TW: Eating Disorders
Netflix’s endearing coming to age show Never Have I Ever has finally released its second season and the internet is buzzing about it.
If you haven’t watched the entire season in two days, be warned that there are spoilers ahead!
Season 2 of the show sees the arrival of a new brown girl, Aneesa Qureshi (Megan Suri), at Sherman Oaks High. Almost immediately, we see Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) feeling like she has to compete with Aneesa.
This is an all too familiar experience for brown women, who are often pitted against one another, either by society, or by themselves, begging the question: why is it so difficult for brown girls to bond?
The white spaces we occupy often make us feel that there is not enough room for all of us, so it’s not uncommon to push each other away in an attempt to hold on to whatever space we are given.
Constant comparison culture is also a major issue in the South Asian community; whether others are pinning us against each other, or we are measuring ourselves to one another.
Either way, irrespective of the reasoning, we get a glimpse of this in Season 2, through Devi’s relationship with new girl Aneesa. Devi quickly shows us just how bad it can be when we jump to conclusions about our fellow brown sisters.
The jealousy, and perhaps a bit of misogyny and internalized racism got the best of Devi as she unintentionally spread a harmful rumor about Aneesa at school.
In a moment of rage, Devi screams “I’m not Aneesa! I don’t run fast, I’m not cool, and I don’t eat like one crumb of a brownie because I’m straight-up anorexic!”
This rumor, which she later finds out is actually true, quickly spreads throughout the school.
The discussion about food and eating disorders adds an important dimension to the show, given that it is set in high school.
What is significant about Aneesa’s character having an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are often shown through white characters in television and film. Even research is dominated by the experiences of white women. The Juggernaut reports that “most studies on the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of eating disorders concern white people, but continue to be used worldwide as a standard.”
It adds that “more regional-specific research indicates that the incidence of such disorders may be higher in other communities: for instance, in a 2018 study with a sample size of 1,600 Indian students -- both male and female -- notes that 26% demonstrated discrepant eating habits.”
Much of South Asian culture focuses on food. In the same space, people are surrounded by family members and aunties and uncles that feel entitled to make comments on their bodies, weight, and eating habits, regardless of one’s health.
There’s also a pressure within the community and even within individual families to look a certain way and maintain a certain appearance, alongside pressure from society of what is considered beautiful, often through the lens of European features.
In the show Aneesa explains that as a brown girl, she felt out of place among her white private school peers, and when she received positive feedback for being skinny, she felt that was all she had to offer. She soon became focused on her body as that was one thing she could control, but she never felt that she was skinny enough.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), “BIPOC are significantly less likely than white people to have been asked by a doctor about eating disorder symptoms [and] BIPOC with eating disorders are half as likely to be diagnosed or to receive treatment.”
Aneesa’s character helps to open up a conversation on eating disorders in the South Asian community, in a way that is much needed. It also helps young brown people reflect on their own relationship to food and the harmful language often used in brown spaces to comment on other’s bodies.
Regardless of the circumstances, there is never a need to interrogate or criticize someone else’s body, as you never know the impact your words can have.
Later in the show, after some reflection and realization, Devi recognizes that having “an Indian friend was awesome,” because they could relate in a way that Devi couldn’t with her non-Indian friends.
I hope we get a season 3 and get to hear more about Aneesa’s recovery process and see her friendship with Devi strengthen.
If you reside in British Columbia, services and resources for those struggling with eating disorders can be found here.
Guneet studies International Relations & Law and Society at the University of British Columbia. She is the founder of Moksha, an initiative aimed at addressing internalized racism in the South Asian community. Guneet was a Youth Fellow with Leading in Colour’s Digital Insitute of Activism and is on the UBC Current Dragon Boat team.