Whenever I tell people that I work in a treatment facility for girls and women fighting eating disorders the response I get is generally one of admiration. “Wow that must be really tough.” “That is such a problem.” “We really need to do more about that.”
But the conversation usually ends there.
In general, people agree that eating disorders, and the more common, but less talked about, disordered eating, are bad. But no one is actually willing to talk about it. Like most mental illnesses, talking about eating disorders, disordered eating, and how to prevent them is pretty much taboo. Why? Because I think it makes us uncomfortable and we really hate being uncomfortable. We feel awkward and uncomfortable talking about eating disorders because when we start the conversation, we realize how inundated our culture is with messages that encourage disordered eating and eating disorders. We also see how our own thoughts, habits, and goals could easily lead us to disordered eating so it’s just easier to attempt to stuff the elephant in the room in the closet. It is so easy to access information that tells us we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, etc. It has become normal, applauded even. And then we wonder why so many girls at younger and younger ages are saying they need to lose weight or they need to go on a diet, etc.
Recently I was talking to a friend who is the mother of a ten year old girl. Madeline loves Star Wars, Minecraft, soccer, Harry Potter, and Legos. She’s a pretty normal ten year old except this year she got teased at school for being skinny. Now she sees being skinny as a goal. She will tell her mom she needs to lose a pound. How many of us have similar stories we could tell about little girls we love?
So yes, we need to open the conversation. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown discusses shame (and let’s be honest, mental illness, eating disorders, disordered eating and skewed body image are shameful things). She says, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. . . If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. . . If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame, and destroy it” (Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, 2012, pg. 58, bold added).
The moment we start talking about disordered eating, anorexia, bulimia, purging, and binge eating, we gain power over them because in talking about them we join together as a people to stop these deadly disorders from happening in the future.
So let’s start the conversation! Talk to your daughters and sons about social media – about what is real and what is not. Remind each other – in your comments, compliments and criticisms – that it is not their weight, waist size, or pant size that matters, but that it is their character, personality, and talents. Tune in to people that are already talking about eating disorders and how to prevent them (try National Eating Disorder Association or Beauty Redefined). Catch yourself before you body shame yourself or others. Engage in positive conversations about yourself, about others, about life! It may be a small step or a big step, but let’s do it. Because when we start talking, we come together. And when we come together, we are powerful.