Eating disorders- the blunt truth.

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WARNING: The following content is sensitive and me be triggering to those suffering from, recovering from or who have recovered from eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia and other health problems such as depression.


As I sit down in my local pub ready to tuck into my generous portion of gammon and chips, I feel a prickle on the back of my neck- that all to familiar feeling of knowing that someone is staring at you. As I whip my head around the dining area, my eyes fall on the slender figure of a girl, probably around my age, maybe a few years younger, looking at me with disgust in her eyes- disgust clearly at the way I look and what I'm eating. I feel fat, bulky, uncomfortable and I let my glance fall to her own plate, noticing she has a salad, mostly untouched. She sips constantly at her water like it's the only thing keeping her alive.

It probably is.

It is a sad but true statistic that over half of teenage girls and one third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, vomiting and taking laxatives. It is also sad but true that it is becoming more and more of a regularity to see people with eating disorders in our everyday lives and to regard it as 'normal' and therefore failing to help this person who is desperately struggling- whether they accept that or not.

The media is without a doubt the biggest cause of weight and body problems. Picking a beautiful girl to pose in your company's latest bikini for summer, you set the chosen image up in photo shop and edit her into a completely different being. You cut skin away from her thighs, her waist, her cheeks. You stretch out her legs, improve the lighting over her cheekbones and chest so she looks striking- angular but curvaceous all in one. And when you send this image to print and splash it over the side of buses and in shop windows and the covers of magazines, you force girls to feel that this is how they should look- literally unreal. How can any teenage girl compare to a computer generated image?

The truth is, they can't. And it doesn't matter how many times a girl is told "it's all lighting and special effects", she will still look at this model who has been chosen to represent this huge company, who is being called "divine" and "exquisite" by fans, journalists and other members of the public, who is earning millions of pounds for the way she looks and think I want to look like her. And this is where it begins.

It's just a diet at first, and your parents don't mind. They are more than happy for you to start trying to live a little healthier. You stop snacking during the day, eating only 3 regular meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything is fine- that is, until you stand on the scale. The number has hardly change. You need to do more. So you start to move a bit more- walking to school instead of taking the bus. Maybe starting at the gym, or going running once a week. Your parents are thrilled that they can get you away from the laptop for a while and get you feeling a bit more active. Again, everything is fine until you step on that scale. Still, the number is larger than you would like it to be. Just a couple more pounds, a stone at the most you tell yourself, then, I will be thin and pretty. So you start to skip meals, first one, then two and then them all. You fob off your parents, saying you ate in town, with your friends, you're sick. You work out silently in your room for hours on end- your parents still believe you spend 4 hours a night on your laptop. You can feel yourself getting slimmer now, and your clothes are a little baggier. You feel so proud, accomplished, beautiful. 

At school, no one really notices. No one compliments you on your hard work, no one tells you how slim and pretty you look. No one says you look like a model.

So when your friends pull out the latest cover of Vogue, and gaze longingly at the cover girl who's all angular and sharp and bony, you think I want to be beautiful like that. 

So you work harder and eat less. Your clothes look shapeless on you, you begin to lose hair. As you hang over the toilet and watch your dinner disappear down the plumbing you notice your breath is tainted with the stale smell of vomit. But you just cant stop. You're hooked.

People start to notice, of course. Your friends offer you a finger from their kitkat, half a sandwich. You smile and shake your head and drink from your bottle of water. Water is all you need. Your parents are no longer patient with you. They try to force feed you. They make your portions larger, greasier, more calorific. They tell you that you were beautiful anyway, you still are beautiful, but they dont understand. Not really. The arguments start, between you and your mum, your mum and your dad, you and your friends, your boy friend, your cousin. No one understands and no one will listen. They think that you're ill, that what you're doing is wrong. You don't need to hear this, you don't want to hear this. So you push them all away and close yourself up- it's all you can do.

And then you go upstairs, to the people who do understand. The people with blogs and chatrooms and facebook pages with the word THINSPO spread over them. You see pictures of girls who are skinnier than you, skinnier than anyone you've ever seen. Obviously you aren't working hard enough. These girls, they send you messages and offer you tips and encouragement. Drink lots before your doctor weighs you says one. Invest in some of those pink tictacs for the breath problem says another. Who needs parents or your friends from school when you have these girls online who know exactly how to help you?

At least you thought they were trying to help you. You thought you were trying to help yourself. And then you ended up in a hospital bed, your body to weak to do anything anymore. To walk, to move. To breathe. Is this where it all ends?

Although this story is pure fiction it is a representation of a scenario that happens to people all over the world, every single day. All it takes is one picture to imprint itself into the mouldable mind of a teenage girl and she is lost to the diseases that are anorexia or bulimia. Sometimes, she can even be lost to death.

No one can blame the parents for their naivety at what they thought was a simple diet. No one can blame parents for not understanding. In their time, models looked like Marilyn Monroe. They were thick thighed and curvy and people thought they were stunning. Parent's cant so easily relate to the fragile figures we see spread over magazine covers today- and so can not relate to their daughters hunger (if you'll pardon the pun) to be as slim as they are. They can only sit at their daughters bed side, holding her hand and crying and crying and crying.

Alongside the medias portrayal of the 'perfect' body image, which is only possessed naturally by 5% of women, social networking platforms do not help- namely the popular blogging site, Tumblr. Using the search bar, you can type in words such as thinspo, thinspiration or skinny and the images that come up are- well, to be frank, quite frightening. Girls with bones sticking out where they shouldn't, their eyes big and bug like, their skin pale and paper thin, with tag lines such as "Fasting. Because I will get skinny eventually". What sort of message is this telling our daughters, our sisters, girls all over the world?

What's worse is how easily images like this can be accessed, even with a safety lock on the search bar. Every where a girl turns she is confronted with images of women who don't really exist and made to believe that this is the ideal body image.

Is it getting better? 
It comes and goes in lulls. Sometimes it seems the world is moving in a more positive direction, when you see popular female icons refusing to have a photoshopped image of herself used to represent a brand- such as Beyonce for H and M. Tumblr, known for glamorizing mental health problems such as eating disorders recently added this message to the site when searching for the word 'thinspo'.


But advertising companies are still using stick thin girls more often than not. And tumblr- alongside other forms of social media- have not banned images normalizing or glamorizing eating disorders completely, making them accessible to more influential minds every single day- and it needs to stop. 

Eating disorders aren't just to do with food. They are a form of mental health problem. There is nothing glamorous about starving yourself. There is nothing glamorous about being ill. Anorexia, bulimia, they can all affect so much more than just the size and shape of your body. They eat away at your mind, they cause your relationships with everyone to fall apart. They can lead to other negative addictions such as smoking and drugs. They can lead to further mental health issues such as self harming and depression. And although you may see images or text with quotes saying "kiss my cuts and fix me up", or words to that effect, no one is going to do that. There is nothing romantic about being ill. Yes, there will always be people who love you and stand by to support you and help you on your road to recovery. But in the end, only you can help yourself. You can listen to what the doctors and councilors say, you can listen to therapists and parents but in the end it's down to you to want to get better- and once you recognize that you want to get better, the recovery will start. You may relapse. You may have to start over and over. But once you start with that positive mind set, it will get better. It could take days, months, years but you will get there. It is important that you never give up.  

So I restart my evening meal at the pub and look at the situation in a new light. I see this girl, who before I viewed as slender, as a very sick young lady. I no longer see her bones as angular and delicate but as fragile and jutting out of her skin. I notice the salad on her plate and realize that it is the least calorific thing on the menu. I see her sipping that water, depending on it to keep her from passing out from the lack of food. And I see that she needs help. 

If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, it is important to speak up. Tell a friend, a parent or a responsible adult if you do not feel comfortable talking to the affected person directly. Many people, when asked why they didn't tell anyone, will answer with "because no one asked". Go up to people. Ask if they're okay. Help them out, and save a life. You don't need to starve to be beautiful. Just be healthy. You are beYOUtiful. 

Love from,
Florence Grace

All images my own.

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8 comments

  1. what a brilliant brilliant post young lady! x

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  2. As a recovered anorexic, I am so pleased that you have done a pot like this. Well done to you! xx
    Sam | Samantha Betteridge

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    1. Thank you so much...it means so much to me when people who have actually been affected by this approve of what I have written! XX

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  3. Dear Florence,

    As someone still somewhat recovering from a struggle with an eating disorder, I find this post ignorant, and downright offensive. Albeit the fact that the article itself is one of the worst pieces of ‘journalistic’ writing I’ve seen in a while, let me pose some questions: have you actually ever suffered from one of such eating disorders you claim to know so much about? Or perhaps underwent education on how to deal with those who have? If not, what gives you the right to give people advice on such a serious topic? In fact, there is so much wrong with your post, I really feel the need to outline it, and delve into the root of the problem, to make you aware of your ignorance and toxicity.

    1. Let’s begin with your ‘epilogue’ at the pub. You claim to see a girl eating a salad and drinking water. Your immediate conclusion is summed up by: “She sips constantly at her water like it's the only thing keeping her alive. It probably is.” Can you please explain to me how you arrived at such diagnosis? Clearly, you are either a clone of Disney’s Baymax, able to place a medical diagnosis through sight alone, or you are imposing your own agenda upon an unassuming member of the public, based purely on the fact that they are eating salad and drinking water. Does this mean that each time you see someone consuming such a meal in public, you come to the conclusion that they are indeed at the brink of death and desperate for help? Since you continue with this story later, I too will conclude my opinion further down.

    2. I do somewhat understand your argument about the media, and I agree to an extent. Of course we are all subjected to a particular discourse surrounding body image, and though progress can be noted, we are far from the representation that should occur. Here however is where our like-mindedness ends. Although media has a huge impact, it is not the sole reason for eating disorders. The fact that you simply reduce all eating disorders to a teenage girl looking at a magazine is disgraceful. To generalise all kinds of people who struggle with this simply to naïve young-girls who only care about how they look does nothing to help the cause, and in fact, perpetuates the stigma around the subject. Firstly, it is insulting to all those suffering from such disorders who are not women, or teenage girls, for your post clearly invalidates their suffering. And secondly – and perhaps more importantly, as this seems to be your target audience – it completely reduces teenage girls to a stereotype of self-obsessed, unthinking cardboard cut-outs, something that as you may see, does not in any way help to validate their experiences. You come across as a condescending on-looker, who clearly has no idea of what the reality of such suffering can bring.

    3. Speaking of experiences, your “fictional” story of how eating disorders play out is perhaps one of the most problematic parts of your post. It does exactly what you claim is harmful - namely the romanticising of a mental health issues. The way it is written reads as if, once again, if you do not follow the particular pattern ascribed by your fictional fantasies, then you are clearly not suffering from an eating disorder. Just to point out, though this may be the case for some, I can guarantee that your little fable has nothing to do with how majority of eating disorders actually develop, or how they are experienced. Instead, it seems like a rapport built from countless films and writings, which tend to portray it in this particular way. Let me just ask, why do you feel justified in your attempt to speak for a whole group while being clearly uninformed about the subject? Do you really think that there is a formula you must follow in order to be validated in your suffering? Do you really think it’s your parents being happy that you’re no longer on your laptop? That each time you lose weight you feel more beautiful and accomplished? Well, let me tell you something. [...continued]

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  4. [...]Though, unlike you, I will not claim to speak for all, my personal experiences differed to the point where I find this highly offensive. Firstly, you have equated most forms of eating disorders into a one linear progression. I hope that you do realise that there are many types, all which are distinctively different? You can be anorexic without being bulimic, or have tendencies for binge-eating without being anorexic.

    4. As you acknowledge later, eating disorders are a mental illness. Yet, what you seem to be ignorant about is that mental illnesses are not just likely addictions to “drugs or smoking”, or something that can later lead to depression. The fact that you seem to think that all it’s about is looking a particular way so that you can ‘match’ the models and celebrities you observe upsets me beyond belief. One thing I can tell you from personal experience is that eating disorders are about control. Though for some, it might result in a desire to look in a particular way, for many, including myself, it occupies the form of endless calculations, and obsession with food. For me, it manifested itself as an internal battle – a full knowledge of the fact that I was hurting myself and those around me, but a strong desire that I had the ‘will’ to not depend on food, that food could not rule over my life. You cannot even begin to imagine the countless times I have looked at myself in the mirror, seeing the ‘bones’ and ‘angles’ that you clearly point out, with absolute disgust, rather than glory, because I knew that I was causing irreplaceable damage. But this is the thing with mental illness – you can’t just tell yourself to “stop”, as you seem to claim so easily done. The fact that you place yourself as the main authority, the voice of reason who can help the suffering masses is nothing short of disgusting vanity. I really don’t need a teenage girl with no knowledge or experience of eating disorders telling me that the family, friends, or experts don’t matter, but that I should listen to her because she tells me that I’m beautiful and that I should love myself on her blog. What makes you think you have the right to be so patronising? Just because I suffer from a mental illness does not entitle you to treat me like a naïve child. Do you think me, or many others haven’t heard this millions of times before? Do you think we’re stupid enough not to know all this bullshit without you ‘selflessly’ pointing it out for us? Do you really think that someone suffering from an eating disorder would read your message and suddenly be ‘cured’ because all they needed was someone telling them that they’re beautiful, and that all this is just in their heads? Yes, it is in my head, and that’s exactly what makes it so difficult.

    5. Going back to your portrayal of parents in this post - how can you even begin to write such nonsense? You think that just because they are from a different generation, none of them suffered from anything similar? This, once again, reinforces your uninformed belief that only self-obsessed teenage girls can experience eating disorders. Really? You think all parents ‘just don’t get it’.. once again, how do you know this?? I’ll have you known that if it wasn’t for the understanding of my parents, I probably wouldn’t even be here, so all I have to say about this is please stop with the generalisations and your sick, uninformed opinions – really, nobody needs them. To reduce the parents of those affected to weeping figures at their children’s deathbeds is incredibly rude and just unimaginably disturbing – you really need to rethink your attitudes. […continued]

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  5. […]6. Now, after all of this, let’s go back to your fable of the pub. You look at this girl, and suddenly all you feel is sympathy, because somehow, across the room, with your magical skills you have managed to diagnose her with your idea of what an eating disorder looks like. There are many issues to consider here. Firstly, you do realise that eating disorders do not just affect people that you, quite offensively call ‘bony’? When I began to be affected, I was a UK size 14 – something that often goes amiss because of such a stereotype that you are perpetuating. Because of such harmful discourse, I did not recognise the damaging effects of my behaviour until it was too late, so you too should really consider what you are advocating here. Secondly, what you seem to propose here is that every ‘skinny’ person suffers from eating disorders. “Go up to people. Ask if they're okay. Help them out, and save a life.” Really?! Are you proposing here that every time you see someone eat a small meal [and drink water], you should go up to them and tell them that they are mentally ill? Are you actually kidding me?? Please consider what you have just proposed. I’m not sure how much you would like someone approach you and comment on your eating habits while out in public, but I can assure you that you wouldn’t be happy if a stranger commented on the damaging effects of your “generous portion of gammon and chips”.

    So please, do not tell me: “You don't need to starve to be beautiful. Just be healthy. You are beYOUtiful.” I’m not stupid. I do not need to be told such bullshit. What I do need, is for you to educate yourself on what eating disorders actually represent, and to not advise people on things that you have no clue about. To conclude – unless you have directly experienced something, or you have undergone sufficient education in the field, do not ever tell people how they should be validated or how they should act. You have no right. You are sending an awful message to your readers, which, by the way, is the only reason I’m posting this comment. To quote one of your more recent posts, “Do you know that you toxic”?

    Love,
    Kasia

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    1. Thanks for your comments. I appreciate the time you put into analysing my post and I have definitely taken your opinions on board. However, having written this post FOR a handful of very important people to me who suffered with eating disorders and having run this by them and having had them praise it, share it and enjoy it, I remain satisfied with this piece. I am sorry you feel differently on the matter and do sincerely apologise for the upset, anger and annoyance it has caused you- but it was written for my friends who had suffered and they appreciated it, so in this instance, that's what matters to me.

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