This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week and it is incredibly important to raise awareness of these horrific and often misunderstood mental illnesses. Many people don't realise the seriousness of these illnesses and they are seen as a lifestyle or fashion choice when the reality is that nobody chooses to have an eating disorder, it just happens and can happen to anyone at any time. Eating Disorder Awareness Week can be both educational and inspirational to the world we live in. It can be used to educate people that it isn't just a 'blip' or a 'phase' 20% of sufferers will die prematurely because of their eating disorder! These are serious and potentially fatal mental illnesses. Whilst educating we can also inspire others with stories of hope and recovery because eating disorders can be beaten.
I am both saddened and shocked by some of the things I have seen this Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I have seen so many pictures of people at their lowest weight both on social networks and throughout the media. A pictures of a person at their lowest weight does not raise awareness of eating disorders, in fact it does the total opposite and reinforces stigma and stereotypes. There is a general assumption that people have to be emaciated in order to have an eating disorder or in order to be unwell enough to get help for an eating disorder. This is incorrect, someone can be overweight, underweight or a healthy weight and be struggling with an eating disorder. Lowest weight does not equal most unwell. I have been both emaciated and a healthy weight and I can honestly tell you that my worst days both physically and mentally were when I was a healthy weight. By posting pictures of emaciated people to raise awareness, it is just reinforcing that stereotype so that the general public still have the idea that to be unwell the sufferer must be very thin and it makes sufferers feel that unless they look like that photo then they are not unwell enough to seek help.
It is triggering. It is in the nature of eating disorders to compare and in a way compete. Low weight photographs floating all over the internet and media this week is actually feeding many peoples' eating disorders. It doesn't matter if your low weight photograph is next to your healthy weight photograph, an unwell person will not look at that. They will latch onto the low weight photograph and will be comparing themselves to it. Unwell people will look at that picture and think that they don't look like that yet and so they are not well enough to get better.
It's far more dangerous than you probably realise. I have seen so many photographs of emaciated girls in just their underwear. Half naked pictures are never a good idea. How do you know the wrong people aren't saving your photographs? Once you post a picture online it's out there forever and you can't get it back.
There is a fine line between raising awareness and causing damage. I've seen a lot of people using Eating Disorder Awareness Week to compete about how unwell they were. A picture of you at your lowest weight followed by bullet points of how many admissions and NG tubes you have had doesn't raise awareness, it creates competition. Tell people about how it felt to have an NG tube or how it felt to be in your weak body. Talk about the subjects that are often brushed under the carpet like binge eating or taking laxatives. Tell people what it's like to look at a food and see only numbers. What does it feel like when you are beginning recovery? How did your family cope? There is so much to talk about with eating disorders, so much that you could use to educate or inspire people. Use this week to make a positive impact so that we are one step closer to beating eating disorders. Don't use this week in a dangerous and damaging way. Mental illness is not a competition and low weight photographs put both yourself and others in danger and tell people nothing about the reality of having an eating disorder.