April 13, 2012

Speaking of language, watch your verbs

I note with fascination what verbs and verbiage surrounds talk of eating disorders.

Celebrities are said to be Glorifying eating disorders, they "slam accusations, and another actually sues news outlets when she  Denies Eating Disorder Accusations. A long dead celebrity is "defended" against posthumous reports of his bulimia, and another professes chronic "frustration." The list of "accused" is like a Who's Who of B-list celebrity itself. The ugly truth is that we're talking about the fine line between denying and self-promotion.

More frightening is that the denials are in the form of affront: it is an insult to say that someone has an eating disorder. It is not concern for that person, or empathy, it is disdain. It has the same flavor as the public glee and relish over celebrities having "work done."

Sad to report, these "accusations" and "denials" always involve weight loss - and only involve weight loss - as if an eating disorder is just a matter of someone having the poor taste to want to be too thin.

Correction: weight loss is not an eating disorder, and an eating disorder is a treatable problem in the brain and not a condition to be pitied or criticized. Imagine this kind of language around cancer or MS.

No wonder families worry about "who to tell" and about the stigma of an eating disorder. Society has layers and layers of mistaken beliefs, and verbs.

2 comments:

  1. and when celebrities "admit" to have eating disorders they are accused of "claiming" to have one for sympathy especially if they are not thin.

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  2. Laura, this is an excellent point. I saw evidence of this recently with the John Lennon story. Regardless of the veracity of the report, there are all sorts of verbs like "Ono vehemently denies that Lennon had bulimia" etc etc. The underlying assumption is that it is something to be ASHAMED of and you have to somehow clear their name. Interestingly we have witnessed some of the same blame and shame talk around the whole Paula Dean/type 2 diabetes issue, but then again, it's not like obesity isn't stigmatized! Like my Commonwealth colleagues would say... "Mind Your Verbs."

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