In America today, the ever constricting pressure to meet certain gendered body standards and ideals to be considered attractive, or to even be considered a person deserving of basic decency, proliferates. Splattered through our media and even the way that friends and family interact, is the omnipresent invisible beast of diet culture. Or as I like to call it, disordered eating culture.
If an eating disorder is a psychological disorder involving severe preoccupations and disturbances involving behavior and thought regarding food, disordered eating is the undiagnosed culturally accepted version. When an attractive white upper middle class suburban teenage girl already with a BMI of 18.5 decides to stop eating and starts to resemble a prisoner of war, everyone is shocked and horrified. But when someone who doesn’t fit the prescribed labels of privilege, and wasn’t “thin” to begin with participates in the same behaviors, they’re praised for their weight loss and asked about the secret to their success. Though the intention may not have stemmed from a malicious or malevolent place, this normalization of eating disorders and disordered eating is reprehensible.
Eating disorders are not a source of praise or a weight loss technique. Eating disorders are not attractive or glamorous. They are not the romantic plight of soft spoken doe eyed models who want attention. They are the destructive tsunamis that engulf and terrorize every gender, race, and class, and unlike our incarceration rates, they do not discriminate.
When we normalize disordered eating habits, no matter how unintentionally, we normalize and posite our endorsement of a psychiatric illness that has the highest rates of mortality across the entire spectrum of mental illnesses. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder. So in the time it has taken you to watch one episode of Game of Thrones, someone has already died as a result of our collective cultural glamorization.
When most people imagine someone with an Eating Disorder, they typically imagine someone starving themselves or quietly throwing up their lunch, engaging in behaviors typically associated with Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa, in an effort to achieve a fatal physique. It is a imperative to remember, however, that not all eating disorders can be grouped into these two categories, but that all eating disorders are still deadly. Though we often forget to acknowledge the individuals struggling with less common disorders, there is a wide spectrum of manifestation, including Binge Eating Disorder, Pica, Rumination Disorder, ARFID, EDNOS, and infinitely more. So if someone does not fit your stereotypical reductive notion of an “eating disorder body”, they still do not warrant your misguided comments of “but you’re not skinny enough!” or “you don’t look that sick to me”. This mindset only propagates their disorder and encourages the already debilitating belief that they’re not “sick enough” to have an eating disorder or to seek treatment.
Like any mental illness, there is an immense variety of factors involved in the onset and progression of the disorder, but our societal encouragement and stereotyping and overall ignorance and misinformation surrounding eating disorders is not only not helping anyone, but actively promoting deadly behaviors. Eating disorders are a real issue and they require our real attention. As body positive activist Anastasia Amour said, “Eating disorders are deadly… and the silence around them even more so.”