Last week was Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Probably because I follow many activists and body-positive Twitter accounts, I was more than aware of this fact. But what truly bothers me is that very few people other than those in my Twitter feed were aware of it at all. And I find that, regarding eating disorders, very few people even know anything about eating disorders (EDs).
I’m not writing this blog post as a feminist. I am writing this as a person. I am writing this as a teenaged girl. I am writing this as someone who, starting at the age of 16, developed an eating disorder that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
I’ve written about my ED before. I published my first column about it back in October, and was met with a variety of responses. Most were positive. Some were more disturbing than others, like the time I had an acquaintance come up to me and exclaim, “Wow, I didn’t know you had an eating disorder! My sister’s friend had one of those!” She smiled and said it as though I’d taken up knitting.
Anorexia and bulimia are not fun facts. They’re not hobbies. They are diseases that kill and leave you deathly numb. They will torture you every second of every day. Your hair will fall out and you will feel like passing out every time you stand up. Your skin turns yellow and your nails turn blue and the only thing you wish for more than death is being thin.
Society doesn’t tend to take eating disorders seriously. They brush them under the rug as a “teenaged girl’s problem” and dismiss them as a passing fad. Anyone can develop an eating disorder. They do not pass.
Like most mental illnesses, there’s a stigma surrounding EDs. Only one in 10 of those suffering from one seek treatment. If you are a man, there’s an even more minuscule chance that you will. We are perceived as vain, that we care too much about our appearances, or that we can stop at any time. Nothing is that simple. You can’t just stop. You keep going and going until you break down or you die.
Twenty-four million people in the U.S. suffer from an ED. Almost half of those meet the criteria for depression. Eating disorders are by far the most deadly mental illness. There’s piles and piles of statistics that I could use here that should make everyone care about this problem. But, to put it simply, no one really cares at all.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen anyone speak out about EDs. And, at present, I can’t just come to terms with that. The less we talk about them, the more of a stigma there is and the less help people get. Healing and going into recovery wasn’t a choice for me, but it’s imperative that it becomes a choice for others. When you believe you have no one to turn you, you turn inwards. And with an eating disorder that just leads to irrevocable destruction.
There is never an easy day. There is never a day when I wake up and live and sleep when I don’t struggle. There is never a day when I don’t look at myself and feel too ashamed to recognize who I’ve become.
My eating disorder developed out of a deep hatred for who I am and how I look. It was prompted by a culture that tells us what we can and cannot eat, and how our bodies should look. Every little comment I’ve ever heard about my weight or my looks has stained me and it never washed off.
When society says it’s okay to shame people because of their bodies, then a culture of self-hate and shame is perpetuated. That can lead to an eating disorder. That can lead to death. And that’s not okay.
I don’t love myself. I don’t like myself. I can’t say for sure that I ever will. I tie my body to my self-perception and that only leaves me unhappy. Ashamed. My body is not perfect, it is not thin. But it is a part of me and it allows me to live. And when I am alive, I have no limits.
I am writing this blog post because when we speak out, when someone speaks out, things can change. Our society and our culture can change. But the only way that we can change is to choose acceptance, to choose love, over self-destruction. Shame can bruise, and it can kill, but you can fight. We can all fight.
Fight. Fight. Fight.