Anne (ajva) wrote,

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noodle on problem with ED representation

I've just been looking at this story on the BBC website about the Royal College of Psychiatrists saying that the media contributes to the development of eating disorders in vulnerable people, particularly the young. Obviously this is a topic that comes up again and again, but one thing I've never seen explicitly acknowledged is something that struck me long ago as a bit of a problem.

It is this: when a celebrity who used to have an eating disorder but has recovered from it is seen talking about their recovery, how they beat the eating disorder and so on, it gives out one particular signal that is a little dangerous: that it is not uncommon among slender successful celebrities to have had a teenage history of an eating disorder, which they then overcame. To many teenagers vulnerable to the idea, this is perhaps going to send out the message that having a *history* of an eating disorder can be a useful step to becoming famous, provided you then overcome it a bit. Very few people start out along the path of an ED intending to die of it, but for a significant minority, that's exactly what happens, not to mention the greater numbers who suffer long-term non-fatal but serious damage to their health. But of course, in the mind of the young teenager, it probably looks like this: if you can be anorexic for, say, five years, then you can get "nice and slim" and then recover from it a little, not too much, and then still be slim and talk about the hardcore bits of your thinness "apprenticeship" on TV, and be seen as doubly strong - once for the determination to acquire an ED, and once for "getting over it". Job done.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I saw a twelve-year-old girl on BBC Breakfast talking about recovering from anorexia. She looked much older than her years suggested, and the way she spoke was similarly mature for her age. I could not help but think that she sees her eating disorder, and her subsequent ongoing recovery, as being an important step in growing up. But of course the trouble is, in order to have the life experience of being in recovery from an eating disorder, and to gain all the "life points kudos" - if I can put it like that - therefrom, one must actually develop an eating disorder in the first place. Where is the incentive, then, *not* to develop an eating disorder, if it makes you seem less of a grown-up at that age? That might seem like a frivolous question, but I'm deadly serious, because at that age we're all desperate to appear grown-up. And at the same time, the virtues of righteous self-control and striving to appear beautiful are being impressed on us perhaps more than at any other age. As I've alluded to already, it takes a will of iron to starve yourself, and thereby - in the fucked-up teenage psychology (but not so far removed from fucked-up adult psychology - just with fewer life distractions) - you prove that you're strong. And of course, if bulimia's your poison, you're probably going to feel like a bit of a failure at eating disorders, not being as iron-willed as the anorexics. What a screwy hierarchy, eh?

Now, I'm not saying we should ban people from talking about ED recovery in the media, but it does seem to me that this is an unfortunate consequence of such stories being so widespread. I'm not sure what you'd do to combat the problem, but maybe acknowledging its existence would be a good start.
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