Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of all mental illnesses. Does that sound like a joke? It shouldn't. It is extremely problematic how the writers of movies and shows are choosing to represent characters with eating disorders. Usually, a skinny, spoiled, or rude character will be used to signify what someone suffering from the illness supposedly represents. Purging jokes will be made to minimize and mock this character that is written off as being air headed and skinny-obsessed.
This is beyond disturbing and simply perpetuates the stigma that eating disorders are choices, are entirely about body image, and make an individual shallow. Insecurities do not equate to shallowness. No, instead insecurities humanize us and should not be used as a weapon to reduce a character. Everyone has something that makes them vulnerable, and everyone has their own battles to fight.
Take a moment to think of a trauma or struggle that you have endured. Now imagine yourself watching a movie with friends and in the movie they have mocked this experience that was traumatic for you. In addition, they represent the character portraying this struggle as being less for it. The friends you are watching this film with feel uncomfortable as they glance over at you to watch your facial expression change. You recoil into your seat and begin to feel small and less valid for suffering through something extremely difficult and personal to you. This is how it feels for somebody that has endured an eating disorder when a joke is made that aims to downplay its severity.
This gif of Sadie Saxton is not the first time that this show has reduced the severity of an eating disorder to be nothing but a joke. Jenna Hamilton's mother also speaks of how she has not been very helpful to others until she recalls a time that she "helped someone" by calling them fat. She then goes on to say that they starved in order to lose weight.
2. Perks of Being A Wallflower
This exchange was not mentioned in the book series, and I do not understand why the movie adaption chose to include an unnecessary line that is simply dismissive of a serious illness.
Boone disregards Shannon's complaints. He then states that she has been "a functioning bulimic since high school." There is no such thing as functioning when suffering from this disease. I would hope that in the real world people would not suggest that the pain an individual is suffering as a result of their eating disorder does not matter.
4. Princess Diaries
Mandy Moore's character asks if Mia is going to be speaking at the bulimic convention. Another cheerleader then begins to make puking sounds to mock her. As stated previously, insecurities are natural. For those with eating disorders, certain insecurities may have taken the form of an illness. However, this does not make the individual weak or flawed. Being sick is not an imperfection. Eating disorders are mental illnesses and are not reflections of one’s character.
5. Scream Queens
Scream Queens jokes about how excited Hester is to be one of Chanel Oberlin's minions. She then goes on to say that she looks forward to holding her hair back as she makes herself throw up. They normalize this and imply that it is humorous when individuals do this. I understand that this show is satirical, but eating disorders cannot be used as jokes when there are men and woman struggling with this illness every day. There are individuals that doubt their own worth and truly have taken these drastic and life-threatening measures. In future episodes, Chanel makes very positive comments about how she will not starve herself in order to feel valued and speaks of the pressures that exist for individuals to cope in that way. However, the line about bulimia in this particular episode aimed to make the audience laugh and lose respect for Chanel's character.
Some Important Facts and Statistics On Eating Disorders:
- Eating disorders are a daily struggle for 10 million females and 1 million males in the U.S.
- 4 out of every 10 individuals have either battled an eating disorder or know somebody who has.
- Only one-third of those suffering from anorexia will seek treatment in the U.S.
- 3.9% of the individuals with bulimia will not survive it.
- 94% of those with bulimia do not obtain treatment.
- There are disorders such as Binge Eating Disorder, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and other types that are not spoken of as frequently.
- Starvation can lead to risk for heart failure, reduction of bone density, muscle weakness, kidney failure, fatigue, and trouble regulating body temperature.
- Binging and purging cycles can result in heart failure, dehydration, inflammation, and tooth decay.
- A great majority of those suffering from bulimia are an average weight or are overweight. Eating disorders do not only impact those with a low BMI.
The psychology behind eating disorders digs much deeper than wanting to fit into size X. It is not just about body image. It is about what the individual that is suffering from this illness feels they will gain when they reach their goal weight. It is about doing what one believes it will take to feel loved. It is about wanting to be in control of your body when the rest of the world is simply out of your grasp. A great majority of those who suffer from an eating disorder battle a negative body image, but this does not answer the why . Sometimes individuals feel worthless and believe that if their body looked a certain way others would ascribe a greater value to them. Sometimes they feel that changing their body is the only thing left that they can do. It is a disease that should be taken as seriously as any other.
The media continues to ridicule and misrepresent eating disorders. Just remember that if you or somebody you love is fighting to overcome the disease, ensuring this does not in any way reduce who you are. There are people who will understand, who will empathize, and you deserve help. Let's start talking and remove this stigma that exists.There is no shame in having a problem or in getting help. You did not choose this illness, nobody would ever
to have the disastrous consequences that follow when battling this disease. You are not on a different playing field than those who have not had to know this particular struggle. Everybody has gone through something, and when you or a loved one begin to recover there are important lessons in resilience and self-love that will be learned.