I got on Pinterest just before writing this post – just as a last minute attempt at visualizing the statistics of anorexia. And that is what I expected to find – posts fighting against being emaciated – against anorexia nervosa. But when I searched “anorexia”, I did not find those cute graphics that I was looking for – graphics telling me the percentage of the world population struggling with the disorder and lists of how to combat it.
No. For the first time, Pinterest did not give me what I wanted to see.
I cannot write a light-hearted post about anorexia nervosa because it is a disease that is serious, mentally, emotionally, and physically, down to the soul – to the core of the one who struggles with it. Medicinenet.com defines it like this: “An eating disorder characterized by markedly reduced appetite or total aversion to food. Anorexia is a serious psychological disorder”. This disorder can be fatal.
When you google anorexia, you find help for eating disorders. But on Pinterest, where real people pin and re-pin what they want from the internet, you find tips on how to be as skinny as possible. Just like in magazines and in our society, being skinny is glamourized.
I went through the first 102 pins that came up in my search – just out of curiousity. There were only 16 that had any sort of anti-anorexic mentality – four books about surviving an eating disorder, a sweatshirt proclaiming “I beat anorexia”, and some sad quotes that showed how difficult it is to beat an eating disorder. Only 15% of the first 102 pins were anti-anorexia.
The other 86 pins? On my count, 34 of them were just of underweight girls – some with words glorifying starvation, exercise, or self-hatred. 37 other pins were solely dedicated to losing weight, including “ana tips”. Apparently, chewing ice burns 55 calories per cube.
This post was going to give you statistics and attempt to help readers become a little more aware of what anorexia nervosa is and how difficult it is to overcome. Throughout this week, we’ll look at other eating disorders, so maybe we’ll get a chance to go into that later. But what I want to do today, because it struck me completely down, is go through some of what I’ve seen re-pinned in the last hour.
I pray this shows you more about eating disorders than I could tell you on my own.
The first photo I saw took me by surprise. I kept repeating it in my head, thinking that it mustn’t say what it said: “We never regret eating too little.” A photo of a skinny girl, thighs not touching, face not showing stands in the background.
Here is another one: “Have you ever just cried because you are you?” The comment beneath it was this: “I can’t even look at myself because I’d rather die than being me.” Can you imagine the heartache of the girl that pinned this?
“I am not ‘beautiful’. You don’t see
What I do when I look in the mirror.
You don’t hear the voices in my
Head telling me I’m fat.”
“Don’t tell me I’m perfect just the way I am. I have a mirror.”
“The nagging guilt in the pit of your stomach asking, ‘Why did I just eat that’?”
“I didn’t eat for three days so I could be lovely.”
“You keep a lot to yourself because it’s difficult to find people who understand.”
“Hungry? Have a bottle of water.
Still hungry? Eat an apple.
Still hungry? Too bad. You need to be skinny.”
This one was pinned by a girl whose Pinterest name is “Thin Princess”. She pinned it to her “Motivation” board.
How about this saying that you’ve heard before? In this context, it’s a little different: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
“I feel too fat to have an eating disorder.”
“My problem: I don’t want to eat, but I do, and when I do, I hate myself a little more.”
This particular pin stuck out to me: “I don’t care if it hurts. I wanna have control. I want a perfect body. I want a perfect soul.”
In their book on beating eating disorders, Maisel, Epston, and Borden echo this idea that anorexia nervosa, as well as bulimia nervosa, is more than just physical. There is a link that anorexics feel between morality and food. They even say that most of the women with anorexia or bulimia have had a very high level of justice and carried the ideals of helping others in their lifetime, even from a very young age. When their dreams of helping others seem unreachable, it’s their eating disorder that offers “help”. They write that anorexia and bulimia vow to “bring an end to the pain, fear, and despair” by helping one see their “hopes and dreams possible” (Maisel 23). Those with anorexia are good people, like many of us. It’s not a matter of just eating to solve the problem. It’s often a matter of just wanting to perfect themselves in every way, but finding it almost impossible to step away from the harmful aspects of what that perfection demands.
One particular patient, Emily, wrote this at the age of 14. She had been anorexic since age 11. “Anorexia approached me when I was miserable. It told me it could make me feel better. It told me that my fat was making me unhappy. It told me to get rid of the fat and then I would feel better. Basically, Anorexia told me that losing weight would make me feel better, because all of my problems and all my bad feelings were existing because I was fat and ugly. If my fat was gone, all my problems would be gone too. There. There it was… the answer! It all seemed so simple and so perfect and SO EASY. That’s why Anorexia is so appealing. It seems like the perfect solution. It gave me the power I could lose the weight and then I would no longer have any reason to feel bad. I could have reasons to feel good, too, on top of it all. I was really quite impressed and pleased by Anorexia in the very beginning when it first introduced itself. It told me it would make me feel better if I lost weight but it didn’t tell me it would punish me for failing to lose weight. It didn’t tell me how difficult it would be to lose weight. I did eventually realize that if I lost too much weight I might die but by then I didn’t really care. Oh, well, if I die, I die. Big deal. Being thin and beautiful is worth dying for” (Maisel 46).
I want all of these words to help lead you, as they have me, into a greater understanding of eating disorders, particularly anorexia. I want us to be able to see all people – no matter their disorder, their illness, their disability, or their struggle – as just that. People. The struggle those with anorexia nervosa face, from very young ages to much older, is not something we can judge. It’s not something we can understand, but it is something we can identify, help with, and make a small difference.
Here is a simple way you can help. Post and Re-pin positive messages about the body. Don’t let it be you who pins or accidentally supports negative body image. Let beauty be shown in any skin – “fat”, “skinny”, short, tall. Let your messages on the web lead to positive change in the world. Simply doing that can create change.
Maisel, Richard, David Epston, and Ali Borden. Biting the Hand that Starves You: Inspiring Resistance to Anorexia/Bulimia. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2004.