We use our bodies as statements of who we are every day. Do you have tattoos? Do you have piercings? Are you an athlete or a dancer? Do you choose to veil? That's you experiencing your body as a means of communication to the rest of the world. Anorexia and bulimia aren't so different from other deliberate body choices, in that respect. Of course, getting a sleeve or making a voluntary decision to wear a hijab are actions that don't carry the consequences of eating disorders.
Marzie wrote a post last week pointing to RAWA, whose site has long documented the horrific epidemic of Afghan women self-immolating. Please use your judgment about whether to go through the photo gallery; it's truly graphic and heartbreaking. These women literally set themselves ablaze because they were all trapped in a situation without realistic hope of extrication, or even alleviation. Regardless of the immediate trigger that led each woman to grab oil and a light (one woman in the photo gallery set herself on fire after she broke the new TV her husband brought home), each found herself stuck in a situation where she had no voice. But it's hard to ignore the screams of a human being on fire.
Where self-immolation is sudden and bright and the stuff of nightmares, eating disorders are quieter, and of course women in developed nations with eating disorders can't be remotely compared to Afghan women who perceive their only option as burning themselves to death - except in that both actions are physical expressions of a person's experience of life through her (or his) body. If self-immolation is a guttural scream, eating disorders are a low, drawn-out moan.
Eating disorder therapy puts much focus on interpersonal effectiveness and appropriate emotional expression. Extremely generally speaking, anorexics tend to show restriction of emotion, and bulimics tend to shy away from conflict. Why on earth would restricting and manipulating food intake in order to control body size and shape be easier for us than putting into clear and consistent words who we are, what we need, and what we aren't willing to compromise about? I don't have the answer (or else I'd have the answer AND millions of dollars). When you take away the physical discomfort of weight gain and the mental discomfort of breaking food rituals, then you're faced with the emotional discomfort of being asked to change the body you've deliberately (and possibly dangerously) chosen present to the world.