When I read an article on eating disorders I'm looking for a clean piece. What I mean by that is "can I offer this article to a parent in crisis with little time, not much grounding, and in the middle of critical decisions?
So, an otherwise interesting article that includes much of what I'd like the parent to see is ruined for my purposes if it has certain poison pills.
This GQ article is a good example, "Male Anorexia: 20 Percent of Anorexics are Men."
It's movingly and artfully written, and in a widely-read publication. It includes some simple (actually, simplistic) biological information. It brings up the very important issue of lack of treatment resources for men. Many of those quoted are people who do know the science and the history and have devoted themselves not only to eating disorders but to male eating disorder patients. All good.
But can we really afford some of the mistakes in this piece?
"More and more men are starving themselves to death in a pathological pursuit of perfection."
How evokative! But, we don't know whether more men are developing anorexia or not. We know that more are being diagnosed, yes, but the leap to the numbers growing is unsupported. Rates of anorexia in the population seem to be steady over time and across cultures as well. This idea that a disease has to be growing in numbers to be important is maddening. But worse is the implication that the growth has to do with society's pressures on men. So, this begs the question: if it turns out that diagnosis and not prevalence is growing does that mean male eating disorders are less important? Will we be dropping all the speculation about six-pack abs and body as metaphor and pressures on men?
Calling a mental illness a "pursuit" of anything is to misunderstand it terribly. The perfectionism in anorexia is a symptom, yes. But do we say that people with OCD are in a pathological pursuit of symmetry? That depression is a pursuit of unhappiness? This kind of language around eating disorders perpetuates the myth that eating disorders have a reason, a justification, a deep meaning. Those myths are great for social causes and fundraising walks but if they're wrong then they hurt advocacy in the end.
Perhaps the most telling is that these narratives of victimhood and deep pathology don't go together with the other information about brain function and treatment included in the piece. It's a kitchen sink prose poem including opposing ideas without resolving the contrast, not journalism. When the public reads these pieces without that analysis, more misunderstanding ensues.
And oy gevalt, the pictures! This is just the imagery that makes well-meaning eating disorder media into pro-ana porn. Eating disorders are a mental illness, not a weight condition. These pictures don't illustrate anything but a tired, incorrect, harmful reflection of what the public thinks these disorders are and what the not-quite-getting-it author has gathered. It pains me that equality for males with eating disorders has to carry with it the same myths as we've had about female eating disorders.
"There is no data to support this belief" does appear here, but isn't applied to most of the content.