This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (running from February 23rd to Sunday 1st March). Charities such as Beat are raising both money and awareness to help people suffering from eating disorders as it has been proven that many people with this type of illness admit that their experiences of living with an eating disorder has a direct impact on their overall wellbeing. It has also been reported that it is costing the UK more money each year to help and support the increasing numbers of people affected by different eating disorders, so it’s time to act!
I wanted to share my opinions on the subject, but please don’t take anything I say too seriously, I’m not a doctor! My area of interest is emotional wellbeing, in particular that of teenage girls, so unfortunately eating disorders as a topic can often make an appearance in my reading/writing.
Body image and the way that girls and women view themselves has a part to play in the development of eating disorders. However, I would argue that it is a very small part; probably smaller than most people think. I have been unfortunate in witnessing more than one close friend become the victim of an eating disorder and from an outsider’s point of view I would say that eating disorders and the way they are gradually developed are more complex than most people realise, including myself.
I personally cannot stand the stigma that comes along (with any mental health disorder) where people are under the impression that the fix is to ‘eat something’ or to ‘stop looking at airbrushed images and making comparisons’, these remarks aren’t valid, especially when people behind the views have made no effort to do their research. This is where charities such as Beat come in, they have fantastic information available for anyone who wishes to learn more about eating disorders and this will hopefully in the long run help to end such unhelpful stigmas.
Going back to the issue of body image, I have noticed that body image and the way we view ourselves as women can often be a difficult subject for girls, especially during the adolescent years. For some reason we focus on the negatives. Instead of embracing the things which we love about our bodies, we concentrate on what we don’t like and are quite happy to openly complain to other girls/women about our personal body issues.
I would argue that most girls ARE body confident, they just don’t understand what confidence is. To be confident is not about never thinking badly of yourself, it’s about experiencing negative thoughts and carrying on enjoying life in spite of them. Luckily, most teenage girls manage not to shrink into low self-esteem just because they dislike one part of their body… but regardless the issue still lurks for most. I wanted a further opinions about body image so I asked a couple of my friends.
Errin Smith, 24, Account Manager, “It took me a long time to feel comfortable in my own ‘skin’. I think most people, female or male, sometimes struggle with the changes your body goes through in the teenage years and some people handle it differently. I think a deep-rooted notion on ‘how girls should be’ is definitely apparent to me. A huge amount of my girl friends and I got on board with crazy diets at a young age rather than participating in more genuinely health conscious activities. (Eg. I think I took part in one swimming lesson in my whole school life because the thought of getting into a pool where there were boys whilst wearing a swimming hat and costume made me beyond uncomfortable and running like Phoebe Buffay from Friends didn’t help either!) It’s tragic but not enough emphasis is placed on detrimental side affects of not looking after your mind and body at a crucial point in time in terms of physical and mental developments. I honestly believe that more should be done to encourage girls from an early age that it’s about looking after yourself and feeling good and healthy, not just aesthetic surfaces.”
I agree with Errin, I think just small changes about the way girls think about their bodies could potentially make big changes.
Lucy Marshall, 25, Dancer “I do think it’s harder for girls, our biggest threat is our own mind and how we judge ourselves. We have more pressure, whether that’s because we ourselves put it there or if that’s just grown with time and excessive amounts of ‘what’s the newest trend. I think girls over think more, they are weighing things up in their mind such as, well I only had a bit of lettuce for lunch so I can have this Krispy Kreme doughnut!’.
Unfortunately, over-thinking is something that comes with being human! It’s completely natural and I often wonder whether young girls realise just how normal it is to have negative mind chatter!
As I said earlier, body image and the way women view their bodies is only ever a very, very small part of developing an eating disorder. Not to mention the fact that men can just as easily develop these issues! They have a range of different causes. I think the main thing this week for National Eating Disorder Week is to raise money to help the charities who support people with eating disorders and for more people to get educated about what eating disorders actually are! #endthestigma