EDITORIAL: On the Stigma of Eating Disorders

By Tam News Staff

Aspects of media and our society have contributed to the impression that all eating disorders stem solely from negative body image or “feeling fat.” Along with this, there is also the expectation that men constantly prove their masculinity. For a man with an eating disorder, fighting the stereotype becomes another burden on top of his original battle to seek help. A girl who purges and binges is labeled as “dramatic” while a boy doing the same thing may be overlooked entirely. Unfortunately, these labels are rooted in a lack of education about eating disorders.While some main causes of eating disorders are low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and desire for control, the disorders can also stem from depression or anxiety. Eating disorders can happen to men as well as to women. In fact, according to the National Eating Disorder Association, 10 million men in the U.S. have struggled with an eating disorder at some point in their life, yet many people are reluctant to acknowledge this demographic and the number may be even larger due to unreported cases in men.

While many have assumed that eating disorders don’t have the severity of other disorders, they do occur on a psychological and physical level that can be severely damaging and potentially fatal. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the National Society of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. A common struggle for people who fall victim to these disorders, as in the case with many psychological disorders, is that whether or not they understand that what they are doing is irrational, their minds can’t defeat these destructive thoughts and actions.

In 2011, Disney Channel pulled two episodes of the series “Shake it Up” after singer and Disney Channel actress Demi Lovato, who has been public about going through treatment for an eating disorder, criticized them for it. “Shake it Up” included character that said, “I could eat you all up–well if I ate!” followed by laughter. The female character delivering this “joke” was portrayed to be self-absorbed and frivolous, a stigma commonly attached to eating disorders. While Disney stated that it was not their intention to “make light of eating disorders,” it shows how easily jokes surrounding eating disorders can be worked into conversation and promote a stigma– even on a children’s network. Disney’s young audience may subconsciously take note of this stereotype and grow up with a misunderstanding of who eating disorders may affect.

The idea that eating disorders only affect insecure teenage girls who think they aren’t pretty enough is far from the truth, and eating disorders are sometimes viewed as traditionally only affecting affluent, caucasian females. In reality, eating disorders affect many individuals, including women who do not conform to stereotypical gender roles and women of color as well as men.

One of the biggest misconceptions is assuming that body image and eating disorders go hand and hand. With most eating disorders, an individual’s own image toward their body may play a role in their actions, but it is likely that there are other things happening on a deeper psychological level. That said, the stereotype of eating disorders being a “female disorder” is harmful because eating disorders need to be managed as early as possible or else they could be fatal. In order for every single person to get the help they need and deserve, the stereotype of who eating disorders affects needs to end. Attaching a profile to any disorder is wrong, especially in this case where proper, urgent care is necessary for recovery.