So why is it that so many people feel you can choose to have an eating disorder? I remember back in high school, one of my friends came up to me and said, “So, my grades are horrible so I’m going to go bulimic and blame it on that. Want to join me?” That’s probably one of the stupidest, most offensive things I’ve heard someone say in regards to an eating disorder, but you hear girls talking like that more often than not. I remember another time, after I had come out to my friends that I was getting help for anorexia, another friend had said, “I thought about going anorexic, but then I realized it was too much work.” I was so flabbergasted that all I could muster out was, “It wouldn’t have been worth it if you did.” If I had been there now, I probably would have gone on a rant how you can’t choose to be anorexic, but I was so naive to my own eating disorder at the time that the thought of saying that just didn’t cross my mind.
So comparing eating disorders to other mental illnesses, I’ve never once heard anyone say wanted OCD or they were “going to go manic-depresive.” And I suppose the reason why is there aren’t really any benefits to these mental disorders, whereas with eating disorders, you do get the “benefit” of losing weight (if we are talking about anorexia/bulimia). I think young girls who don’t understand eating disorders equate them to a quick way to diet and what they don’t understand is weight loss is just a symptom. They don’t realize the toll an eating disorder really takes on every aspect of one’s life. Granted those two girls above would have never really developed an eating disorder if they tried (unless they were predisposed to have one), the mere fact that girls thought that way is unfortunate.
It’s frustrating because the media feels we need to stop airbrushing celebrities and banning models from the runway who are underweight in order to eliminate eating disorders. And if that were true, we should also start banning songs on the radio that are depressing (because it may cause depression), banning alcohol ads (because it may promote alcoholism), banning five-hour energy drinks (because it may cause ADHD), banning any new type of cleaning product (because it may encourage OCD), banning all mirrors (because it may promote narcissism), etc. Of course I’m being totally sarcastic here, but really? In reality, the only mental disorder people think you can treat and/or cure by removing something from the general public is eating disorders. You have bi-polar disorder? You should see a therapist. You have schizophrenia? You should take some meds. You have an eating disorder? You should really stop reading beauty magazines and try to love yourself. If only it were that easy.
Now, thinking back to my own eating disorder, the progression of my disease really did start how society seems to believe ALL eating disorders start: girl thinks she’s are fat, girl idolizes thin models, girl goes on diet, girl’s diet goes out of control, girl develops eating disorder. And so I ask myself, “Would I still have developed an eating disorder if I didn’t feel a pressure to be thin?” Maybe, maybe not. But if I wouldn’t have, I firmly believe it would have been something else, and maybe that something else would have been alcohol or drugs. If eating disorders and other mental illnesses or addictions are hereditary, looking at my family history, my mom’s side of the family have extreme issues whether it be with abuse or addiction. My dad’s side of the family? Not so much. Given that both me and my full brother both fell prey to something (me with the ED and him with a meth addiction), it builds a strong case towards genetics. My two half-brothers from my dad’s side grew up “normal.” Is that just a coincidence? Possibly, but I don’t think so. So going back to my point, even if I didn’t think I was fat, I think I would have developed something, it just so happened that for some reason the perfect storm that occurred for me spit out an eating disorder. And even without the notion that I thought I was fat, going back into my childhood, there were so many factors that contributed to an eating disorder other than body image stuff (as my long-time readers know).
So…it’s great that congress is working hard on trying to “eliminate” eating disorders and whatnot, but I don’t think they will ever eliminate them completely unless we start acting like eating disorders are mental illnesses vs. choices. Getting rid of the fashion mags and waif-like models only gets rid of the TRIGGERS. And triggers are not what CAUSES eating disorders! You can choose not to pull the trigger of a gun, but that gun’s still loaded regardless if you pull it or not.