The recent trailer release for Netflix dramedy To The Bone, in which Lily Collins plays a woman dealing with her eating disorder, has sparked intense discussion. People on the world wide web are debating whether the media is giving an accurate representation of mental illnesses and eating disorders, or glorifying eating disorders.
Naysayers argue that it may be harmful to the more impressionable younger audiences and also for those still on the recovery. However, supporters say that it opens new pathways for open dialogue regarding eating disorders, shedding light onto the illness and educating the public.
What Are Eating Disorders?
From the National Eating Disorders Association: “Eating disorders are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships. They are not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health.”
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix
Eating disorders are to be taken seriously, with an increasing number of diagnosed cases year after year, particularly as tech-savvy individuals get disenchanted by adverts and celebrity images found online. Eating disorders affect up to 70 million people worldwide. Anorexia is currently the third most common chronic illness among adolescents in the US, with this trend likely being replicated in other countries as well.
Types of eating disorders
Anorexia – People with anorexia starve themselves out of an intense fear of becoming fat. An inadequate food intake leads to a weight that is clearly too low, but due to an intense fear of weight gain and inability to see that they are too thin, they continue restriction calories and take up means of controlling their weight such as over-exercising or consuming diet pills.
Bulimia – Bulimia involves a destructive cycle of bingeing upon large amounts of food followed by purging, that is, inducing themselves to vomit or fasting to prevent weight gain.
Binge Eating Disorder – People with binge eating disorder compulsively overeat to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. However, they are unable to control their behaviour, leading to feelings of strong shame or guilt regarding binge eating.
Does my friend have an eating disorder? How can I help?
People with eating disorders seldom admit to having one. There are some signs you can look out for to ascertain whether a friend is suffering from an eating disorder, the telltale giveaway sign being rapid weight loss. Other signs include a refusal to eat in public, suspected purging after mealtime, weakness and fainting during exercise, and obsessively counting calories.
If you suspect a friend of having an eating disorder, educate yourself on the subject matter, and encourage your friend to seek help. Eating disorders are not only damaging but life-threatening, and the earlier one manages to get help, the better.
Not a females-only club
Eating disorders are not exclusive to females – an estimated 15 percent of those diagnosed with an eating disorder are male. Males are also vulnerable to ideal-typical pictures of fit, lean, or ‘ripped’ men propagated on social media. Male friends should be looked out for as well and not brushed aside, especially as they are less likely to seek help for an eating disorder, believing that it is not “normal” for males to be diagnosed with such as illness.
“Recovery is possible”
“If you weigh more than your boyfriend, you’re too fat”. That’s something I learned while we were still on the playground, back before any of us had even been near a boy. I don’t know where it came from, TV, magazines, overheard conversations – but it was fact. Beautiful women were always light and graceful, the men strong and solid. So that the boyfriends could lift you up and swing you round, you his feather light princess. As I got older that image became one more reason I was convinced that my body made me unlovable. And it isn’t an image that only hurts women, it hurts men who can’t reach the strong, solid expectation, it hurts people who don’t fit the gender binary, people who don’t slot in the limited boxes our culture puts gender into. It hurts queer people who are only given heteronormative images to aspire to. It hurts us all, the idea that only certain bodies are deserving of love. But the truth? The truth is that every single one of us are worthy of love, whether our bodies are light, strong, soft, bigger or smaller than our partners. Whether we believe that we’re worthy or not. We already are. That means you too. 💜💙💚🌈🌞 #bodypositivepower
Megan, who goes by @bodyposipanda on Instagram, espouses body positivity with every post. She wishes for her followers to do away with media-propagated ideals of beauty, and encourages people instead to embrace their bodies. “Every single body is worthy of love,” she says in one of her captions.
She also created a website where she reveals her struggles with her eating disorder, hoping that the sharing of her experiences will inspire others to seek help.
The road to recovery is long and hard, but it is doable.
To get help or more information (Singapore), refer to Eating Disorders Programme at SGH.
Cover photo: Misslilycollins