Perhaps last week was quite a strange one to choose to be so quiet, especially in the initial stages of both my writing and recovery journey.
My (non)engagement in EDAW2016 was not so much a definitive stand, more a nervous bather tentatively dipping the tip of their toe in water to see if it is too cold to bear…
I expected to be left even further deflated about the current, very narrow, ideas of who can suffer from an Eating Disorder or who can have body image issues which explains, partially, my silence. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for raising awareness for a cause but only if it is going to be done right…
Many media sources were indeed keen to do their bit for the cause; cue a barrage of anorexia recovery stories, illustrated at first by a severely emaciated young teenage girl and concluded, again, by a photo of the same girl yet happy and smiley, her health “evidenced” by a revelation of her BMI now compared with then. A perfectly digestible, linear story with a beginning, middle and end with some nice, trusty science to back it up…
On one of my emotionally charged reactions to these types of article, my grandma offered some silver lining: “Well, at least it’s being talked about.” Adding in for good measure: “As they say, bad press is better than no press.”
Well with mental illness, and especially eating disorders, I’ll be at the front shouting that a picture does NOT paint a thousand words.
“Oh, but I always see you having lunch in the canteen…”
“Oh, but, I know so and so and she was way skinnier than you but she didn’t have an eating disorder…”
“Oh, but you like ice cream, though…?”
“Oh, but you look great!”
Excuse me for a moment while I break to stamp my feet…
These are real things people have said to me quite recently. Physically, I am not at my worst but I am not “healthy” either in body or mind. However, because I don’t quite correspond to last week’s news story of the girl who weighed less than [insertshockingbenchmarkhere], then clearly I am “alright.”
I know sometimes these comments are well intentioned but these phrases are stored and played on repeat in my brain. I hear them over and over and over again as anorexia uses them for ammunition to stop me from winning an already unfair game.
I feel guilty labelling any of the people behind those comments as ignorant because when we look at the sources informing their opinions, there actually isn’t any wonder when they too focus on physicality. BMI is a perpetrator of this, being used clinically to categorise, for example, anorexia as “Mild” “Moderate” or “Severe.”
I have been put into each of those at some point during the last few years but not once has the state of my mind fit quite so neatly into categories of severity, nor has it even correlated to the one in which my body “represents.”
There was a story years ago in a local paper about a girl who died from anorexia-induced complications yet her BMI would have placed her in the “mild” category. I wonder whether her mother feels “mild” about her daughter’s death yet..?
I could continue to harp on about the injustices and misconceptions we are faced with. But, actually, I won’t because even cynical old me did take some positivity away last week…
I exhausted my teenage-self raging against systems so, thinking this is how I missed out, have begun my early 20s trying to train myself to “shut up and put up” for an easy life. But, in the few seminars I did attend last week, I realised there are people who, as well as feeling just as aghast as me, are actively doing something and encouraging others to SPEAK when they feel something is wrong.
So I want to, too.
I actually NEED something to change. For the sake of my own recovery, which frankly at the moment is just going from bad to worse, I NEED people to STOP legitimising the way I currently look. I NEED people to STOP looking at me with a raised eyebrow, not even attempting to hide their confusion, when they hear me talk about anorexia. I NEED people to STOP thinking that just because they see me eating, I am “fine.” I NEED people to STOP thinking that just because you cannot see my bones through my 4 layers (erm, I mean it is February, hello?!) that I am alright.
Notice how many times I used the word “see” or “look” up there? Well, when did that happen? How have we missed the point, quite so epically as to judge mental health based on something we see?
So where can I begin? Precisely the point where I’d usually just put my head in my hands. But seminars from a certain Caryn Franklin and AnyBody stirred up the dormant rebel in me last week, as they both proved change CAN happen, it just has to be actioned.
I’m going to give it a go and ask this of anyone who will listen to me:
I’m telling you what I need to help me and to help others who want to help me:
Stop putting low weight and accompanying photos in public articles about eating disorders.
I already have plenty of evil inside my head telling me I’m not thin enough without everyone else agreeing…
I already have the constant chunter of the illness in my head to remind me of all the benchmarks I am “failing” in order to try and get my life back.
Lets really try and change the way we talk and read about these illnesses. Lets put the mental back in mental health as it is what you cannot see that is the most frightening and isolating trait of all, NOT weight.
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