In beginning my recovery from bulimia nervosa, I have come to the realization that one of my biggest hindrances in recovery is society’s views on eating disorders and the female body in general. While flipping through the channels, it becomes obvious that our society prefers thinness. Nearly every actress is stick-thin, which communicates to people that thin is normal and thin is beautiful. It is true that society’s standards did not cause my eating disorder per se, but they have played a role in the development of my distorted body image. Likewise, the false notion that a “fit body” enriches one’s life, and the misconception that eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia signify that the sufferer is “strong” or “disciplined” have promoted the manifestation of my illness and serve as obstacles in my recovery. Our society applauds thinness.
Commercials for Weight Watchers’ boast that people will be “happier” if they lose weight, however, common sense contradicts this empty promise. Weight loss does not increase one’s friends, land someone their dream job, help one find a partner, or even give one confidence. Some may argue that Weight Watchers’ is improving its standards with its Beyond the Scale campaign, but its underlying message that thinness is better is too loud to ignore. As Oprah Winfrey laments, “[I] got lost, buried in the weight that […I] carry,” yet it is questionable that her weight held her back. Winfrey is not morbidly obese–her problems seem to be more rooted in self-esteem than in physical health, which cannot be remedied with a diet or exercise regimen. Ms. Winfrey, your weight is not holding you back; you are holding yourself back by romanticizing weight loss, and not realizing that if you cannot accept yourself at your current weight, you will not accept yourself when you lose weight. Perhaps her New Year’s Resolution should be to improve her self-image, rather than to lose weight. What Winfrey does not realize is she is promoting a culture that believes weight loss is the ultimate key to success. This indirectly triggers people suffering from eating disorders or people at risk for developing eating disorders. While she is not “causing” eating disorders (eating disorders are multi-faceted), she could be what triggers depression, anxiety, or PTSD to develop into an eating disorder. There is nothing wrong with losing weight, but people should make sure they are not expecting their “dream body” to build their confidence or enrich their lives. When my eating disorder began, I like many other people, believed that thinness meant happiness and these kind of messages encourage that sort of distorted thinking.
People often praise disordered eating as it appears to be “ladylike” and “disciplined.”When I first started restricting, I went to an event and experienced something that is disheartening in hindsight. As everyone else at the event was eating, I talked with my friends, but refused any sort of nourishment. It was lunchtime and I was skipping the meal. Upon noticing, one woman asked, “Are you on a diet?. I wish I had that sort of self-control.”. The event lasted from 12 to 6, so clearly eating a “big breakfast” could not have sufficed. Noone should praise someone else for skipping a meal. Even if the person does not have a disorder, we eat three meals a day for a reason, and if people are praised for undereating, they may start to see it as a good thing. Prior to the development of my eating disorder, I was insecure, so this positive feedback meant that starving myself was good. Yes, there were underlying issues that spread the foundation for the illness, but these words of encouragement certainly fed into my already distorted thinking.
While Weight Watchers’ has its good aspects (it helps some people make healthier choices) and people often do not intend on encouraging an eating disorder, ultimately Weight Watchers’ should be careful about the messages they send and people should be more intelligent about commenting on other’s eating habits. I will admit, that recovery is my responsibility and that I can only control my actions, but I do not want anyone else to experience the pain that comes with an eating disorder. Hopefully with time and the persistence of activists, our idea of the ideal body can shift from focusing on appearance to health.