Stephanie Covington Armstrong narrates her life as a young black woman with a stereotypically white disease, bulimia, in Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat.
In its visceral effect, Stephanie Covington Armstrong’s Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat resembles other accounts of bulimia. Reading her unflinching descriptions of whole days lost in frenzied bingeing and purging, your stomach roils, your throat constricts. But when she describes the first time she stood up and admitted her disorder—at a 12-step meeting full of white women—Armstrong gets at the intriguing particularity of her story: “It was hard not to feel,” she writes, “like I had just relinquished my black card with that simple action.”
Frustratingly, Armstrong never plunges fully into that rocky estuary where race and food issues meet. She does offer a detailed account of her childhood, spent largely amid urban poverty, and infuses it with humor and psychological insight. She makes it clear—sometimes to the point of redundancy—that growing up starved for affection as well as literally hungry led her to conflate food with emotional sustenance later in life. And she explains how coming from a culture of underprivileged people who prized self-sufficiency made her resist seeking help for her disorder. But she does not unpack that striking pang of racial treachery that came with identifying herself as bulimic.
Armstrong’s strength, however, lies in her vivid voice and searing honesty. Her story is immediately engrossing and ultimately moving, a needed reminder that food issues know no different color lines than pain.