A nurse came into my fifth grade classroom one day and showed us a video about “the dangers of drugs,” in which a little boy with an upsetting home life tries LSD and sees colorful dragons on his bedroom ceiling. The intended effect, obviously, was to terrify us. On that afternoon, twenty curious ten-year-olds decided that they couldn’t wait to try acid.
Similarly, campaigns intended to raise awareness about the dangers of eating disorders may actually encourage eating disorders.
Kelsey Osgood, author of the popular new memoir How to Disappear Completely, argues that photos of emaciated bodies are often triggers for people dealing with anorexia, regardless of whether those images are intended to be aspirational or cautionary. In her spot-on, brilliant piece for Time, Osgood has this to say:
I believe that so many young women want to be anorexic because our society has communicated not the horrible consequences of eating disorders, but what might seem to be the benefits of them, namely, that they make you skinny and special.
Osgood’s book tells the story of how she actively trained herself to become addicted to not eating. She cites young adult novels, Lifetime movies, and celebrity appearances on Dr. Phil as examples of media whose anti-anorexia messages encouraged and instructed her own eating disorder.
So if our attempts to thwart the problem end up just fanning the fire, what can we possibly do? According to Osgood, we need to totally overhaul the way we talk to young people about ED:
We need to change the vocabulary we use and the tone we invoke when we discuss anorexia, refusing to employ it as shorthand for ‘fragile and interesting.’ We also need to staunchly refuse to include what could be interpreted as prescriptive materials in narrative accounts, namely daily calorie intake, exercise routines and lowest weights of active anorexics.
Yes. Right on. We’ve ranted about a few anti-anorexia campaigns in the past, and we’ve criticized the way various celebrities have spoken about ED, and our sister site, Blisstree, has had a lot to say about avoiding triggers. But we can all try a bit harder to prioritize this problem and talk about it in more helpful, less dangerous ways.
Via Slate / Photo: Penguin