Thursday, February 9, 2017

Not Done Yet

I've been having an internal debate about how involved I want to be in addressing what I feel are dangerous trends in society. The other day I saw a preview for a documentary about Karen Carpenter. It made me think about how lucky I am to be alive. Though I never took the heart-damaging medications she took, our lowest weight was about the same. Sometimes it seems like sheer luck that I survived. More and more people seem to be struggling with eating disorders.

At the risk of beating a dead horse...

With the recent Lady Gaga's belly controversy, I decided I would allow myself one last outburst over the whole Instagram mess. Keep in mind that I'm not actually triggered these days, but I mentor people who are. Every day I see people fighting for their lives. Last year, five people associated with members of one support group lost their battle. We just lost someone in the group this month, too, so it's no surprise that I get fired up when I see people carelessly posting their insecurities and afflictions on social media for all to see and absorb.

Let me see if I can explain things in a way that people will understand because one middle-aged lady suggested I was "body shaming" when I called her out on her potentially damaging and highly triggering posts, even though I never once mentioned a single word about the woman's body or her appearance. As a friend suggested, this is like being called a bully for expressing concern when someone posts loads of images of herself sloppy drunk and in compromising positions or passed out on the floor with captions about how great and fun it is to drink to excess every night. No, I'm not actually the problem. Yes, I could sit back and say nothing, but that was starting to feel wrong. Complacency is its own injustice.

What upsets me more than the images, many of which are bad enough, are the captions that go along with them. In one particular case, the woman has revealed her BMI, her caloric intake, and her exercise level. It doesn't take a genius to see that this is a train wreck in the making, but the almost constant self-criticism and self-absorption are unbearable. That's what I see as the most harmful to others. Imagine a young girl looking at the image of someone who is underweight and then reading the caption about her round belly. How could anyone think this is a good idea? Another woman thinks it's OK to post images of her seven identical non-fat lunches in Tupperware containers. That's not as terrible, but OCD much? How is this healthy and balanced and enjoyable? One of the worst things I have seen is someone suggesting how to hide curves in images for people who have none. I have said my piece, but it hasn't resolved anything.

Here is why I have trouble getting past all this. Take a look at these statistics:

  • At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. 
  • Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
When people flaunt an illness that kills so many individuals, I can't sit back and act like it's OK. It's never OK to subtly or blatantly encourage others to obsess over weight, body, and food. All this does is continue to promote an unhealthy standard. I can't stand the thought of anyone encouraging others to strive for thinness by counting calories, weighing out every morsel of food, obsessing about exercise, and focusing on every self-perceived flaw, and then publicly complaining about or making hateful comments about body parts, her own or someone else's. When I see this kind of content and the unwell people who encourage it, I see it as a slap in the face of those who promote body positivity, health, and wellness. 

Those who make comments about bellies on natural bodies, untoned abs on fit athletes and cellulite on thin thighs have disordered thinking and promote a sick culture. Those who make naive comments about how stupid it is for people to have eating disorders are no better. Eating disorders are a very rational response to the chaos in life, especially when we are not taught better coping skills. Most addition is a combination of genetic factors, past trauma, general physiology and/or underlying mental illness, and current stress level. Spend a moment talking to someone in the throes of an eating disorder who is triggered and affected by the kind of unhealthy content that's becoming so popular on Instagram - complaining about cellulite, round bellies, or fat and flawed body parts when the referenced image shows not just otherwise but the exact opposite -- and you will maybe understand what harm these kinds of accounts can cause. 

I get the insecurity, the need for validation. I know what it's like to worry about weight, food, appearance, body, exercise and to want some kind of reassurance, but if you are an adult and still begging for attention by showing the world how thin you are while complaining about phantom bulges, you should probably consider therapy. What you are seeking can't be found in rah-rah Instagram or facebook comments.

The response to my comment about the harm this kind of content can cause was that my remark was immediately deleted. That's not surprising when it comes to anyone in denial. The threat of potentially addressing, or worse, giving up any harmful behaviors is often too scary for someone in the throes of addiction. The addictive behavior has to be protected at all costs, even if it means losing friends and distancing family members, poor performance, or worsening health. Comments like mine challenge the warped sense of reality of someone with an illness, so they won't be tolerated. There's nothing a stranger can really do at this point. I have no desire to watch someone slowly kill herself. I can't. I actually ended up blocking one account afterward, even though Instagram is public and anyone not logged in can see everything. I've said all I can, though, and there's nothing more I can do. I lived it, so I don't need to watch it. I hope that maybe one day people like this will realize how damaging what they are doing is, not just to themselves but to others. We all have our issues, but there's no need to inflict every neurotic thought onto others, especially if it means negatively influencing someone in the process.

And NOW I'm done.

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