Have you ever found yourself looking at a show, film, or even interview about someone battling a severe behavior caused by someone’s relationship with their own body and/or food? You probably have. In fact, there’s a chance that it’s been glamorized to appear like an illness not unlike the flu. You get it one day, it lasts for about a week, and then one day you’re cured. The people who are presented usually look the same. They’re upper middle class young women who are shown as if to say, “Look how pretty she already was.” But this is a fetish. It’s nothing like the real thing. And to continue to do this is to put other people’s lives in danger.
A few years back, around 2006, I remember every celebrity news and blog was talking about Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan. Despite the headlines saying that it was scary just how skinny they were, we’d see images of them at the beach, leaving the clubs, or even when they were found eating. It was all very bizarre. Let’s leave aside the very contradictory narrative of saying someone is unhealthy as you show them in every angle possible while sunbathing in an exotic beach. This continued the idea that eating disorders only happen to skinny white women of a particular socioeconomic group. As this myth continues to be perpetuated, anyone who does not fit this particular mold is assumed to be fine, or at least far from harming themselves.
A poem from 2015, “When The Fat Girl Gets Skinny” by Blythe Baird, has garnered internet fame after being turned into a short film. It’s a confession of sorts. It proves that having a misconstrued perception of what someone with an eating disorder looks like can make all the difference in that person getting help and hopefully finding recovery. As our narrator takes us through her struggle with the disorder, we also see how superficial perceptions affect the way others saw her.
If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital.
If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story.
So when I evaporated, of course everyone congratulated me on getting healthy.
Media narratives have presented to us an image of those battling eating disorders as being of a certain physique. But what happens when it stops being a fictional discourse and we begin to judge people from what we’ve been told is right versus wrong. Can you imagine how difficult it is for someone in the process of recovery when those around them are constantly telling them how much better they look? What would be the point of being healthy if that would mean going back to being criticized or ignored?
In article for Bust, Jan Rosenberg commented on the visual triggers the recently released movie, To The Bone, presented. One of the troubling aspects of the film, aside from clinical settings not being even remotely accurate, was the way it also kept with the usual idea of what someone who’s in the deep end of an eating disorder looks like:
“Anorexics can be overweight. Binge-eaters can be underweight. Bulimics can fall into both these categories. Many people with Eating Disorders appear to be in a normal BMI range.”
Going back to Baird’s journey, when we think about how obsessed we are with weight determining our success and happiness, it’s incredibly disheartening. To think that we are all measured by our physicality as a way of proving how healthy or successful we are.
Why would I ever want to stop being hungry when anorexia was the most interesting thing about me?
Recovery is not an overnight, one-time thing either. It’s a process that follows that person throughout their whole life. It’s a struggle that they continue to fight to stay healthy. This is why I have such an issue with media representation of these disorders. They are complex problems that are not easily solved. The fictional scenario where someone turns around after a cathartic experience and is suddenly perfectly fine is a lie. It only makes people get exasperate with their treatment because they cannot get there fast enough. It also means that family members will also not understand why their loved one is getting better yet not improving as quickly as they imagined. These portrayals leave no room for relapses and dark moments. We need more artists like Blythe Baird and Roxanne Gay, and a lot less To the Bone.