There has been an insane amount of NEDAwareness posts all over social media this week. Of course, that is due to 2014 NEDA Week. I am all for spreading awareness, but not in the sense of the tactic NEDA is attempting to attack. There are many amazing things this organization does and I am 100 percent a supporter. However, while raising awareness is an important task — specifically breaking the stigma of eating disorders — the theme this year falls flat. Not because of what they are trying to accomplish, but because of overwhelming amount of stigma it’s causing.
Instead of focusing on some of the potential strengths of this year’s theme, NEDA appears to have pasted alarming statements on the awareness posters. For example, let’s talk about this:
This poster has a toilet (obviously the plate) and then eating utensils. The caption on the poster reads: “What’ll we lose on this diet? Lots of people every year.”
Break this down with me: a) eating disorders are NOT a diet and b) this implies that purging behavior is a choice by using the term diet. I understand perhaps the goal was to say No diet is worth it however people with bulimia or anorexia or BED or EDNOS do not choose to have their disorder. Clearly, the poster may also imply maybe diets can lead to eating disorders, which is true. But using the term diet on this poster is not the best choice. As someone battling anorexia, with binge-purge tendencies, it’s actually offensive to call it a diet. Additionally, it lessens the reality of what this disorder can cause. By calling it a “diet” it is taking away the severity of “eating disorder” and feeding denial. For most people with an eating disorder, we go through cycles of being fine or better or not bad enough, not sick enough. But seeing this poster as a disordered person and seeing the term “diet” is a dangerous tactic. It could feed thoughts of, “oh, well it’s just a diet,” or “I don’t have an illness, I just have a bad diet.” Purging is not a diet.
Break this down with me: “I HAD NO IDEA that eating disorders can destroy lives.” While this poster begins to carry a strong message, it falls short. Many people have no idea what it is like to suffer from an eating disorder. As outsiders looking it, this may appear to be a choice, a diet taken too far, lack of control or will power. This is mistaken. These posters should say something like “I HAD NO IDEA that men could have eating disorders too” or “I HAD NO IDEA that eating disorders come in all shapes or sizes.”
Those of us with an eating disorder know that it destroys lives. Family who have watched their loved ones slowly kill themselves know that it destroys lives. Those friends who have watched as we wasted away on the inside or out, know of the destruction this brings. “Getting in the know” should focus on the stigma and false stereotypes pushed upon eating disorders.
Break this down with me: This poster reads “The monster isn’t under the bed, it’s in the fridge.” Really? Really, though. I’ll give NEDA an A+ for calling the disorder a monster, but here’s the problem This fork is holding a strawberry — food, and actually a healthy food — and says that the monster is in the fridge. Therefore, food is the enemy. FAIL. Food is not the enemy. The eating disorder is. This is such a bad idea, and anyone disordered looking at this will have a crazy swarm of feelings. For an outsider looking in, this simply reinforces that the monster is the food, and that comes down to choice. Again, a discouraging message.
And finally, break this down with me: This poster shows a frail and shriveled rose, obviously a symbol of beauty, and reads, “There is more to life than looking like you have none left.” Wow, NEDA, I see you trying to be deep here. But here is something that may not have been thought about: Looking like you’re dying or have no life left is again, reinforcing the stigma to an eating disorder. Looking malnourished, thin, sickly, or like death is only one of the characteristics that eating disorders can cause (such as the commonly known anorexia) but what about the billions of other people suffering from bulimia, binge eating disorder, or EDNOS? You can’t tell that someone has an eating disorder by simply looking at them. This also sets a poor standard for others suffering from an eating disorder because they feel that “they are not sick enough” or “thin enough” to need help or have an eating disorder. Using the visual of frailty is not even close to the clarity of detecting an eating disorder. The posters for last year were closer to home —
“Everybody knows Somebody”
This poster here was remarkable. The truth is, every single person knows someone with an eating disorder, not specific to any type. If you’re reading this, you know someone — me. I guarantee you, you know someone and can’t tell by simply looking at the person on the outside. Eating disorders eat us alive from the inside, then out.
There needs to be so much more awareness and education on stigma, stereotypes, diagnosis, and characteristics. You just DON’T KNOW.