The Media and Eating Disorders: It’s not what you think

The National Eating Disorder Association supplies this infographic to educate people about the media’s role in contributing to the dangerous level of body dissatisfaction in our society:  Media Literacyinfographic2_13

Among other things, it points out that the more young people are exposed to media messages, the more likely they are to be concerned about their appearance. I don’t doubt it. I know that on some level, seeing perfectly portrayed people on television and in magazines all the time certainly makes me feel more than a little insecure about my plain Jane appearance. I like to think I’m immune to media influence, but it’s hard not to worry about what you look like in a culture where one’s level of attractiveness seems to determine his or her worth as a person. So while I don’t dispute the media’s impact in that capacity, I think something that goes largely unnoticed is the way the media discusses the very problem it perpetuates. Specifically, I’m disturbed by the way the media portrays eating disorders.

I realize some people think there’s a glamorization of eating disorders going on in our society, but I’ve noticed quite the opposite. One need look no further than the recent hot topic of whether or not the latest winner of “The Biggest Loser” has an eating disorder to see it at play. Hundreds of news outlets are speculating on the status of this woman’s mental health, and somehow I doubt it’s out of concern. Now, I can’t comment on the specifics as I’ve never once watched the show, but that’s beside the point. This woman is merely the latest person to be caught up in the media’s obsession with “do they or don’t they.” It’s a ridiculous game that in my mind benefits absolutely no one. We all know there are myriad celebrities who have struggled or still struggle with some type of eating disorder. Some are open about it, but a larger number aren’t. And who can blame them when the media goes after them as though conducting some sort of witch hunt? Magazine covers accuse people of having an eating disorder as though it were some sort of wretched condition they should be ashamed of. I don’t know about you, but sensationalist headlines along the lines of “Is Renee Zellweger anorexic? Actress addresses rumors…” and “Biggest loser winner denies eating disorder accusations” just rub me the wrong way. Accusations? Rumors? When did this all become a criminal trial?

Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. This obsession with an individual’s weight — no matter their size — needs to stop. I don’t see anyone writing flashy headlines about people suffering from physical illnesses. I mean, have you ever seen  “Actor denies allegations of being diabetic,” or “Does so and so have a heart murmur?” splashed across any front pages lately?  What’s more, in their eagerness to make clear that eating disorders are not healthy, sometimes even well meaning people end up making those of us who are still struggling with one feel pretty shitty. Criticizing anyone‘s appearance is hurtful, regardless of the intention. In case you’ve overlooked the title I chose for this blog, let’s just say I’m of the belief that negativity in any form tends to do more harm than good.  So when eating disorders are characterized as “gross,” “ugly” and “disgusting,” I fear it may only serve to drive more people who are struggling with one to keep silent. Granted, I’ll also be the first to tell you that although I’m actively working to recover from my eating disorder, I’m still (at least in my eyes) noticeably thin, so perhaps I’m just being sensitive, but I think there’s more to it. Body shaming in any form is wrong, plain and simple. You just don’t do it. Tell people eating disorders are deadly, tell them how they’re hurting their bones, their hearts, their muscles, but don’t tell them they’re ugly. I’ve found that no matter how different someone looks on the outside, we’re all incredibly alike on the inside. And no one likes to be criticized.

Illness does not Define Us

Illness does not Define Us

Language is important.

Some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met have had eating disorders. They were not “anorexics” or “bulimics,” but human beings who just happen to have adopted some unfortunate coping strategies to deal with difficult circumstances in their lives. These individuals are some of the most caring, intelligent and insightful people I have ever encountered. They continue to inspire me with their courage and determination.

If you allow an illness — or anything else — to define you, you’re only limiting yourself. You deserve more. You are more.

Not Just a “Woman’s Disease”

Males are often left out of the eating disorder conversation, but the truth is, they make up one third of sufferers in the United States. Recovery can be even harder for men because of this misconception that only women are affected. Well, I’m here to tell you that eating disorders don’t discriminate. Guys, don’t be ashamed to speak up. You’re not alone. Get help.

Eating Disorders are NOT:

Eating Disorders are NOT:

These are some of the worst misconceptions about eating disorders in my opinion. Nice to see them addressed in such a short, sweet and to the point infographic, even if it is from last year’s NEDAwareness week :p. Please share and spread the message. Knowledge = Power.

Knowledge = Power. Day 1 of NEDAwareness Week

Today marks the beginning of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in the United States. So although I don’t intend for this blog’s focus to be eating disorders (I’ve spent enough time living that topic to be pretty tired of it by now. . .), as someone whose life has been shaped by one, the issue is one that I care a lot about. If I can do one thing to help spread information about the issue and possibly keep anyone else from having to go through what I have, then I’m going to do it. Therefore I’ll be posting on the topic throughout the week to help spread the message.

Each year, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) chooses a theme to guide the week’s activities. According to NEDA’s website, “This year’s NEDAwareness Week theme is “I Had No Idea” to raise awareness towards the significant impact eating disorders have on individuals, families, and communities across the nation. The more people who learn about these life-threatening illnesses, the more lives we can save. This year the National Eating Disorders Association is stressing the need to address eating disorder misconceptions – as many individuals, families, and communities are not aware of the often devastating mental and physical consequences – and highlights available resources for treatment and support.”

I think this is a great theme because there are A LOT of misconceptions out there. I’ve heard them talked about in casual conversations among peers, spouted by the media and laughed about on television. One of the most hurtful misconceptions I’ve encountered is the idea that people choose to have eating disorders. As if those of us who suffer wake up one morning and think, “Hey, you know what sounds like fun?! I think I’ll start obsessing about and manipulating food to such a degree that it takes over and destroys my life! Yes! That sounds like a wonderful idea!” Now, my memory could be fuzzy since it’s been a while since my eating disorder began, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it started. In fact, I don’t remember really being consciously aware of what I was doing until I was about a year into it. So I’m going to keep today’s message short and sweet. Allow me to again refer to NEDA’s website:

“Eating disorders are serious illnesses, not lifestyle choices.

Eating disorders are complex illnesses that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, biological and social factors. As our natural body size and shape is largely determined by genetics, fighting our natural size and shape can lead to unhealthy dieting practices, poor body image and decreased self-esteem. Body dissatisfaction and thin ideal internalization are both significant risk factors for the development of eating disorder behaviors like restricting and binge eating. While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are about much more than food. Recent research has shown that genetic factors create vulnerabilities that place individuals at risk for acting on cultural pressures and using food to feel in control or manage overwhelming emotions. ”

So there you have it. Eating disorders are a complex, often deadly, disease and can be caused by a number of contributing factors. Having an eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. If you or someone you know is struggling, please visit NEDA’s website for resources at www.NationalEatingDisorders.org, or call their helpline at 800-931-2237.

 

*Edited mid-week to change “every day” to “throughout the week.”  I originally intended to post something daily but I’m lowering my standards ;p

Waving the white flag

For someone who considers herself a pacifist, I sure do put a lot of energy into fighting. If you could peer inside my skull, you would witness an almost constant battle going on from the time I open my eyes in the morning to the time I close them at night. Sometimes I even wage war in my dreams. It’s exhausting.

So what am I fighting against, you ask? That’s where it gets kind of ridiculous: I’m fighting against myself. More precisely, I’m fighting against those pesky thoughts that come at me with amazing speed and from all directions practically nonstop. They chase after me, pressing down upon my shoulders with surprising force. They nag me about things I should be doing or things I shouldn’t have done, criticize me, berate me, . . .  — you get the idea. I swat them away diligently, only to watch them flit up momentarily before coming at me again even harder. Granted, sometimes I don’t fight. Sometimes I simply run the hell away. I invent things for myself to do to stay busy so I don’t notice them quite as much. But they’re still there, buzzing like a jackhammer in the background to remind me that they’ll be waiting when I pause for a breath.

Lately, though, I’ve been getting better at not running. And not fighting. Oh, I still do, of course, but rather than blindly hauling ass or mindlessly flailing my arms at the pesky creatures, I’ve started to catch myself, forcing myself to stop and look the little shits in the face. And you know what? They’re really not all that horrible. Per my intention to “invite Mara to tea,” I’ve been trying to be more accepting of whatever pops up. And believe me, shit definitely pops up. But when I don’t freak out about it and obsess about how awful and disgusting and gross it is but instead just say, “oh, yeah, there’s some shit again. Hi, shit! How ya doin? I’ve been expecting you,” things go a lot more smoothly. It takes away some of the sting.

Tearing up the list

I was inspired to start this blog almost a month ago. It’s been ready to go live for a few weeks. So why have I kept it “private” up until this point?

I’ve been telling myself it’s because I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just another one of my half-cocked ideas that I abandon half way through. Or that I wanted to make sure it looked the way I wanted it to look before anyone else saw it. I realize now though, that I’ve been afraid. It’s scary to be putting such a guarded part of my life on display for the world to see. I’m afraid of putting myself out there and being criticized, misunderstood or judged.

I’ve shaped my life around avoiding situations where I might be judged. I think out of all the things I fear, rejection might very well occupy the top spot. Which probably explains why I don’t have a huge amount of friends. As sad as it seems when I type it out this way, I’d rather be alone and miserable than put myself out there and risk rejection.

Anyway, I’m totally digressing here. I meant for this to be about my incessant drive to be perfect. Although now that I think about it, I’m not digressing at all, because that drive is directly connected to my avoidance of any form of rejection (criticism, failure, etc.). If I do everything perfectly, I seem to think, everything will be okay. People will like me, I’ll be praised, and all will be right with the world. I suppose no one especially likes being judged negatively, but I think that without a solid sense of self worth, it borders more on desperation. It’s hard enough to not think very highly of yourself, but if other people confirm those beliefs, well, that’s just soul crushing.

Suffice it to say that for a long time I’ve felt the need to earn others’ approval. Part of this is probably a natural part of growing up, but I think a large part of it can be traced to the way my dad always praised my and my siblings’ accomplishments, but never us. I got the message that ME, just plain old ME, wasn’t quite up to snuff. I needed to DO things to be loved. And I’ve been doing things ever since.

Where I got into trouble was when I started creating more and more things for myself to do even just to earn my own approval. That internal checklist I mentioned in my first post? I wasn’t joking. The challenge now is to realize that all of those things I feel I have to do are just that: Things. My worth as an individual should not be defined by my accomplishments any more than it should be defined by the way I look. It’s a difficult thing to wrap my head around after so long of believing otherwise, but I think if I ever want to truly live, as opposed to just checking things off a list every day simply to to feel I’m worthy of existence, I’m going to have to.