So today is the start of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I am not, nor have I been in past years, involved in EDAW in any way. In fact, I have always been a little put off by the whole thing. And here’s why: awareness, in and of itself, is not what we need. In this day and age who isn’t aware of eating disorders? The media loves them. Talk shows and reality tv love them. Everyone thinks they know all about eating disorders. The problem, of course, is that they don’t actually know anything at all and it seems to me that EDAW is, if anything, making it worse. All the “love your body events” (both EDAW events here in Seattle are body image focused, Renfrew’s Barefaced and Beautiful campaign) will only surve to further confuse people while simultaneously trivializing a deadly illness. Even the backlash against the love your body focus gets it wrong.
EDAW’s slogan in the UK, which took place last week, was “break the silence”. Katie had a fabulous post about that. The first time I asked for help with my eating disorder I was 20 and had been struggling for five years. I looked healthy enough at the time having gained back most of the weight I had lost the year before but was rapidly slipping back into severe restriction. The counselor at the McGill health center told me that since “I wasn’t so skinny it was dangerous” we didn’t have to talk about the ED but that she would be happy to talk with my about my anxiety and depression. I left and never went back and promptly lost all the weight I had regained, went back to overexercising and abusing laxatives, and started binging and purging. Breaking my silence did me no good at all.
EDAW’s slogan here in the states is “everbody knows somebody”. If I thought it would do anything towards combatting the misinformation about eating disorders, I would tell everyone I know that I am a sufferer. But, again, I don’t think that would do any good.
We don’t need increased awareness. We need education. We need facts and science and good information. We need people to be hearing the message that eating disorders are biologically based brain disorders that families do not cause and sufferers do not choose. They are not about bad body image. They are not about family dysfunction or bad parenting. They are not about sexual abuse. They are not about control. They are not ABOUT anything.
And I fail to see how EDAW is helping us accomplish that.