I am often frustrated by the ways in which eating disorders are portrayed and talked about in the media.Although it is important to raise awareness of these often misunderstood mental illnesses some media portrayals of ED’s can do more harm than good.
Netflix have recently released a trailer for a film about anorexia and I feel it is a false and rather stereotypical portrayal of what it is like to suffer with an eating disorder.Eating disorders are so complex and there are many different social,biological and psychological factors which combine to offset an eating disorder.It is more than just counting calories.The complexity makes it hard to accurately depict the struggle ED sufferes face.
Furthermore eating disorders are highly individual.Two people may struggle with anorexia but have completely different reasons for developing the ED,triggeres,behaviours e.t.c While some people may count calories,others may not.Some exercise,some don’t.Some struggle with body image,some don’t.The film reinforces the stereotypical image of anorexia,a young white,underweight girl.While some fit this description others do not.In reality anorexia affects people of all genders,races and backgrounds and one does not have to be severely underweight to have a “valid” and life threatening eating disorder.Anorexia does not look a certain way.It is a MENTAL disorder.Weightloss,obsession with food e.t.c are only symptoms of the eating disorder and it is much more about what is going on in your head.
It is not about food.On the outside it may appear that way but food and weight can be used to deal with what’s going on in your head,low self esteem,the past,the future,external circumstances,to manage other mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.When I Started receiving outpatient treatment in September I did not quite understand or believe my nurse when she said it’s not really about food and weight.Its only after a while I began to understand that my ED behaviours were used to manage fears,worries,low self esteem,anxiety,relationship conflicts e.t.c
That’s what makes eating disorder recovery so hard.It is not just the physical recovery that can be extremely tough but finding out why you “needed” the behaviours in the first place and what purpose they serve for you.It can be hard and scary to look at yourself honestly.If an ED was only about counting calories as depicted in the trailer than eating disorders would not be so hard to recover from.Eating disorder behaviours and addictive and not just a poor life choice.
Just as ED’s are different for everyone so is recovery.The majority of ED sufferes are not admitted to hospital,that does not mean they are not “sick enough” or worthy of recovery.The film gives the impression that it is easy for people to access effective or adequate treatment.It also gives the false impression that people do not want to recover why this may be true for some it may not be for others.When I started tratment in September I jumped into recovery and weight restored extremely quickly,I was desperate to recover,no one forced me.Yes I had my doubts and fears and wanted to relapse many times but in the end only YOU can recover.Others can support you but in the end it has to come from within you.
The film may also fail to explain how early life or other things people have gone through such as trauma link to the development of an ED or the onset of a relapse.It may fail to highlight the way an ED can be central to ones identity and therefore extremely hard to give up,the way in which it is used to manage feelings which feel intolerable or external circumstances which feel beyond the sufferes control.Media often focuses on diet and fashion industries as being to blame for someone developing an ED and fail to highlight the other factors of societal oppression which people face.Yes for some diet talk and pressure from social media to be thin can play a part in the eating disorder but eating disorders are more complex than that and what is true for one person may not be for another.I for example could not care less about diet talk.It was never the reason I struggled with an ED.
I worry the film may glamourise anorexia and portray a young girl who gets lots of attention and care from friends and family for struggling with an ED which can further reinforce the stigma that eating disorders are for attention seeking.There is NOTHING glamorous about eating disorders and they are nothing to aspire to.The health implications are not glamorous,they are ugly,embarrassing and sad.As an example when I was 15 I wet the bed a couple times when at my worst due to probably having weak bladder muscles and water loading.I also remeber eating lunch in the school toilet when I tried to recover due to not being able to eat around friends.It is often embarrassing to have an eating disorder and you can feel completely mortified about how your health is deteriorating but too terrified to make changes.I don’t think the film can depict the shame,guilt,sadness,panick,feeling of free fall into the illness ,denial and being completely trapped that eating disorder sufferers may experience.
The trailer kind of humours eating disorders and shows a mother almost making a joke by making a cake for the daughter which says “eat up Ellen”.Well how about showing a mother who is up all night worried for her daughters life!?And what about People who do not have their families support?What about the anger,resentment and hopelessness that family members may have?What about the guilt,Shame and self blame sufferes experience?I considered moving out countless times during the first two months of recovery as it was just too much stress and tension between me and my parents.
Another thing which concerns me is that the lead actress lost weight for the role and she has a past of anorexia.I don’t agree with someone going on a diet (unless of course they need to lose weight for health reasons)But especially someone with a past eating disorder.
I just don’t think we need a film out there that is sending false messages of what it is like to suffer with an eating disorder and for sufferes to feel unworthy of recovery or that their struggle is not valid because they do not meet the stereotypical eating disorder presented in the film.
An eating disorder is not so much about food and weight and looks.Its a coping mechanism,a way of blocking out feelings,a need for control.Ironically the further you fall into the eating disorder the more control you lose.You don’t see yourself as others do.
It’s not just wanting to be thin,
It’s about wanting to eat but not being able to or being out of control and unable to stop.
Its wanting to get better but fearing losing control.Its slapping a smile on your face and acting ok
Its living a double life.
Avoiding socialising and webs of lies.
It’s loneliness and isolation.
It’s pushing people away so they don’t see this part of you.
It’s missing out on life.
It’s not being vain or ungrateful,it’s an escape and a terrible addiction.
It affects people of all ages and backgrounds.
It’s not about being an attention seeker.
It’s wanting to dissappear and not be seen and looking as small and insignificant as you feel.
It puts you at risk of osteoporosis and amenorrhea.It’s hairloss,muscle cramps and dehydration.
It’s gaps in memory,sleepless nights and waking up at 2 am with pins and needles worrying your heart will stop.
Its strained relationships
Lies and loss of trust
Guilt,shame and blame.
It’s not a choice,not something to aspire to and is different for everyone struggling!
Most importantly though it can be beaten!