This week has come around way too quickly again: National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
Snippets of NEDAW specific media have been cropping up for the past two weeks and I have become increasingly apprehensive about the days ahead. Of the stories I might see. The photos of tortured faces and skeletal bodies. The swapping of confessional histories, tallies of hospitalisations and physical complications. Then ultimately the lip biting and need to stifle judgement it all may personally lead to because I really don’t want to upset anyone. It’s all so precarious.
I am very much aware of eating disorders. Too aware. Painfully aware. I wish I wasn’t.
I find the whole EDAW thing completely draining and part of me wants to burrow away into a tight ball and hibernate till it’s over.
One of the most difficult things is the barrage of confessional life stories that we will hear - I’ve already seen many cropping up on various social media platforms. I don’t mean to criticise individuals posting this confessional stuff - I really do recognise that intentions are good, but there’s a distinct gap in understanding and sense of consequence there. A lack of care over the content they are presenting to what may be a particularly vulnerable audience.
We all say it eating disorders aren’t about weight. But the anorexic voice can be almost laughably predictable in obsessing when it comes to our own weight. Personally, I avoid pushing inspirational advice to anyone else, because I know the way I look and evident behaviours can make it sound false and patronising. But others don’t seem to see the problem in doing this. Yes, it’s okay to talk about your struggles, your successes, and nobody should have to hide away from a camera capturing real life moments - being ill is nothing to be ashamed of. But I can’t help but think people should think twice before posting objections to flawed media coverage and damaging advertising when their posts made contradict their arguments. Preaching about fighting stigma and how eating disorders are not about weight on Facebook rings hollow at best when accompanied by emaciated photos. If it’s not about weight then nobody needs to see them.
Certainly, if looking back at those painful reminders helps someone personally to feel motivated and want to continue in getting better, that is great, but surely it can be done without exposing it to a public space with the potential of causing others harm? I do completely empathise with that nagging need for validation, but putting that responsibility onto others is unfair, especially if they have eating disorders themselves.
It feels like standing in an echo chamber when coverage starts to crop up on your social media feed. Voices bounce back and forth against the walls, each one trying to increase the volume of pitch, be louder than the rest. Yet the people that really need to listen and take notice are outside in the open air and completely oblivious.
EDAW is supposedly about raising awareness and educating people. But I just don’t think this kind of approach will ever educate anyone much at all. The media regularly sensationalises their lifestyle articles with low weight photos for shock tactics. It’s not really that startling anymore, and whether partially aware or not, the fact is that these posts really have the potential to affect followers in adverse ways.
The cherry on the cake this year is that the focus had been set by B-eat as ‘early intervention’. Don’t get me wrong, early intervention is hugely important and a worthwhile topic that needs acknowledgement, but to me, right now, it feels like another huge slap of rejection and dismissal - invalidation even. See, early intervention has ALWAYS been important, but it’s only in recent years become cast into the spotlight for attention, yet what about those of us who didn’t get the early intervention we needed - WE needed it too – we didn’t get it then, and we need support now. [Another blog to come on this later in the week.]
I feel like what those of us that regard ourselves as advocates need to be working towards is challenging misconceptions out there. Because although eating disorders are being talked about more and more, it’s too often couched in ignorance and misinformation.
This is particularly relevant in regards to ED-DMT1 or diabulimia, which is only just becoming more talked about. Despite the success of more widespread coverage over the years there have been a lot of mixed messages about what diabulimia is and how it is distinct from ‘ED-DMT1’. DWED aims to put up definitions and resources relating to this as part of our new ‘about us’ page soon. We feel we have achieved our first goal which was to just get more people to hear the term ‘diabulimia’ and begin to talk about it.
Awareness – about eating disorders in general and diabulimia specifically - can be raised without implicit competitiveness. Without showing photos and offering stats in an attempt and prove our right to a voice. We all have that right. Words are more meaningful, and all of us offering any commentary during NEDAW need to stop and think for a second before we press the send button: it can be too easy for the eating disordered mindset to sneak in despite our best intentions. Let’s be real and let our stories stand alone and challenge each other if needs be. The fight is not over, but often we can be shouting so much that we fail to realise the hardest fight begins closer to home.
By Claire Kearns.