A few weeks ago, Kim Kardashian unsurprisingly advertised appetite-suppressing lollipops on her Instagram. To my surprise, however, she received backlash from many women. She was called out for “glamorizing eating disorders” (read: disordered eating behaviors) and promoting a culture that only values women for their bodies. As someone who has battled an eating disorder for six years, it was empowering to hear diet culture finally being called out by celebrities, mass media, and average women alike, however, that does not come without a cost.
Diet culture needs to be dismantled; it only serves to profit off of insecurities and make us obsess over our bodies and an obscure goal that is “health.” However, the backlash over Kim Kardashian’s irresponsible post reinforces negative and mostly false stereotypes about eating disorders. The most common and stubborn misconception about eating disorders is that the person suffering is vain, shallow, and stupid. So many (hopefully) well-meaning Tweets and comments to Kardashian implied that self-starvation was something only airheads did; that people with eating disorders are nothing more than their disordered habits and distorted thinking. People often reduce eating disorders to “diets gone wrong” or “teenage girls in need of attention,” when they are actually severe illnesses that can last decades or even a lifetime. Eating disorders are not phases or choices. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, every 62 minutes someone dies from an eating disorder. Diet culture, while menacing, is not the killer; the illness is.
This week, I am entering treatment for the second time. I relapsed while I was away at college, but it was not just because I wanted to look like a super model or follow the latest fad diet. My eating disorder exists to protect me from the outside world (i.e. rejection, failure, loss, and judgment). My eating disorder is the part of my brain that convinces me that I am unworthy of food and friends and love. The only way to be “worthy” is to restrict my food. I am simplifying my eating disorder for the purpose of this post, but it is important to understand that eating disorders are multi-faceted. Mine encompasses my disability, depression, anxiety, family dynamics, low self-worth, and issues with socialization. While on the surface, it may seem like I just want to be paper-thin, I am actually trying to feel worthy. These messages of females being stupid or anti-feminist for struggling with food or body image only strengthens my eating disorder. It gives me more reason to feel inadequate.
While I am not implying Kim Kardashian has an eating disorder (I am not a doctor and I have never even met her), it is important to remember that tearing down diet culture can mean tearing down people with illnesses out of their control. It is important to knock the culture and not the people influenced by it.
Most importantly, we need to stop the narrative that eating disorders are about vanity or women being so obsessed with food and fat that they are nothing more than their obsessions. I am a double major, runner, blogger, and most of all, I am a complex human being. My eating disorder has ravished my life, but it is just that–a disorder. It is not the essence of my being.