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 the only person to have said things of that nature–her quote was just on my mind since I saw it just a few days ago on tumblr.)
FIRST, FOR THOSE …
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 awareness organization b-eat.
Let me be clear: I do not care who said this quote, or what was meant by it, or what context it was said in. …
Is there an association between socioeconomic status (SES) and mental health literacy? Can we predict the extent of an individual’s knowledge about mental disorders based on how much money they make, how much education they’ve received, or how far up the career ladder they’ve climbed?
That is the question that Olaf von dem Knesebeck and colleagues attempted to answer in a paper published recently in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
The authors interviewed 2,014 men and women, residents of two German cities Hamburg and Munich, using a telephone survey. The split is roughly 50/50 between men and women respondents and the mean age was 47.5. The authors presented each interviewee with two vignettes out of three (one on depression, one on schizophrenia, and one on eating disorders).
The gender in the depression and schizophrenia vignettes was varied 50/50 between male and female patients, but all vignettes about eating disorders (one on bulimia, one on anorexia) were about female patients. After reading the vignettes, the respondents were asked to identify the disorder, in an open ended question, then …
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 idea that all anorexics are afraid of becoming fat, in a previous post where I examined case studies of eating disorders in (mostly congenitally) blind women.
These assumptions, along with …
I’m working on a post about the role of serotonin in the development and maintenance of anorexia, but it is taking me some time as I want to include a sufficient amount of background information. So, in the meantime, I’m going to blog about a short paper that was brought to my attention by Sarah. As you might have guessed by the title, the paper’s author, Casper Schoemaker, wanted to do some fact-checking on Naomi Wolf’s first book, titled The Beauty Myth. A quick glance at the Amazon ratings reveals that a lot of people like it, and many find it shocking and “eye-opening”. Now, I’ll admit: I haven’t read it, and I don’t plan to. (I don’t read books like this.) But I have come across blatantly wrong statistics on eating disorders from people citing her work.
(Books are not peer-reviewed. The main thing you need to get a book published is to convince the publisher that people will buy it. There’s no guarantee that the claims in a particular book are correct. A lot of times …
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 severity and ease of recovery”, and viewing it as a largely young white female disease. (Unfortunately, some clinicians have this view of EDs as well…
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 studies suggests that genetic factors account for >50% of the risk for developing an ED), the public does not.
Surveys of what the public thinks about eating disorders and those struggling …