So, why am I not joining the protest?
It’s not because I don’t care about eating disorders: I do. It’s not because the idea of those with eating disorders buying and reading these books doesn’t upset me: it does. I’m not encouraging the creation of more such products, believe me.
Here’s why these books, and similar media, don’t worry me as much as the protests:
- Books don’t cause eating disorders.
- These protests actually draw attention to these materials, and offer endless pro-ana imagery alongside all the outrage.
- The self-published books in question are from 2012 and 2014. There are countless similar products. Most are free and easily found. Websites peddling the same messages are easy to find, and emotional protests point the way.
- Those who do not have eating disorders who are attracted to this kind of material will only be more attracted to them based on the protests.
- Those who do have eating disorders don’t need these books to scratch that itch.
- Those who wrote them are unwell. They could be any of our kids. In fact, they are.
- You already clicked on that link, right? So did your kids.
Unfortunately, the protests and “disgust” in the recent media attention contain myths about eating disorders that I find more dangerous than pro-ana.
- It is a myth that eating disorders can be “encouraged.” It is a myth that any mental illness is learned, taught, or caught.
- Eating disorders are not a pursuit of thinness.
- I do not believe lives will be saved by protesting these books, but every family out there who is led to think that their loved one with an eating disorder was “encouraged” or that an eating disorder is an attempt to “starve oneself” is at risk of failing to pursue and support real treatment.
There is so much to protest in our quest to improve treatment and prevent the suffering of eating disorders.
- The dieting industry operates openly and even targets teens.
- There is almost no training for front line clinicians to identify or treat eating disorders.
- Teachers and sports coaches actively encourage disordered eating and unfounded dietary fads.
- Parents are told to control their children’s weight and eating by our healthcare systems.
- Eating disorder treatment is often done by clinicians with outdated and unregulated methods.
Those problems deserve protest, and addressing them could bring real change.
These moments of attention to eating disorders are exactly the wrong attention. They don’t help the parents who find and misunderstand these tragic little books. To me, whoever wrote them needs help, not protest. Concern, not attention.