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We Need to Stop Romanticising Eating Disorders

I have lived with an eating disorder since around the age of 12 and it has slowly destroyed my life up until my age now of 22.

My illness has worked its way into every crevice.

My eating disorder has identified all the aspects of my personality, what I love and what makes me tick, and burned them down to the ground.

My eating disorder turned me into a shell of a human being for a really long time. A ghost of my former lively self.

My eating disorder has caused destruction to relationships with those I love, my self-esteem, and my zest for life.

There has been nothing romantic or glamorous about it.

So, why are romantic portrayals of eating disorders still so pervasive?

Photo by Verne Ho on Unsplash

I wish my eating disorder was romantic like many films and TV shows paint them out to be.

I wish my eating disorder was jolly and funny like Cassie’s in Skins, who would offer tips to her friends on how to not eat and remain bubbly and outgoing in the face of her struggles.

I wish my eating disorder had a romantic subplot like Ellen’s in To the Bone, as she befriends Luke while in treatment, kisses him, then leaves viewers to believe they skipped off into the sunset together.

I would love to sit here and type a heartfelt poem about all the life lessons my eating disorder taught me, or gush over how it helped me find my soulmate.

I would love to say my eating disorder made me the centre of attention like Hannah in Hollyoaks, whose best friend worshipped her for her disordered behaviours.

Or, it made me part of the ‘it’ crowd like Hanna in Pretty Little Liars, who was considered a better friend only when she was skinnier.

I would love to say my eating disorder had a beautiful, poignant and purposeful ending like in Black Swan, the haunting ballet film in which Natalie Portman finds purpose after shrinking herself and squeezing every ounce of happiness from her life to play a role.

I would love to tell you the recovery journey is always beautiful and inspiring, and it helps you find your true self beneath the rubble of what is left of your earlier life.

But, the recovery process doesn’t mean your eating disorder just ceases to exist overnight like Blair’s in Gossip Girl, who had an eating disorder one day before it was never mentioned again.

I can’t say all those positive things about eating disorders and I won’t, because it is damaging and unrealistic ideas like that which warp society’s views on how evil eating disorders are and keep those struggling trapped.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental disorders and 20% of people with anorexia die — that’s 1 in 5.

That’s going out for dinner with a group of four other friends and losing one of them.

That’s having a movie night with your parents and siblings and there being an empty space on the sofa.

So why, when these disorders are leaving parents without children, lovers without partners, and friends without shoulders to cry on, are we acting like they are aspirational?

Photo by Anja on Unsplash

We live in a society that tends to promote under eating and suggests surviving on as little food as possible is a badge of honour. Our society also suggests eating less and in a disordered fashion is not only normal but the key to eternal happiness in success.

We have influencers and reality stars promoting weight loss pills and flat tummy shakes.

We walk into clothes stores and see mannequins that are all a size 4.

We are demonised and body shamed within our own households for eating “too much” because our mothers and grandmothers have been taught over decades that enjoying food is sinful.

Therefore, it is not surprising to me when I open Twitter or press play on a movie and I see eating disorders portrayed as some quest for love or self-discovery.

It does, however, anger and upset me.

One person dies every hour from an eating disorder. For those of us who recover, we have to live with lifelong damage to our health. How can the world live with itself, continuing to pretend eating disorders are far more joyous and aspirational than they are?

We cannot carry on acting as though an eating disorder is merely a mission towards self-acceptance while people destroy their bodies in the hope that they will learn to love themselves when they look a certain way. We cannot pretend that recovery is a process of finding your true purpose. No one should have to hit rock bottom in order to realise that life is worth living.

Just recently, I looked in the mirror with such immense shock, because I realised how much my hair had grown and how shiny it was.

That’s because my body was starved for such a long time that my hair was weak, limp, lifeless and reflective of how I felt on the inside. I had accepted it as such and never believed it would look glossy or healthy ever again.

That is reflective of how severely my eating disorder demolished my well-being, as are the arguments I’ve had with my mum, the days on end I’ve spent in bed crying because I don’t want to be seen, and the panic attacks I’ve had in supermarkets.

Photo by Taylor Deas-Melesh on Unsplash

The reality of living with an eating disorder is bleak and depressing. It is riddled with anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, and violent loneliness.

Life with an eating disorder is not a pursuit of one’s true self or a pilgrimage.

Life with an eating disorder is not a step in the pursuit of one’s happiness.

This is why we need realistic portrayals of eating disorders, as well as encouragement to recover that doesn’t sugarcoat the hard work and effort that must go into it. The healing process from an ED is never plain sailing, but you can come out the other side into a richer, more fruitful life.

My eating disorder turned me into someone I did not recognise and did not like. It did not find me love or joy or make me feel fulfilled.

We need to stop glorifying disordered eating and such monstrous illnesses as if anything good can ever come from them. The only positive impact an eating disorder can have on our lives is recovery and letting it die.


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