*Please approach this article with caution, it may act as a trigger if you’re battling with or have battled with an eating disorder *
As I sit and think of a way to tastefully articulate societies issue with anorexia, bulimia and eating disorders as a whole, I scroll through my Facebook and notice articles stacked up on top of each other about a celebrity whose cellulite was photographed at the beach, an Instagram model promoting a certain herbal tea that doubles as a laxative, and a promotional advertisement for a discounted gym membership. Suddenly it becomes abundantly clear how skewed our perception of normal beauty standards are, and how frequently these standards are reinforced whether we are aware of it or not. We’ve been subconsciously played, and are transforming into a society moving in unity toward a world living with body dysmorphia. I click out of the Facebook browser to receive a text from a friend with a screenshot of a celebrity we love who ‘has definitely put on a few‘, and realize just how prevalent the judgment and the body shaming is.
The reassuring part is every single person at some point in their life has struggled with their own appearance and body confidence (not sure if that’s reassuring or terrifying). Whether that little internal struggle has exploded into struggling with an eating disorder, or it has dwindled away into nothing more than ‘I feel a bit gross today’, the foundations of eating disorders have been glamorized and normalized to an extreme. it’s no surprise almost a million Australians are living with an eating disorder. As someone who has been trapped within the clutches of an eating disorder and come out unscathed, I’m going to tackle this issue as elegantly as possible and look at how the modern world can sometimes advocate and spark eating disorders.
There are so many misconceptions about eating disorders as a whole, and it’s important to acknowledge that anyone can get them. It’s not just young angsty brooding teens, as we have been led to believe through film and television. Eating disorders do however most commonly occur in young adults and adolescents (as if puberty isn’t already difficult enough) with 64% of sufferers being female, and 36% being male. Out of every mental disorder, eating disorders have the highest fatality rate and also the highest rate of recurring health issues throughout life. But there’s no point drowning you in morbid statistics, the important part is that there’s a definitive difference between dieting and exercising, so that you internally feel good vs. doing it because you want to look “good”, and it seems the line has been blurred.
Eating disorders are like a package that can sometimes get wrapped up in a neat little bow and disguise themselves as a healthy lifestyle or being proactive, and for the most part, they start with the best of intentions. This could be the whole “new year, new me“, or “I don’t have much energy, I want to exercise more“, but pretty quickly this can turn into an obsession which prioritizes physicality as opposed to internal quality. The rise of the fitspo and thinspo generation has gained controversy for exactly this reason. It seems more and more girls are disguising concerning and dangerous behavioural patterns as a thirst for physical health. This can sometimes be referred to as Orthorexia, an obsessive behavior associated with achieving a healthy diet or physical routine. Countless social media pages have dedicated themselves to the achievement of perfect physical proportions, one that lines up with what is stereotypically beautiful.
With the rise of the Instagram model and the thirst for physical perfection, comes the rise of shameless product promotion that emphasizes physical beauty as a rational and purchasable acquirement, even if it’s completely unrealistic. Some of these social media moguls promote and sell products like tea that will allegedly make you skinnier, teeth whitening kits, supplements to make your skin and hair smoother, and food that will literally lift your butt and make it more “juicy” (don’t know how that would even be possible). And we all fall victim to it. As I scroll mindlessly through my Instagram feed, I see photo after photo of beautiful skinny girls that fit within the confines of what is conventionally attractive, posing in suggestive ways, and selling me something I really don’t need to make me feel beautiful. It’s the quintessential white girl that dominates a space that ultimately dictates what we consider beautiful and attractive, and it’s happening across the board. Television hosts who look and dress the same, but somehow still get critiqued on their outfit choices when their male co-hosts remain immune to scrutiny. Pop stars who dress suggestively and disguise it as an act of feminism, whilst little girls look up to them and aspire to look like them. Men who dedicate all of their time going to the gym and achieving complete physical perfection (no judgment, good for you). Supermodels who explain that it’s okay to have a “fat” day, or it’s okay to have skin that isn’t completely perfect, but whose accompanying photo is still within the confines of technical beauty – it instills into people that this is the most natural you can look while still calling yourself beautiful. It’s everywhere we look, and we can’t control seeing it, but can control how we feel about it.
Solving the problem of eating disorders won’t be achieved by banning models at fashion week who are too thin. It also won’t be found by showing images within the media of ‘real girls’ who are curvaceous and who look different to the traditional standards of beauty, but are still emphasising that the only reason these curvaceous women are in the media is to show diversity within beauty standards (apparently they can’t just be portrayed within media without strongly commenting on their difference in appearance). Our society is so fixated on labeling beauty as something in particular, and through this, we change the end goal for people to strive for, we don’t fix the problem.
“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” – Kate Moss
Whether it be fat shaming, thin shaming, face shaming, or just any type of physical shaming, it’s a shame we still have to correct ourselves when we are caught out judging someone based on physical appearance. Too many times do I sit on the couch with my family watching TV, and have to interrupt or correct my parents when they make a comment on a person’s physical attributes. It doesn’t just go the way of fat shaming people either because thin shaming is also a thing. As a notoriously thin person, I have a conversation with someone close to me almost fortnightly because they’re concerned about my protruding collarbones, or think I need to eat a burger or two. “Don’t worry I eat 5 meals a day, I’m fine” I say with frustration, which is then usually met with a reference to something that can be referred to as ‘thin privilege‘ – the idea that being naturally thin is a great blessing, and sounds something a little like “oh poor you, it must be so hard being skinny” *sarcastic tone*. To be quite blunt, any type of comment on another persons body is wrong. No exceptions to the rule. We have become accustomed to voicing our own personal opinion on anyone and everyone’s physical appearance whether we say it to their face or we think it anonymously. By doing this, we are adding to the pile of judgment and discrimination that fuels eating disorders. Body shaming is so prevalent – it’s on the cover of magazines that tell us how to achieve perfect abs. It rears its head when you’re walking down the street and see any kind of advertising. It even shows up in restaurants when you’re reading the menu, and can’t help but notice that the number of calories in each meal is listed on the side.
Perhaps when you were younger you had an altercation or two with your family at the dinner table after you went back for seconds. Or maybe a certain boy at school called you chubby once, and even though you were told by your friends that “he is just saying that because he has a crush on you”, you still couldn’t shake the thought that you agreed with him. My turning point was when I was 14 years old and was feeling the brutal onset of puberty and its ugly side effects. As I sat in the garden wearing a pink jumper and flare jeans with flowers on them, my grandfather looked at me, smiled, and said: “looks like you’ve put on a bit of weight”. Now, considering I’ve been a lanky skeleton my whole life, I’m sure this was said with the most sincere and good intentions, but almost 10 years later I still remember as clear as day the details of that exact moment, because it changed the way I viewed myself forever.
What started as a simple comment in passing, spiralled out of control into me not bringing food to school for years, hiding my dinner under my bed to throw out later, and lying about purging all the food I had eaten. I’d learned through so many sources throughout my life that fat, weight, and being bigger was not beautiful. I understand that these details about myself are brutally honest and quite intensely personal, but I am sharing them with you because I have had this conversation with countless people who have gone through the same experience and felt completely isolated. The conversation isn’t focused around how to tackle eating disorders, it’s focused on changing what is considered beautiful, but in doing this you’re always setting a new target in which people can strive for, and in turn, fail to achieve. Eating disorders are still extremely prevalent in society, and without sounding completely cliche, the only thing you can do is to remind yourself that you’re beautiful however you look and reinforce that message with everyone you know.