February 27, 2014

Love your body: is this an eating disorder issue?

Is it cynical to think that "loving" our bodies is just an easier sell than what we might REALLY need to talk about for eating disorder "awareness?"

Is "love your bacteria" or "love asymmetry" a reasonable campaign for OCD?

Or "love reality" for those suffering from psychosis?

How about "don't worry, be happy" for major depression?

Not only is "love your body" something that society doesn't expect from itself, but it seems particularly unfeeling to associate with a mental illness that makes living in one's skin so terribly difficult. It's insulting, really, and trivializing to extreme distress.

I get it, I really do -- as a feminist and a parent and a person -- that positive messages are, well, positive. But since people with eating disorders, a mental illness, did not choose to feel unwell in their bodies is it fair to set that as a standard?

Does "loving" our bodies help prevent, treat, or comfort those with eating disorders?

The evidence for prevention is not there. Ditto for treatment.

I'll tell you where it does seem to be positive, however. As a parent caregiver I do want the environment around patients to be nonjudgmental of appearance and neutral about weight. I do find it horrifying to see families and patients surrounded by a toxically body-shaming culture when they are coping with recovery. Relapse prevention is hampered by mixed messages as well.

But I don't think this is limited to families facing eating disorders. I want that for ALL children, from and for ALL of us. Making this issue about eating disorders not only confuses people about the disorders but it makes ED patients seem "oversensitive" and as if they need a bubble of artificial protection. ED is a mental illness. We don't ban cleanser commercials for fear of "triggering" those with OCDs because there is nothing wrong with cleansers. There IS something wrong with diet marketing. There IS something wrong with fat-shaming (Biggest Loser, anyone?). There is NOTHING good about surrounding children with fat jokes, teasing, objectification of women's bodies, bullying of boys over their physique, rating people's attractiveness, or spending more than a sliver of our day caring about appearance of any kind.


14 comments:

  1. Excellent post. Just this morning I was watching Michelle Obama on the news promoting her anit-obesity campaign to children and thought how out of touch she is the negative message she was giving these children. One of the things she was promoting was
    no fried foods. Can you imagine a young person not being able to eat a French frie, a piece of fried chicken and feeling "bad" if they did? I am so upset with all this focus on loving or not loving your body - and how much damage it does by trivializing this very serious disorder.

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  2. I agree with your point however just wanted to say that the example you chose is actually potentially an issue as well. The usual extremes of advertising exaggerating both the problem (germs/hygiene) and the solution (kills 99%) could easily cause difficulties for OCD sufferers as well as misinforming the general public. I think it highlights the ethical problems of advertising in a consumer driven society causing unintended suffering/health problems in the pursuit of $$$

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    1. Anonymous, I'm grateful to you for sharing this with me. I hadn't considered that and will keep this in mind now.

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  3. I think ED believes it's being compassionate in providing this (maladaptive) distraction from anxiety. That's not hatred of or lack of respect for the body. We also know we look bad when severely underweight (if we are underweight) from people reacting to us as though we're monsters, thin ideal or none. I also think ED is more or less an OCD, whether, to put it semi-poetically, it lives in or is catalyzed by the exact spot in the brain or not.

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  4. Diet culture can make people who restrict (due to diet culture) and their loved ones aware that there was an ED that was lurking. Not eating due to food scarcity in "3rd world countries" - something the ignorant also like to throw in when ED's are mentioned - can make them aware of it, too. Being sick with the flu can do so, as well. Yeah, we need fewer reasons, I'll grant them that.

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  5. Weather, that is really a fascinating observation about ED being compassionate. NEVER thought of it that way, and it clicks, it makes sense intuitively. Thank you!

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  6. Thanks, Laura; I was trying to get that across in a Love Your Body yoga class I decided to take. (I wasn't expecting anything out of it EDwise but the teacher had had an ED.) Not sure if anyone could relate. I think most people think of it as they do cutting - a lack of self-respect.

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  7. Btw, I used to cut. I started well after high school, in another country, and knew no one else who did it. So much for that stereotype.
    My teacher recovered after a 6 year-old girl made a body-negative comment to or around her. How are people able to recover by being pregnant (wouldn't that make it worse?), hearing children say sad things, being able to model plus sizes instead of straight sizes, etc.? Seriously? And from their symptoms, they had actual ED's. Are they just really motivated by these catalysts, or in remission?

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  8. At least some of the time I think we're seeing "effort after meaning." Not that the experiences are not real, but that we make sense of things retrospectively, because we want there to BE meaning and patterns.

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  9. I legit just heard a girl say when she got pregnant there was someone bigger than her ED to worry about and in becoming less selfish her ED vanished. I'm going to puke. I guess I'm just jealous that that would never be me. And I'm sick of people's racism. They talk about "Africans in '3rd world' countries" not having ED's, like the gene pool is soooo different. I mean, never would "African starvation" trigger the White (Wo)Man's Disease. Disgusting. They read people's comments, so they're not ignorant of the genetic aspect.

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    1. Painfully, tragically ignorant. Although I would like to find comfort in know that this kind of thinking will pass, and people will look back in horror that they believed such things, Weather, we may have to suffer it among us and comfort one another!

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  10. Years ago when I was in a bad spot and didn't expect to make it, I found a man online who was a vet known for treating homeless people's pets. He said he could take my cats in in such an event. It was a huge relief at the time... But when I told him it was AN that I had, he fed me the line about the African babies, and I never heard from him again. Some classmates said they'd work something out, but I needed an actual plan. This veterinary physician's ignorance could have compromised my cats' safety.

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    1. Tragically misinformed and cruel. If only he knew. I'm so sorry.

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  11. Even if he didn't get it, what did it have to do with my cats' needs?
    I appreciate the "ear" and the support.

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