I had never read so many Facebook statuses, tweets, and thinkpieces about women’s feelings on their bodies than when Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” started being played on the radio. Right in the middle of a Top 40 usually littered with derogatory comments about women, there was suddenly something different. Finally, a message for girls struggling with body image from a girl who, by all accounts, had struggled with the same issues herself.
Though Trainor had her critics, “All About That Bass” seemed to unite women who wanted to take pride in their curves. It wasn’t just a niche movement anymore. It was a big conversation that thousands of people had never had before. Body positivity started to seem cool.
Fast-forward a few months to November 2014. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Trainor talked about being a “chubby girl” and her own battles with weight. Clarifying that these battles were never all that serious, she said, “I wasn’t strong enough to have an eating disorder … I tried to go anorexic for a good three hours. I ate ice and celery, but that’s not even anorexic. And I quit. I was like, ‘Ma, can you make me a sandwich? Like, immediately.'”
Put simply, there’s nothing “strong” about having an eating disorder. Propagating these ideas contributes to the idea that eating disorders aren’t all that serious and it’s attitudes like Trainor’s that are a huge threat to the health of anyone who’s ever struggled with body image.
Disordered eating is, at its core, the fear and hatred of that which keeps you alive. It’s a fundamental rejection of a source of life. An eating disorder is not a choice. It has nothing to do with strength. Eating disorders make you weak physically, mentally, and emotionally. There is no strength in dying at your own hands; there is no strength in feeling powerless. When your mind gives you no other choices, when you feel that this is the hand you’re dealt, you end up feeling anything but strong.
Anorexia is fetishized anyway. It’s something some people want to try on for a week or two, just to lose a few pounds. It’s always anorexia that’s seen as a goal–it’s never the “gross” disorders like bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. There’s nothing beautiful about binging or purging, but eating nothing but air? Well, hey, that doesn’t sound all bad, as long as it’ll make you fit into those awesome new jeans. Yet the harsh contrast between what is acceptable from anorexics and what isn’t has led to a glamorization and gross misunderstanding of a deadly disease.
On one hand, some women say, “Oh, I wish I could be a little bit anorexic.” Women want to be “anorexic enough” to cut calories, to drink that much water, to work out for hours a day, to be that thin.
But on the other, anorexia and bulimia are still seen as the diseases of poor little rich girls everywhere. Often white and upper-middle class, these fictionalized victims appear to have nothing wrong in their lives; many see it as a pathetic grab for control in their otherwise perfect lives. Many can’t understand why they won’t just solve their problems and eat a damn sandwich.
Falling down the rabbit hole, as so many victims call it, is not a simple choice to eat or not eat that is made lightly. Eating disorders are diseases that affect everyone. While young, white women have historically been the most diagnosed population, more recent research shows that diagnoses alone do not indicate the true diversity of eating disorders’ victims. Eating disorders can affect anyone–there are no racial, age, socioeconomic, or orientation boundaries that an eating disorder cannot or will not touch.
Unfortunately, the glamorous depictions of people with eating disorders drive young people who are already struggling with body image, confidence, and stress down that same hole. In a quest for a skewed vision of beauty, the “pro-ana” movement entices these vulnerable individuals. This movement often personifies anorexia as a girl named “Ana,” a girl in whom they can confide and trust. They defend anorexia as a lifestyle choice instead of a disease and spread “thinspiration” throughout various social media platforms. All of these things contribute to the idea that anorexia is a choice without extremely harmful consequences. Trying to establish the reality of anorexia as a life-threatening illness is more of a challenge than ever when faced with those who are too comfortable with their disease and those who have never experienced it.
The fact is that anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are diseases diagnosable by the DSM-5. They are insidious, they are ruthless, and they will take your life without a single thought.
The dichotomy between “beautiful” and “broken” is a divide that those who haven’t faced the disease can hardly understand. Eating disorders are one of the unique diseases that affect the body and the mind simultaneously. The physical manifestation of the disease is only half of the battle for both the sufferer firmly entrenched in the illness and for those working towards their recovery from it. Yet it’s this lack of understanding of the mental side of the illness that may lead people like Meghan Trainor to think that you can “try” anorexia.
Trainor isn’t the first (nor will she be the last) to believe in the mythos of an eating disorder as a simple choice made by thin, tortured girls with an impressive amount of self-control and incredible drive to lose a bit of weight. What we need to enforce is the reality that there is nothing glamorous or beautiful about disease and death.
An eating disorder can’t be fixed by making a sandwich, like Trainor implied. An eating disorder does not require “trying.” An eating disorder does not try, an eating disorder just is.