28 February 2010

NEDAW - Awareness or hype?

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week has ended and while I appreciate the effort of the many people with eating disorders and professionals who have worked hard to spread knowledge and awareness, this year's NEDAW has been a severe disappointment to me for several reasons.

First the media coverage has been limited at best and often erroneous at worst. For example, one recent article at the college newspaper where I am a grad student, Central Michigan University, (and I hold them to same professional journalistic standards that I expected from myself when I was a full-time journalist — if you can't take the heat, get the hell out of the kitchen) featured an article about a friend of mine who has been in residential treatment for six months. Not only did this article repeatedly mention her weight (she weighed this at this time, she weighs this now, she needs to weigh this to be healthy, and so on, ad nauseum), basically reducing her illness to nothing but bunch of numbers (and I suspect the author did it solely for the shock value), the article then proceeded to quote a CMU associate university professor to whit: “I think that a lot of kids are overweight and, when they get to high school and college, they realize that it’s not attractive."

To say I was incensed would be an understatement, and I proceeded to write them a very heated comment about how the media needs to be a bit more sensitive in reporting on eating disorders, and if the writer isn't capable of doing that, perhaps she should stop writing until she is able to gain a bit more sense. 

Another example is "Victoria Beckham uses anorexic pin-up in show", an article supposedly taking Beckham to task for using a model with anorexia - Eugenia, who is very public about her pro-ana views - in her show during London's recent Fashion Week. The article included a prominent picture of Eugenia, nude and ... well, looking anorexic and labeled as "the Russian doll." The article also included this quote by Eugenia: “Call it whatever you want, pro-ana, calorie restriction, bulimia, vanity, anorexia – it is the desire for perfection.” (Let's overlook the fact that Beckham herself appears anorexic, no matter how many times she denies she doesn't have an eating disorder. She also defended her use of size zero models, and I'm not surprised.) What do you think women got out of this article? That anorexia nervosa is a dangerous illness or that women are basically clothes hangers and inanimate objects, i.e. a "doll?"

The second issue I have with both NEDAW and coverage of eating disorders in general is the almost total lack of any information about adult-onset anorexia (or other eating disorders.) I developed anorexia at the age of 41, and yet many, if not most of these activities have been aimed at those who developed eating disorders at a young age. There are different issues surrounding both the manifestations and recovery issues of eating disorders in different age groups.

It feels very weird to go for four decades without an eating disorder and then suddenly develop anorexia and be plunged into a world of IP, feeding tubes, therapy and the like; it feels like a thief snatched away the real me and left this person who is consumed 24/7 by anorexia. The feeling is often one of unreality - where did the real Angela go? And will she ever come back? I would like to see SOME information about adult-onset eating disorders, if only to make me feel less alone and strange. (I'm currently working on a journal article about my own experiences with adult-onset anorexia and plan to expand it into a book, so I guess I won't have much competition, anyway!) 
And this brings me to my final point - the whole "Love Your Body" campaign. Pre-anorexia, I didn't have any significant body issues and I did not develop anorexia based on any desire to be thin - I already was too thin! My body image issues cropped up after I developed anorexia. I do struggle with gaining weight and feeling fat, but I feel these issues have not been a significant component either in my struggles to recover nor during my recent relapse. I know I am too thin and the weight I am right now is not healthy. So what does that knowledge do for me? Not much.

Recent work with my doctor suggests that for me, anorexia is most likely trauma-based and fueled by almost relentless self-hatred and self-destructive tendencies. There are many articles and essays out there addressing the connection between the development of eating disorders and trauma. Eating-Disorder.com covers it comprehensively in its article, "Eating Disorders and Trauma", stating that more than 50 percent of patients with eating disorders have experienced serious trauma, such as childhood physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse. I fail to see how NEDAW addressed this significant issue. 

In conclusion, NEDAW basically felt like a feel-good week aimed at a 'let's all be positive' mentality — forgetting the pain of eating disorders and God help those who were struggling with a relapse during this cheerleading period. The week has closed, but those with eating disorders will continue to struggle as the hype dies down. Instead of an overhyped NEDAW, why not awareness — period?

(Thanks to Carrie Arnold at ED Bites for originally inspiring me to write this post. Her post can be found at "On NEDAW")


Daisy said...

Thanks for writing this Angela. I think your blog will help others who struggle with ED, whether personally or in their friends/families.

Barbara and Daisy

Fiona Place said...

This so well written - so acutely observed - thank you Angela. And yes, the media's constantly focus on weight/on body image isn't helpful. Especially since for many women it isn't about how they look - but rather about about wanting to be in control.
As the author of a book that focus on the issues surrounding language, narrative and identity rather than food and weight I can only say yes yes yes - you are so right.

Missing In Sight said...

Excellent article. Very well written and insightful. Made me stop and think of those who develop anorexia in their adulthood.

Eating Alone said...

You just hit me right in the heart Angela. That comment about where did I go. I started down the path in my late 20's early 30's, not really sure (men don't get ED's after all) I was still functional for a long time till I was around 38. Now in therapy looking back I can see how small my life became and how much pain and crap I was in but I wasn't able to see my way out.

I don't know if I'll ever get back to the old "david" but I will get to one that is healthy. One that enjoy's himself again.

Good luck on your journey.

lisalisa said...

I agree, too much emphasis is places on numbers, as if that is what it is all about. But that is just a symptom! As you know, it goes much deeper than that.
Look forward to reading your book/article.