I hate that I have to write this post.
But I do.
Because yesterday I came across an article online entitled “5 Reasons To Date a Girl With An Eating Disorder.”
I am reluctant to share this article because I despise the publicity its author is probably getting. But it’s already out there, surfing the internet waves, so here’s the link if you’d like to read it too. (Disclaimer: may cause extreme disturbance and loss of faith in the human race.)
I cannot sit here in silence and let an article like this exist in cyberspace without doing something, anything, to combat its destructive and dehumanizing message. Not only is it insulting to the seriousness of the disorder that has taken more lives than any other mental illness, but it is also incredibly demeaning to women as an entire social group.
Now, I recognize that the website on which this was published is inherently misogynistic. Everything is written by men, for men. Although with articles like “24 Signs She’s a Slut,” I’d be more apt to change that to “by pigs, for pigs,” because most of the men I know wouldn’t find their favorite reading material on this site either. But I digress. I am writing not to condemn Return of Kings, but rather to counter the all-too-prevalent view that eating disorders are a privileged white girl problem. And apparently also to make it clear that eating disorders are not a joke.
There are records of eating disorders (specifically anorexia nervosa) throughout history as early as 1689. There are also manifestations across cultures, first-world and third-world alike. Eating disorders may be disproportionately popular in Western societies, but their existence is well-documented through space and time. Now, bulimia nervosa is slightly more culture-bound than anorexia simply because a binge-purge behavior cycle requires more resources. But food is relatively inexpensive even in our culture, and we cannot use the notion of culture-binding to assume that bulimia is an illness reserved only for the wealthy.
Eating disorders are also not confined to females. In fact, one of the first two documented cases of anorexia was male, and while the DSM’s gender ratio remains 10:1, there are many studies that reflect a ratio closer to 3:1. Perhaps men do not express the same disordered behaviors and symptoms as women, and thus slip by undiagnosed. Or perhaps we are just living in a society that places significantly less pressure on men to be thin. However, I have personally known several men who have struggled with and even lost their lives to eating disorders, and anyone who has watched them bravely fight their illness would be horrified to hear someone call it an exclusively female issue.
The reality is, our culture glamorizes eating disorders. From Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar joke (“For all those women who had the ‘flu.’ it paid off. Lookin’ good.”) to the increasing obsession with the ever-elusive “thigh gap,” there is a profound understanding of eating disorders as an issue of personal appearance. Like the “5 Reasons” article claims, “her obsession over her body will improve her overall looks.” Right? Isn’t that how it works?
Wrong. Chances are, she doesn’t look good, bro. Because she’s killing herself. Because she’s probably dealing with anxiety, depression, OCD, borderline, PTSD, or some other illness as well. Because her life has been forcibly taken from her by the disease that criticizes everything she says and does and is, not just how she looks. Even if she appears normal on the outside, she is in an immense amount of pain, and you are contributing to that pain by refusing to validate the parts of her that make her unique and special and beautiful.
And “better in bed”? I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.
When I was at my lowest weight, I got a lot of attention from both men and women. I’m not saying that to sound arrogant or self-righteous, although it may seem that way. I just want to clarify that the person who wrote this article is not saying anything new – Western media idealizes female thinness at the expense of female health, and will probably continue to do so for many, many years.
This attitude has to change. We cannot continue to apply such pressure on people to look a certain way and expect them not to crack under it. We cannot continue to write off serious mental illnesses as “privileged white girl problems” and ignore their impact on the lives of so many who fall outside that category. We cannot continue to place blame on the ones who are suffering the most. Eating disorders are real and scary and fatal, and they’re not going away.