white chicks

One of 2013’s most annoying buzzwords is about to get even more irritating. “Swag” no longer belongs exclusively to Justin Bieber— one Huffington Post contributor has turned it into an acronym that highlights our culture’s misinformed conceptions about eating disorders. Elizabeth Licorish has had enough with SWAG: the idea that eating disorders only affect Skinny White Affluent Girls.

Licorish suggests that, by labeling all eating disorders as a “rich white problem,” the stories of less privileged people go unheard, and the stories of SWAG girls themselves get trivialized. She writes,

[The culture I grew up in] insists a real eating disorder is a skinny, rich, white girl disease and, thus, not really a disease at all, but a lifestyle choice for spoiled brats and body-obsessed neurotics.

Licorish recalls watching poor people be turned away from recovery centers– because ED is typically seen as a rich person’s problem, affordable treatment isn’t widely available for people with lower incomes. She goes on to detail how many demographics are overlooked when we discuss disordered eating:

It breaks my heart to remember all the faces I met through 10 years in and out of various eating disorder treatment facilities. They’re not all SWAG faces. Some of the most tortured belong to men. Many belong to men and women who are morbidly obese, who are just as depressed and close to death as the most desperate anorexics. The faces in my memories are not all peaches and cream. They’re also maple, chestnut, and terra. Many of them are etched with wrinkles. Many of them are missing teeth.

Lack of representation for men, poor people, and people of color isn’t the only problem, either. Experts claim that many campaigns intended to raise awareness about the dangers of anorexia actually encourage anorexia. Celebrities (models in particular, and Victoria’s Secret angels in particular-particular) often discuss their eating disorders in ways that read like instruction manuals for how to lose weight. A ton of online “resources” for people with ED suggest that smarter or more conscious people are impervious to mental illness, and that avoiding an unhealthy food relationship is an easy choice. We have a long way to go.

Our culture understands that it’s invaluable to keep a conversation going, yes, but we need to reevaluate exactly what it is that we’re saying. When we declare ED a SWAG problem, everybody gets hurt.

Via Huff Post / Photo: White Chicks (2004)