Andover has an eating disorder. It is apparent in each dining hall, and it echoes through Paresky Commons every time a student hesitates before reaching for a second portion. We are a culture of disordered eaters.
Eating disorders are defined by the American Psychology Association as “abnormal eating habits that can threaten your health or even your life.” The spectrum of what constitutes “disordered eating” is a broad one: self-starvation and self-induced vomiting are clear examples of abnormal eating patterns, but even instances of binge dieting, under-eating or skipping meals are dangerous practices as well. Of course, some of these actions are more common than others, and some pose a more immediate physical threat. Nevertheless, all forms of disordered eating present serious dangers to the well-being of the Andover student body, and it is our obligation as a community to address them as such.
Unsurprisingly, disordered eating at Andover is a result of a pervasive community trait — namely, the prioritization of palpable results within an achievement-based community. In a school that prides itself on rigor, the needs of the physical body are often eclipsed by academic and athletic demands. We have almost all been guilty, at one point or another, of skipping dinner to finish an assignment, dropping unhealthy amounts of weight for athletics or releasing stress through binge-eating.
Skipping meals and binge-eating as a result of commitments are just one side of disordered eating at Andover. Just as severe, Andover’s social culture has a role in the prevalence of disordered eating on campus. It is normal to hear of and see students skipping meals before a dance or during the weeks leading up to Spring Break. There is pressure to be thin, and the relative lack of outliers to this pressure in our community only reinforces this unspoken rule.
Yet paradoxically, it is also expected that we do not act as though we care about our weight due to stigmas attached to eating disorders. Too many students consider eating disorders to be a product of vanity, categorizing them as only pertaining to females and assuming that they are something done to impress. As a result, healthy eating is often scrutinized; choosing to avoid the pizza line or not to participate in the various forms of social eating on campus — munches, treats from teachers and snacks and desserts — also results in negative social backlash.
This shameful culture surrounding eating disorders at Andover is one of ignorance, negligence and even trivialization. We need to realize that eating disorders do not only pertain to thin individuals or females or continuous habits. No matter how benign the reason, every skipped meal, every guilty 2 a.m. ice cream bar and every snide comment like “she definitely has an eating disorder” perpetuates a destructive culture that cannot continue to exist at Andover.
As Andover students, we need to stop openly and implicitly shaming our classmates and our friends. This is a call for every member of the Andover community to look out for one another and for ourselves. We need to start talking about this issue, and we need to start now. We who suffer from disordered eating at Andover are worthy of the community’s respect and attention, and it is about time we recognize that.
This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXVII.