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When Suffering Isn't Always Visible - Eating Disorder Awareness Week
Gallery image found on Recovery Resources
I think that society has come a long way in creating awareness and starting conversations regarding mental illnesses, including eating disorders. However, there are a lot of gaps in this awareness, especially as it pertains to the many, many individuals who may not present as the stereotypical sufferer. I think we have all seen countless images of emaciated bodies to “raise awareness” for anorexia and while it’s obviously important to discuss the pain and suffering that this disease causes, I don’t know how helpful it is to continue using emaciated images as the poster child for eating disorders. What does this do for the majority of those with eating disorders whose suffering is dismissed or invalidated because they don’t “look” like they have an eating disorder?
The truth is, there is no “look.” Eating disorders come in all sizes, races, ages, and genders. A very small percentage of those with eating disorders fall into the category of emaciation, and while these cases are obviously incredibly life-threatening, eating disorders can involve serious or even fatal medical complications at any weight. At the same time, these complications aren’t necessary for a disorder to be real and valid. Eating disorders are primarily a psychological disorder, one which happens to have physical consequences at times. The bottom line is this: just because it might not be externally obvious that someone is suffering, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t and it doesn’t mean that their disorder isn’t serious.
Because of this misrepresentation in eating disorder awareness, I often feel that my disorder isn’t and hasn’t been serious. Despite having a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa binge/purge subtype, I have never been close to the point of emaciation. It’s quite sad that so many with eating disorders have been made to feel that their struggle cannot be real, just because we don’t match the image that is so often portrayed in the media. There have been many times throughout my eating disorder when even though I was heavily restricting or fasting for days at a time, because of the bingeing/purging in between, to outsiders I appeared “normal.” The inner torment that plagues our every minute, has us constantly berating ourselves, always thinking about food, feeling unworthy of taking up space, desperate for control, and wanting to punish ourselves... well, it’s real and it’s exhausting.
People need to know that they warrant and deserve help no matter what weight they are. Let this be part of your message, because if your awareness and advocacy doesn’t acknowledge that eating disorders can exist at any size and that suffering isn’t always visible, then it isn’t complete.
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