both eating disorders and young women more seriously, we explore how society tends to think similarly of both.
- The relationship between anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and disordered eating/eating disorders
- How exercising compassion with her students became a way for Emily to exercise compassion for herself
- How our culture routinely dismisses or trivializes eating disorder stories and other experiences prevalent among young women
- How one character in All Girls, Macy, can widen our cultural understanding of eating disorders
- What the reader response to Macy says about changing attitudes toward eating disorders and mental illness
In Emily’s words:
- On the connection between anxiety and disordered eating: “Macy is anxious, you see in her chapter, about so many things entirely unrelated to her body or to food. But she copes with that anxiety through avoidant and restrictive behaviors.”
- On typical eating disorder depictions: “So often when we have a depiction of an eating disorder on TV or in literature, it tends to be this very narrow reflection of the experience.”
- On the parallel between society’s understanding of young women and of eating disorders: “I think that there’s this whole culture that says that girls are not really whole people and thinks that they are trivial or overly emotional… and I think we see a lot of that same flattening with our cultural thinking about eating disorders.”
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