It's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week this week (February 21st-27th).
My life, like so that of so many others, has been affected by an eating disorder. Eating disorders are not only life-threatening, startlingly prevalent, and often undetected, but also taboo. So many people are afraid to talk about eating disorders, that many go without ever seeking or receiving the help they need. With the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, anorexia nervosa and other, lesser-discussed disorders such as binge eating and bulimia, this is a serious issue facing not only our females and our youth, but people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
This week is about education.
There are 30 million people in the US suffering from an eating disorder.
Only 1 in 10 men and women with an eating disorder will receive professional treatment.
Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness in adolescents.
Over 1/2 of all teenage girls and 1/3 of all teenage boys report using unhealthy behaviors, such as skipping meals, purging, and overexercising, to change their weight.
47% of girls in 5th through 12th grade reported wanted to change their weight due to images they saw in the media.
42% of girls in 1st through 3rd grade want to be thinner.
20% of people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa will die prematurely due to complications related to their disorder.
These facts never fail to startle me. How do we continue to place pressures on men and women alike to look a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way, when we have the numbers right in front of us proving just how damaging this can be? How do we feel comfortable slapping covers on magazines with messages like, "Get your best bikini body ever!" and "7 days to a slim tummy!" Why do we accept dieting as an inevitability of being alive in this day and age? Why do we apologize for the way we eat, the way we move, the way we dress? Why do we allow ourselves to be defined by the way we appear?
I have a dear friend who recently confided in me that she wanted to lose weight, and would be interested in doing a "juice cleanse" to do so. She said that honestly, health wasn't a concern- she just wanted to be thinner. This is a young woman who I have admired for years for her tenacity, her strength, and her ambition. Her grades are nearly unparalleled, her activism is inspiring, and her heart is overwhelmingly open. And yet, she felt that if she couldn't remain as thin as she'd always been, she wasn't enough.
"I just feel like my whole life I've been the petite, small girl." She told me. "I don't want to lose my identity."
I was angry. Not at her, but at the ideas that have been drilled into our heads about what it means to be a woman in our society. What it means to place our entire worth and value on the meat sack we go through life in. What it means to fear not being thin more than losing our health. I was angry that she couldn't see what I see- a strong woman who wants to change the world, regardless of the size of her pants.
And yet, I think many people wouldn't have given a second thought to hearing those words.
It's become a part of our world today, to want to manipulate our appearance. To place an emphasis on how we appear, and link our identity to it. To go to extreme measures to lose weight, whatever the cost.
That needs to change.
I want us to rewire our thoughts. I want us to interpret the world differently. I want us to be offended when we hear these words come out of our daughters, sisters, mother's mouths. I want us to get upset. I want us to eat based on what makes us feel good. I want women to stop apologizing before they order dessert. I want magazines to write more articles about what it means to be strong and none about what it means to be less to please the world. I want us to feel comfortable in the clothes we want to wear, in the skin we're in, in the people that we are.
Once you start to see just how malevolent our ingrained hatred of bodies and reality is, you can never be blind again.
Take this week as a reminder to learn the signs of eating disorders, to talk to your children about what it means to have one, to address the feelings you have inside. Take this week as an opportunity to speak about things you may never have been brave enough to before. Take this week as a reminder to be constantly aware of just how damaging our words and thoughts about ourselves and others can be.
Below are some links to articles I've written on the subject of eating disorders and body image. Please, give them a read and consider sharing them throughout the week in honor of Eating Disorder Awareness. You never know who might need to read it.