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When Eating Disorder Awareness is Just An Excuse for Another Thin Image

by Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director

Very few people with eating disorders look ill. You can’t tell by looking. You can’t evaluate someone’s body shape or size and know anything about their mental health. No, you can’t. I hear you arguing, because you have this picture in your mind. But you’re wrong. I’ve met countless people with eating disorders and only a handful looked unwell.

Eating disorders are brain problems, not weight loss stories.

That image you have of “an anorexic” has been fed to you by the media. Not because it was accurate, but because it is yet another opportunity to show thin bodies. Our society loves thinness. We revere it, we put it on pedestals and we sell products hanging from it. We sell CARS and movies and electronics and gym memberships and dietary supplements and real estate using people in very thin, tall bodies.

Eating disorder awareness is important: it helps organizations like ours to be found by those who need our help. Awareness helps the family and friends and co-workers of a family affected by an eating disorder feel understood. Awareness should, though it doesn’t very often, lead to increased research funding and healthcare access.

But it usually has to fit into a very small frame, this awareness.

Everyone wants to see the image they pretend to be appalled by: the super-skinny girl. That image, usually standing horrified in front of a mirror that shows a bloated reflection distorting their features, is all that is allowed by most media. The before/after images of recovery don’t show people in bigger bodies as the “after.”

Let’s get real, people. It isn’t that eating disorders don’t torture and kill people of all genders, sizes, colors, and ethnicities. It isn’t that recovery doesn’t come in all shapes, either. It is that we click on emaciation. So in this coming year during all the awareness weeks let’s refuse to accept this clickbait. Not even to protest it. Don’t repost it, don’t give it attention. If your friends post it either tell them how you feel or just keep scrolling. That mirror shot and those before/after photos are not good eating disorder advocacy. They promote the fetish around thinness. The media doesn’t give us other narratives, or images, because we don’t click on those.

Until we are routinely seeing recovery images that represent a diversity of body sizes and shapes and genders and ethnicities in the AFTER shot, and when the mirror image showing the larger body is the healthy one: enough with the lie that this is about awareness.

We need images of funerals and medical bills and people not graduating and not being hired and of rates of suicide: not more fat phobia and weight stigma in the guise of eating disorder awareness.

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  1. Victoria

    Thank you! I needed to read this. I often feel like I have to justify my daughters illness, so many people say, yes she may be slim but she doesn’t “look anorexic “ , perhaps she is at her normal weight, I feel like replying, yes perhaps she is, but she nearly died last week at this weight.

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