This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The theme this year is “I had no idea”, drawing attention to the fact that although eating disorders are all around us, they remain private, mysterious, and often invisible. NEDA has a quiz on their website with some pretty surprising facts that dispel some of the myths about EDs and show just how pervasive they’ve become. For instance, did you know that there are more people in the United States with eating disorders than there are with green eyes? Take a look at the quiz and test your knowledge. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable when it comes to EDs, but I didn’t manage to score 100%.
This year’s NEDAW theme raises a question that I find myself thinking about a lot: have disordered eating behaviors become so normal in our society that we’re losing track of what actual normal eating is*? So many of us are trying to conform to a beauty standard that is literally impossible for us to live up to–are we getting so used to the restrictive or other extreme food-related behaviors that seem to go hand-in-hand with chasing this impossible ideal that we no longer even notice them? It’s possible that when we say, “I had no idea”, part of what we mean is “I didn’t think this was disordered, it doesn’t seem unusual to me.” I want to be sure to note here that disordered eating and eating disorders are different things (I’m not using them interchangeably), but since disordered eating might as well be considered a gateway drug, I think it’s valid to discuss them both here.
I go through phases where I feel like there’s no point in continuing to talk about how photoshopped all the pictures we see are, or how nice it would be to see more diversity in body shapes and sizes. I mean, we all know this, right? Every picture has been retouched. We don’t all look like supermodels. And the images we’re exposed to that create this standard aren’t going to change anyway. As for my part, who’s even reading this stuff I write about body image positivity and eating disorders, anyway? What’s the point? There’s nothing I can do that will have a big enough impact to change anything. It’s discouraging to feel like you’re up against something so big and ingrained. But then I see facts like the ones below, and realize that no matter what, we can’t stop talking about these things, we can’t ignore them, and we can’t give up. Calling out the many ways in which our society encourages and rewards disordered eating will never stop being important, and it has to be done. So even though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there’s no such thing as a perfect body, every body is just as good as every other one, and most importantly, every body deserves to be loved.
*I know the word “normal” often has less-than-neutral connotations when used in a context like this one. It’s definitely not an ideal word, but it’s the best I can come up with. I mean, trying to work out an alternative to “normal” is a post unto itself.