Culture and Eating Disorders: The Thin Ideal in Singapore

The paper I’m writing about in this post is a master’s thesis published elsewhere in adapted form as a book chapter – not the usual subject here, admittedly. However, for lack of more detailed qualitative research, it’s quite useful in fleshing out some of the observations in more descriptive studies on Singaporean eating disorder patients. This origin is one among a few other caveats to bear in mind; among them, Isono Maho’s ethnography does not aim to be a representative study of ED patients in Singapore, but rather a reflection on the aspects of Singapore culture that related to her interviewees’ particular experiences. Some of the themes Isono Maho found in this data set, nevertheless, help to supplement other studies’ findings, including those indicating that patients with eating disorders in Singapore tend to:

  • Present with body image concerns
  • Attribute comments and judgments from others as factors in their eating disorders.
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Problematic Labelling: The Case of “Drunkorexia”

Recently, I was browsing the Twittersphere and came across (yet another) tweet about so-called “drunkorexia,” or the phenomenon of drinking to excess coupled with restrictive behaviours around food. After firing off a mildly miffed tweet bemoaning our societal tendency to add the suffix “orexia” to all “new” potentially problematic behaviours around food, I took to Scholar’s Portal to see if academics, too, were using this term. I wondered if “drunkorexia” was piquing scholarly interest, or just circulating in media headlines.

Beyond its problematic moniker, coupling problem drinking and restrictive eating is a phenomenon that might be worth delving into in greater detail, particularly if, as the reports claim, its incidence is rising. Barry & Piazza-Gardner (2012) explored the co-occurrence of weight maintenance behaviours and alcohol consumption, and their article clarifies what people mean when they say “drunkorexia.” I’ll get more into my issues with this terminology following a … Continue reading →

Body Image: Is It a Useful Concept? (Maybe Not So Much)

I recently attended the International Society of Critical Health Psychology’s 8th Biennial Conference in Bradford, England. At the conference, I had the pleasure of attending many talks that challenged the way we approach health psychology. Luckily for me, there were several sessions that touched on issues of disordered eating and body image.

One such talk, a panel presentation with Hannah Frith, Sarah Riley, Martine Robson and Peter Branney, challenged attendees to re-think the way we approach body image. When I returned home, I immediately downloaded an article by Kate Gleeson and Hannah Frith (2006) that discusses this same idea and essentially begs the question: Is the concept of “body image,” as it is currently articulated, actually useful?

This might come off as a controversial question; after all, body image is central to many studies (and treatment programs) related to eating disorders. We’re … Continue reading →

What’s Wrong with How We Talk About Eating Disorders in the Media and in ED Communities – Part 2

This is a follow-up to my last post on what I think can be improved in how we talk about eating disorders in the media and in ED communities. If you haven’t read my last post, I strongly recommend doing so before reading this one. My focus in this post will be on what individuals with a history of EDs and ED organizations can do to improve how eating disorders are perceived by the general public.

(Sidenote on my last post: I feel I didn’t emphasize enough that I used Emma Woolf’s quote as an example and a starting point. I’m confident I’ve made the same blunders that I am now speaking about. It is okay. I think the important thing is to think about our future actions, as opposed to dwelling on the past. My goal isn’t to single anyone out. Woolf is not the first, the last, or … Continue reading →

What's Wrong with How We Talk About Eating Disorders in the Media and in ED Communities – Part 1

I’m going to do something different today. I’m going to talk about some of the problems I see in how eating disorders are discussed by some media organizations, ED awareness groups, and ED advocates.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of everything that’s wrong (and there will be a follow-up). It is my personal opinion and I strongly encourage readers to leave comments if you disagree with me or feel that I’m missing something important.

I saw this quote on tumblr two days ago:

Anorexia is a young person’s game and I don’t have the time or energy to play any more.

This quote is amazing for all the wrong reasons. It is so wrong, so harmful, and embodies so much of what’s wrong with mainstream ED discourse. It was written by Emma Woolf. I traced the quote back to this document put out by the UK organization ED … Continue reading →

Are All Anorexia Nervosa Patients Just Afraid Of Being Fat and Can We Blame The Western Media?

A really fun aspect of blogging is seeing what search terms lead people to my blog; a frustrating side-effect is not being able to interact with those people directly. This entry is, in part, an attempt to answer a common question that leads individuals to my blog. Common question or search queries are variants of the following (these are actual search terms that led to this blog, I corrected spelling mistakes): “do models cause eating disorders in women?”, “pictures of skinny models linked to eating disorders”, “do the images of models in magazines cause eating disorders?”, “eating disorders relating to thin models”, “psychiatrists thought on how skinny models are causing eating disorders”, “thin models are to blame for eating disorder.”

Well, you get the point.

I briefly started tackling the notions that the “thin ideal” promoted by Western media is to blame for the prevalence of eating disorders and a related … Continue reading →

Does Too Much Exposure to Thin Models Cause Eating Disorders? Anorexia, Bulimia in Blind Women

As many of you already know, Vogue has recently banned models that are “too-thin” (and “too young”). It is a big step in the right direction, no, a huge step, and one deserving an applause, that’s according to an article on Cue a drop in the prevalence of eating disorders, right? The logic in most articles, whether implicit or explicit, seems to be: no more skinny models = no more girls aspiring to be like skinny models = no more eating disorders.

Health of models belonging to both genders has been a growing issue in the past, especially after the death of two models in 2006-2007 from what the doctors blame to their acute eating disorders. This important step by Vogue targets not just skinny models, but also the impact they have on the young minds of girls and boys by presenting an image of perfection that is

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UK vs. US in Media Reporting on Eating Disorders: Who Does it Better?

Given the popularity of my post on how the media portrays eating disorders, I thought I’d do a follow-up entry by looking at more recent and comprehensive study on the topic. Specifically, I am going to review Shepherd & Seale’s 2010 paper, which built on the findings of O’Hara & Clegg-Smith, with a UK-focus. In particular, they: (1) compared UK and US media reporting of EDs, (2) tracked changes of in ED coverage over a 17-year period, and (3) studied the differences between newspapers with different target audiences.

Shepherd & Seale reiterate much of what O’Hara & Clegg-Smith wrote: ED specialists and researchers understand that EDs are complex, multi-factorial diseases with complex genetic and environmental underpinnings, that they are often associated with many medical complications and that they are hard to treat. The public, however, largely puts the blame on the patient and/or their parents, viewing it as a “moral failing… underestimating the … Continue reading →

Chances Are, What You Know About Eating Disorders is Wrong

Although clinicians (and medical professionals not specializing in eating disorders) often carry a lot of false beliefs about EDs, the public is even worse. Way worse. The portrayal of eating disorders in the news contributes to the myriad of myths and misconceptions that surround EDs. O’Hara and Clegg-Smith wanted to find out how exactly newspapers “contribute to shaping public perception of EDs.” 

It is awful when doctors are dismissive and ignorant, but it is even worse when you encounter these attitudes from your friends and family. When they not only don’t get it, they don’t want to get it. As O’Hara & Clegg-Smith point out, this ignorance and “disconnect potentially prevents timely ED diagnosis and reinforces a stigma that limits treatment availability.”

While researchers and ED specialists increasingly understand that eating disorders are “caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors” (for example, evidence from twin studiesContinue reading →