We Need To Change How We Talk About Eating Disorders

We Need To Change How We Talk About Eating Disorders

It's time to have a conversation about eating disorders in all their forms.
354
views

WARNING: The following article contains somewhat detailed descriptions of the ways in which eating disorders of all sorts can manifest. Please only read this if it’s safe for you.

We need to change the way we talk about eating disorders.

I open this piece with such a straightforward statement because straightforwardness is what we have historically been lacking. The “eating disorder,” that amorphous mass that only some people bother to categorize into specific diseases, lurks around mirrors, girls’ bathrooms, fashion magazines. It has formed a morbidly attractive sort of stigma that, perhaps ironically, has become bigger than the issue itself. Are eating disorders a biological or a psychological issue? Is the media responsible? Which aspects? And what are the symptoms of these disorders, anyway? Most people carry a vague notion of ribs that look sharp enough to piece skin, of hollowed-out faces bleached with jaundice, of puking in the restroom stalls between high school classes.

There are a lot of problems with this.

For one thing, we have all our definitions wrong. The spectrum of eating disorders extends far beyond the binary of binging and starving that most people imagine. Excessive exercise, “purging” food through laxatives or self-induced vomiting, and many other self-destructive mechanisms are often employed when one is struggling with an eating disorder. Not all of them fit into clean definitions; each case is unique, and needs to be treated as such.

With that in mind, another crucial issue is the fact that not all eating disorders stem from body image issues. Food may be withheld as a method of self-harm entirely irrelevant to discomfort with one’s body. Beyond even that, an eating disorder is often enough entirely physicalized. Sometimes the appetite just isn’t there, whether or not one recognizes their need and want to eat. Sometimes food chronically doesn’t go down right. These types of disorders are neither more or less important than those based on body image--but they are different, and need to be treated as such.

I’ll be candid for a moment. I have always been severely underweight. Since middle school, people would spread rumors that I had “anorexia,” that vague, stigma-shadowed beast that no one really understood. I was offended--and that’s another problem, because a disorder of any sort is never a flaw in one’s character, but that facet of mental health discussion merits an article--or several articles--of its own.

I denied these rumors, because I didn’t understand at the time that I was experiencing an eating disorder--but not one which emerged out of by desire to be thin, by any means. I hated being thin. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I also hated my “female” anatomy, and my body, desperately trying to tell me how broken and wrong it was, made a lifestyle out of rejecting food. As it turned out, there was a reason that I tended to eat so little and grow nauseous so easily. It was out of discomfort with my body: just not with my weight.

I never had the words to describe this. I knew I had weight problems; I knew I had trouble eating. But I didn’t intentionally starve myself. I didn’t make myself throw up. The last thing in the world that I wanted was to look like the obscenely thin models decorating endless magazine covers. So I couldn’t ask for help: whenever my parents, noticing my poor eating habits, tried to interrogate me about them, they didn’t know which questions to ask. We all knew something was wrong, but we also knew that the something wasn’t wrong, so we ignored it, let it fester and grow into something more and more dangerous as my incorrectly maturing body continued to fight vehemently against its own sustenance. Only now, allowing myself to fully recognize the vast number of health problems that fall under the eating disorder umbrella, am I able to seek out the help that I’ve needed all along.

That’s my story. Other people have very different ones. Some people fit the WebMD definitions of anorexia nervosa to a T. Many people do vomit in the bathrooms. Many girls are destroyed by those infamous magazine models. Many of our cultural assumptions about eating disorders aren’t incorrect--they’re just incomplete. Body image problems and eating disorders aren’t synonymous: they’re two separate beasts that manifest and interact in boundless ways, like a three-dimensional Venn diagram of inexplicably taboo disease.

This is by no means a complete discussion of our many, many problems with the treatment of eating disorders. Rather, it’s a prompt: I want to start a conversation. I want people to recognize their illnesses. I want us to seek comfort from those like and unlike us. I don’t want any other confused trans kids to spend nearly twenty years thinking they’re perfectly healthy when they aren’t. In a word, I want change--it’s long overdue.

Cover Image Credit: Flickr

Popular Right Now

Despite What The Media Says, Video Games Don't Cause Violence And Aggression

The answer to a question that has been asked for many years.

486
views

Often at times when a young teen (usually a male) commits an act of violence such as a school shooting, people try to blame the tragedy on violent video games and other forms of media. What I'm here to argue is that violent video games do not cause violence among children. The one question that needs to be asked, though, is where this blame is coming from, and my answer is the media who distributes this claim to society.

Although there may be some valid arguments as to why violent video games lead to aggression that can turn into potential violent behavior, there is plenty of research that proves that violent video games do not contribute to aggression as much as the opposing view tells you. Right now, there are thousands upon thousands of children who play video games every day and don't become aggressive and violent. In instances such as school shootings, people love to steer the conversation away from topics like gun legislation, which is generally how the NRA prefers things. It's less pressure on their department and more questions and pressure on departments such as The Entertainment Software Association.

The ESA is a U.S. association representing companies that publish computer and video games. The NRA is the National Rifle Association of America, a U.S. nonprofit organization that advocates for gun rights. In 2012, after a shooter killed 20 children and six faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, NRA president Wayne La Pierre said, "There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people."

He was talking about video games, not the gun industry.

Most of the time people who blame video games for being the cause of these problems don't play them themselves. According to a study the researchers at the University of York performed with more than 3,000 participants, video game concepts do not "prime" players to behave in certain ways, and increasing the realism of violent video games does not necessarily increase aggression in game players. Another study corroborates the ongoing body of evidence that being good at video games plays an important part in our cognitive development and improves our ability to learn new things.

An article from Psychology Today states, "after surveying over a thousand 14- and 15-year-old adolescents of both genders and their parents in Great Britain, the researchers found that teenage gamers who played violent video games did not exhibit higher levels of aggressive behavior than age-matched peers who didn't play violent video games." This evidence along with the numerous other arguments provided suggest that violent video game play does not have a detrimental effect on levels of aggression.

In the future, video games will become more and more life-like and violent, which will inevitably cause people to question whether teenagers playing such games might become more aggressive. I just only hope for one day when people will examine the value of gaming in an open-minded manner and put all options on the table instead of one.

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Why Ignorance In Our Country Is Not Bliss

And it never will be.

69
views

The saying ignorance is bliss is a bunch of crap. Ignorance is ignorance.

With everything going on in our country, I think it is very important for us to be educating ourselves.

You don't trust the news? Do your own digging.

You don't understand? Do some research.

You don't have the same perspective? Share it.

You only have your religious beliefs to base your knowledge? Learn before you judge.

We live in a scary world today. People judge others they've never met or before they've ever heard their story. People involve themselves in matters that they shouldn't be involved in. People are trying to regulate other people's bodies.

People don't want to learn about the issues they so strongly believe in. People don't want to hear the other side. When did party affiliation become more important than being a human being? When did men get the power to decide what women can do with their bodies? When did we stop being compassionate? When did we stop being decent human beings?

I don't want to live in a world where I have all these questions.

I don't want to live in a world where a judicial system will convict a woman who got an abortion after she was raped, but won't convict her rapist.

I don't want to live in a world where my social media timeline makes me want to cry.

I want to live in a world where everyone's opinion matters, not just the one you agree with.

I want to live in a world where everyone's voice is heard equally, not just the one's in power.

I want to live in a world where everyone's story is taken into consideration, not just the one's the government wants you to hear.

I want to live in a world where I can raise a young girl and not be afraid for her.

I want to live in a world where we do good.

I want to live in a world where we have differences, but that doesn't make us any less equal.

I want to live in a world where we don't judge before we know.

I want to live in a world where religious beliefs are respected.

I want to live in a world where it doesn't matter what political party you are.

I want to live in a world where people see right from wrong.

I want to live in a world where I am not afraid.

What kind of world do you want to live in?

Related Content

Facebook Comments