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I’m not sure what provoked such a surge of negativity, but I’ve been receiving an overwhelming flood of messages criticizing me, my weight, and my “hypocritical” support for eating disorder awareness over the course of the past few weeks. What these skeptics don’t realize, though, is that they’re the reason why I’m so passionate about promoting the acceptance of all body types. The actual definition of an eating disorder is any abnormal eating habit that negatively affect a person’s physical or mental health. They can span from the well-known diagnoses of Anorexia and Bulimia to chronic overeating and obesity. Modern society is getting so comfortable with the notion of a real plus-sized woman being beautiful that we forget the spectrum goes both ways. Body shaming in any way, shape, or form shouldn’t be acceptable; just like you’d be chastised for publicly calling someone a hippo, it’s equally as offensive to scream, “Eat a cheeseburger!,” demand to review a private food journal, or verbally label someone as gaunt, sickly, or skeletal, which are three adjectives I’ve personally seen and heard used to describe my physique. For those of you who have read my personal story, you know I’m a relatively tough girl– however, we’re all human, and the scrutinizing of an individual’s weight is in no way constructive to anyone in any phase of eating disorder recovery.
Whether you’re allegedly too fat or too skinny is irrelevant; the anonymity of the internet spawns susceptibility to cyber bullying and ridicule, and you’re left with a desire to fulfill the impossible ideal of what others deem as the “perfect body.” The ability to condemn another individual for their lifestyle choices or mental illnesses through an 100% undisclosed medium is beyond destructive to today’s youth– including the bullies, victims, and bystanders inbetween, and I implore these innominate tormentors to consider the damage they’re inflicting. Never assume that something will go unread or unheard and try to imagine how you’d feel if you were on the back end of your psychological attack.
Unfortunately, the harsh criticism doesn’t even stop with the internet. When I was first battling my eating disorder, the people closest to me were unsure of how to respond– and reverse psychology ended up being the most commonly-used tactic. I was told that I looked unhealthy, gross, emaciated– you name it– by those I needed support from the most. Their intentions were obviously harmless yet completely indicative of a lack of understanding. The public thinks, “How in the world can she think she looks good? She looks sick!,” and the answer is usually, “Fat or skinny– she is suffering from a mental illness, and she doesn’t think she looks good either way.” Speaking from personal experience, you don’t develop an eating disorder from an over-dosage of confidence or an inflated ego that needs to be knocked down a few pegs. You’re either feeling out of control, depressed, or just plain disgusted with yourself, and Body Dysmorphia, ie. seeing a distorted version of yourself that’s only visible to you, completely consumes your entire being.
In addition to the harborers of painful stomach diseases, thyroid problems, or a plethora of miscellaneous hereditary misfortunes leading to an inability maintain a socially-acceptable “average body,” those diagnosed with Anorexia or Bulimia, no matter how mild or severe the condition, are so often labeled as the “lucky skinny people” who should just stop begging for attention and gain weight. Public support is difficult to find, and fending for yourself makes the tribulation all the more unbearable. This why I advocate for Eating Disorder Awareness. It’s just not that simple; years of counseling and a long road to recovery come into play. My mission is serve as a voice, a resource, and a safe place for sufferers of eating disorders, friends and family members who are unsure of how to constructively help, and/or anyone feeling like there’s no where to turn for an non-judgemental ear. Not having a support network only adds to the gravitational pull into a dangerous black hole of depression and fragility. Yes, professional help is available; however, even though eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses, with Anorexia holding the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, insurance companies routinely deny coverage for treatment, even after studies have shown that a full-course of treatment is hands-down most cost effective. You can always try to fight to get the appropriate and necessary treatment you need, and although nothing is guaranteed, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) compiled a list of arguments to use when trying to secure treatment from an insurance provider or another third party.
Next time you suspect a friend or loved one of harmfully restricting their diet, purging, quickly dropping weight, over-medicating, self-mutilating, or partaking in any self-harming behavior, remember to offer support, not judgement. He or she could be ineligible for medical coverage, they could be fighting a serious physical illness, maybe their thyroid hormones are regulating metabolism unevenly, or maybe they’re battling a life-threatening mental illness, like Anorexia. The truth is… you’ll never know until you offer to listen, and even then, you may never get the whole truth. What you can do is surround these victims with friends, family, and loved ones who are gleams of hope, positivity, laughter, support, praise, and– most importantly– patience. Help promote Mental Health and Eating Disorder Awareness to nip the cyber bullying and name calling as far in the bud as we can.
To learn more about the importance of Eating Disorder Awareness, peruse the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) or Proud2BMe US websites. Also, here are five of my favorite articles for understanding the sensitivity of these mental illnesses and helping to build a nation where confidence and kindness rule:
by Chelsea Kronengold, Body Project Program Coordinator
by Wendy York
by Joanna Kay
by Sophia Rinaldis of Mind Body Green
Let’s spread love, not judgement. Remember, “When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘We,’ even illness becomes wellness.”