How We Help Anorexia Grow Stronger

Anorexia: a terrible, life altering illness that wreaks havoc on the lives of all kinds of people.  A disease characterized by a compulsive need to limit and control every calorie that enters one’s body to the point of starvation with no end in sight, because anorexia ensures that it’s victims never feel good enough, thin enough, perfect enough to stop. A disease that can be triumphed over, often after countless hours of intensive therapy and careful, conscious monitoring for years and years and years to come. At the same time, a disease that can kill if not recognized and confronted in time.

All of this and yet, in American culture, anorexia takes on a very different categorization: an insult to be hurled at women deemed “too thin,” something that many think will just go away if only the woman in question were to “eat a sandwich.” Anorexia has become a weapon, a judgment, a body type.

For instance:

“Eating 60 Times a Day and Still Looks Anorexic, Lizzie Velasquez Has Undiagnosed Medical Condition” [Headline from Gather: Life & Style]

“She’s thin but doesn’t look anorexic or malnourished.” [Evil Slutopia]

ETA: This comment got somewhat unfairly lumped in here. It does not use anorexic as an insult, this is true. My issue was that it still implies that anorexia has a specific “look.” This just goes to show that all of us, even awesome feminists, need to constantly be questioning the words we use!

“Lindsay Lohan Looks Anorexic Again [...] ” [Headline from Hollywood Grind]

“Everything is wrong about this story -EVERYTHING (and don’t you dare rip into me about calling this girl anorexic, I don’t even want to hear it, let’s just call a spade a spade already and stop with this PC non-sense).” [From Mama Vision]

You get the point.

While we hurl accusations of anorexia left and right at waif-like women, anorexia (the disease, not the judgment) grows stronger, and claims more victims every day. We enable anorexia with our ignorance and, seriously, this has to stop now.

Pasting an “anorexic” label on every thin woman we come across perpetuates the misconception that all people with anorexia look the same way. This is a myth that many psychologists even buy into, including the ones who created the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual IV.

I, for one, think this is ridiculous. Anorexia (or any eating disorder) is, at it’s core, a set of unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns that center around the idea of control.  If you go by the DSM IV definition, a person can go to bed without anorexia one night (weighing, for instance, 105 pounds), wake up in the morning one pound lighter, and… surprise! Suddenly they qualify for anorexia.

I mean, how does this make sense? Shouldn’t we be diagnosing people waaaay before this point, so they can get help waaaaaay before they wind up so thin that their lives are at risk? What am I missing here?

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It All Comes Down to Trust

Crossposted @ Amplify

2527823509_bcd5c660afRecently I was struck by the decision of a Wyoming school to offer two sex education courses, one abstinence only and one comprehensive, in order to allow parents to choose which education their children will be receiving. On the surface this may seem like a slight step forward, progress in the sense that at least all of the information is now being offered. This is what I originally thought, and yet, there was a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t go away, a feeling that told the truth: nothing has changed.

The thing is, the whole sex-education debate boils down to trust in the end. Do we (society, parents, school administrators, etc.) trust teenagers enough to make wise decisions, once armed with all of the information? What this decision (and others) show us is that, obviously, we do not (at least not in this school district and others like it.)

While I find the idea of two separate classes completely ridiculous (teenagers who choose abstinence for now will still, most likely, need to know about contraceptives and safe sex later in life. Why not get them the education now?) I do think that this program could have seemed like progress to me – if it empowered the teens. If the school district were to allowed the students to decide which class they would like to attend then I could appreciate this program more because it would symbolize the school district, and the parents, trusting their teens enough to take license over their own sex education and, by extension, their own bodies.
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Disney Princesses & Dissapearing Waistlines

Watching The Rescuers earlier this week with some feminist friends got me to thinking about Disney movies (again) and the messages that they portray. With this in mind I noticed a few things while looking through the Disney Princesses that I’d like to take some time to highlight here:

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If you line the princesses up chronologically, in the order their movies were released, some things become strangely apparent. Look at their waistlines – although Snow White starts off incredibly thin, as time goes by the princesses only get thinner and thinner. The 1960s are when the real thin ideal came into its full force in our culture – is it a coincidence that Disney princesses had started shrinking in the decade before? Its true that culture informs media, but it goes the other way too – little girls who grow up idolizing impossibly thin princesses become young women who perpetuate and buy into the idea that thin is the only acceptable form of beauty and one should strive to be thin, regardless of the price. Obviously Disney is not the only perpetrator of this ideal (but considering its constantly growing power, revenue, and influence it plays a large role) and all little girls do not grow up and internalize this message, but enough of them do to make a difference – as evidenced by the shifting ideals between 1950 and 1960.

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In Opposition of Objectification

This post has been in my head, and in the works for about a week now… it is partially responsible for the delay in new posts, but after arguing about this with several people I simply could not let it go until I fully understood my own beliefs. My hope is that this is not too much of a personal rant, and can serve to help other people who may be struggling with an unnameable discomfort with objectification in the mainstream of society.

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body-lymphTo preface this pseudo-rant I want to make something clear from the start: I do believe that women (and men, for that matter) have every right to utilize their bodies in whatever manner they choose; wear what they want, engage in sexual activity with whoever they choose to, under whatever circumstances they desire, and so on.

At the same time, I have a deep-seated discomfort with societal practices that objectify the human body; like bikini competitions, for instance.

At first glance these two beliefs seem to contradict each other a great deal, however, with some thought I believe the two make sense together…

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Great Graffitti

 

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Graffiti has been around as a form of expression for centuries – dating back as far as ancient Greek and Roman times (if not farther!) Some graffiti portrays negative messages and images but there are many artists who have begun to take the medium beyond hatred and vandalism and use it as a method of political commentary, a way to incite social change, or just as a way to brighten someone’s day.

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Why not create some positive graffiti (or other graffiti like forms of expression) in your own neighborhood? You don’t have to be an artist, you don’t have to vandalize anything, the project can be as big or as small as you want. For instance, why don’t you…

  • See if your school or other community building would let you create a mural somewhere on the premises?
  • Get some sticker paper at a crafts tore and create little stickers to put up around town?
  • Write some encouraging messages on post-it notes and scatter them wherever you go?
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  • Get some sidewalk chalk and make a transitory statement on your sidewalk, driveway, in a parking lot… wherever!
  • Stick a positive bumper sticker on your car.

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Reframing (Literally)

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Over the time I spent with my therapist last year (no shame, therapy is a wonderful addition to anyone’s life) we spent a lot of time teaching me how to “reframe” stressful events so that I could cope better with anxiety and improve my outlook on life. I’ve found this strategy to be incredibly rewarding in so many aspects of my life that I’d like all of you to try a very literal interpretation that may help you to begin your own “reframing” process…

1) Go on facebook, look through your photo albums, whatever… find a picture of yourslef that you do not like.

2) Pin that picture up somewhere, frame it, put it on your wall… just place it somewhere that you’re going to see it a lot for the next week or so.

3) Every time you pass that picture find one thing about it that you like. (Maybe your hair looks great, or you have a fantastic grin?)

4) If you feel up to it, show off that picture in the comments and tell us what you love!

I bet by the end of the week you’ll be feeling much, much better about that picture… and maybe even about your body image as a whole.

Now imagine trying this exercise metaphorically…. with job challenges, relationship issues, people you dislike… wouldn’t life be much better if we all just focused on pulling out the good in things?