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Eating disorders and the media

Eboni discusses representation of eating disorders in 'To The Bone'


Written by Eboni Burke and posted in opinion


This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SpunOut.ie. It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for SpunOut.ie please contact editor@spunout.ie.


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About this time last year, I published an article with Spunout.ie entitled ‘Coping with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) in the Summer’. It wasn’t so much a very personal article about my own experiences with the disorder but it was helpful coping tips that have worked for me in helping me overcome some of the more day-to-day struggles with BED.

This summer, Netflix has released a new movie surrounding a whole host of eating disorders, particularly anorexia, called To The Bone.  I’m not here to bash the movie or explain why you should/shouldn’t watch it. I will say that if you’ve ever suffered from an eating disorder, you may get triggered watching it so please mind yourself. While To The Bone have come close enough to the danger that anorexia can pose on a person, they haven’t quite hit the mark, not that I blame the movie’s director, actors or anything. The reason why is that Hollywood really can’t convey these disorders properly. The two biggest issues are:

  • Negative stereotypes
  • The excessive dramatization of eating disorders

This will be a long, ranty, serious article and based on a lot of my own personal experiences so there’s fair warning if you feel you can’t read this one, feel free to read any of my other articles. I’d also be open to your opinions, whether you agree or disagree with my thoughts, please comment below.

Negative Stereotypes

I say negative stereotypes because how often in the media do we see a girl purely skin and bones used as a representation of anorexia or bulimia? Or a fat girl as a representation of binge eating? This stereotype is even presented to us in To The Bone. There are so many problems with perpetuating these stereotypes: we’re saying that men cannot have eating disorders, that only heavier people can suffer Binge Eating disorder, that you must look waif-like to suffer from anorexia and you must be dying to seek treatment.

Let me set the record straight: the minute you start seeing food as your enemy, you may need to consider help. You do not need to be size 0 to be anorexic. You do not need to be a woman to suffer from any eating disorder, and, to that end, you don’t have to be an extremely fashion forward woman to suffer from it. Genetics and social surroundings play a huge role in eating disorders. You don’t have to be “fat” to suffer binge eating. You don’t have to be any weight to suffer from any food disorder.It doesn’t work that way.

I was fourteen years old, weighing 70kg/11st. at 5’5”. I was relatively normal sized but I insisted on being vegetarian as a weight-loss regime, and at that, I had been starving myself for two years already. By looking at me, you would never have been able to tell, and I got many compliments on my “fit figure”. I heard “fit” and thought “fat”. My mother took me off of vegetarianism as an incentive that I would eat more and that led to my binge eating disorder and, purely as a side effect, rapid weight gain. I am waiting for my story with anorexia and binge eating disorder to be told, the ordinary sized person’s struggle with food disorders, that it’s glamorized, dramatized and criticized.

The Excessive Dramatization of Eating Disorders 

This is similarly tied to the negative stereotypes. I have never seen a movie or tv show that didn’t dramatize eating disorders, and often in the wrong way. We see this anorexic girl fainting and being taken to hospital where she almost dies but somehow, through her trials and tribulations, she works through her disorder and there is a sort of resolution at the end. That is most certainly not how it goes. Eating disorders never end, they subside a bit if you’re lucky, and become manageable but they never go away.

There’s also the idea that suffering anorexia especially has been romanticized to the point where naive teenagers mimic what they see and idealize anorexia as a diet that got a “bit out of hand”; I place the blame on media who do not highlight just how lethal any food disorder is.

Food disorders are lethal, I cannot stress this enough. Moreover, on the topic of anorexia (because that’s the most prominent disorder shown in media outlets), it’s not simply a diet or dislike of food. It’s fur starting to grow on your malnourished skin, it’s shivering in 20C heat. When it comes to binge eating, it is not just eating a whole tub of ice cream because you felt bored, and feeling fat after. It’s an imbalance of emotions and hormones, it’s detaching yourself from your friends and family. It’s starting to smell absolutely terrible because you haven’t nourished your body in the way it’s supposed to be nourished, bad breath,  and wetting the bed because your bladder cannot handle your imbalances. It’s shame. It is so much shame. 

Even as I write this, I feel ashamed. Ashamed of how I got sucked into it in the first place and ashamed because they are not, and never will be over for me. But that’s why I have to write this, this is what I have to clarify how the media can get these food disorders so wrong, and why it’s so important that we understand them for what they really are. They’re venomous, toxic, lethal, and unforgiving. They are long lasting.

What I also have to address is the lack of services in Ireland for this area. Sure, we’ve learned a *tad* about them in SPHE (Social Personal Health Education for my international readers) but not nearly enough, never mind the lack of interest within the heads of the Health Service Executive and Department of Health. I would have to be dying to be seen by a doctor or dietician, never mind a psychologist. Isn’t that a huge crying shame?

I implore anyone who may read this to please do something about it, somehow, even just by spreading awareness. Support a friend or family member who is going through this, and don’t let their resistance hinder you from helping them. It takes a lot of emotional work to get past the denial stage of “I don’t need help” to realize that you’re trying to help them; it’s just the disorder talking, not them. Don’t give up on anyone suffering from food disorders. Below are listed numbers you can contact in regards to food disorders. Please avail of them if you need them. I, also, can be contacted and I hope I can give you useful advice based on my experiences so feel free to message me (even anonymously).

Thank you very much for reading my article as it took a lot of soul-searching and contemplation to write.

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Published August 17th, 2017
Tags binge eating disorder eating disorder mental health
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