In the last few months especially, eating disorders have been big news in the press. From reports of the rise in male eating disorders, bans of pro-anorexia material on social networks and the crusade to ban airbrushing, which must be great for the campaigns behind it, right?
Well not really, because in the last six months I have rarely seen anything which tells the full story. Instead, all we see the classical portrayal of what everyone thinks an anorexic should look like, because they all look the same of course. Your average anorexic will be a young, white female who is in a picture looking suitably emaciated wearing next to nothing. Their story will be one of obsessing over celebrities and wishing they looked like them. If it is a report about a man then they don't have anorexia, because men don't get that, instead they have 'Manorexia'.
I sink a little inside each time I see this ridiculously stale, outdated idea of an eating disorder reported, which at the moment is near enough every other day, because it just doesn't help, if anything, it just sets us back that little bit more. It reinforces the stereotype that everyone with an eating disorder is a self-obsessed, vain person who just does it to look better. The reality is, they are complex mental illnesses, bought on by complex emotional issues, which go far deeper than browsing the images of skinny celebrities on the internet. We think of eating disorders as a physical condition, because we focus on the physical symptoms, when they are really just a side effect of the emotional condition.
But then as far as most places are concerned, the true story of someone in distress is just not as sexy as someone who didn't eat to look like their favourite singer. It is all too common for stories to be turned down on the basis that the subject wouldn't provide a photo looking ill or would not divulge their weight to the masses.
It is my opinion that this kind of reporting does nothing to aid the campaigns which work to eliminate the stigma around eating disorders. Instead, it just creates another article which we have to refute and say, "well this isn't the full story", but by then that story has been engrained in the heads of all that have read it. For an existing sufferer, these articles and all the imagery can be used to indulge existing negative behaviours.
Despite what I have laid out above, we as a nation lap up these sob stories, like a nation obsessed with skinny. Healthy people respond to these articles with, "I wish I could be that skinny" like it is some kind of perverted achievement. We look at the stories of a 'Manorexic' and it is seen as some kind of circus show and well, last time I checked a medical text there was no 'Manorexia' mentioned. Put all the facts together and it is almost like we are glamourising a serious medical condition, in fact were not almost doing it, we are doing it.
The only thing it achieves is a culture where we almost don't see it as a medical condition, but a lifestyle choice. A culture where people don't seek help, where someone desperately ill is idolised for being slight, an environment which sees a male suffering from an eating disorder as some kind of different species, one which feeds the very nature of an eating disorder, only making behaviours worse. Possibly more worrying is the way the illness is being almost entirely rewritten by the media, feeding the public with their version of the condition.
I joined forces with the amazing Sarah Fullagar from Body Gossip last year to work on some of these issues, we are going out and doing different things throughout the year to engage the public in debate about this, what do they think? Are their opinions as influenced by the media as we think they are? We want to see the practice of glamourising these conditions stopped, but it's a steep hill to climb.