Les Comtesses on Eating Disorder Articles and Commenters

The Comtesses are having a round-table (as we do) about my post yesterday, and the article and comments it covers.  Here are some of the highlights.

Marzie:  It's just astonishing that someone can on the one hand be preaching self-acceptance of physique and aging in a fashion so wholly derisive, dismissive and *offensive* of/to those who struggle with a genuine MH issue, isn't it? Could this person have missed the entire point of the article by a wider margin, I wonder? Simply astonishing!!!

[redacted]:  WTF was with all the motivesplaining?! Is everything on the well like that, or is it common to ED discussions, or what? That is presumptuous, and solipsistic, and unfuckingcalledfor.

CN:  Last time I read any of them, they were pretty heavy on that, yeah.

There's one duo in there where someone tells ED'd b!tches to go volunteer and do something that isn't obsessed with themselves for a change.  The next commenter follows up nicely pointing out that, yeah, there are, like, ED'd doctors and nurses and volunteers and teachers and....  So sometimes you do get the redemptive value thrown in there for good measure.

There's also a fair amount of "THERE ARE STARVING CHILDREN IN AFRICA HOW DARE YOU CARE ABOUT MAGAZINES," which, I cannot even begin.

Personal Failure:  As to motivesplaining: in all honesty, motivesplaining of any kind says volumes about the 'splainer. ED is caused by wanting the perfect, faithful man?  Then this person cannot imagine a man being loving and faithful to anyone who is not physically perfect according to our culture, which is really, really sad for them when you think about it.

Enraging, but saddening.

GlamKitty:  Most people seem to be more the "in one ear/out the other" variety when it comes to anything not directly related to them... That's why so many articles and even posts are written from the simplest perspective... That's who's gonna (if you're lucky) be reading (or at the least, skimming) your article: the huddled masses.

It's easier for people to get an idea about the problems if they focus on the physical issues (such as low weight extremes and all the purgative behaviors resulting in myriad, visually-quantifiable health problems) rather than the psychological ones (like the real "why" behind the behaviors). This also goes to CN's frustration with the triggers so commonly put front and center; but once again, that's kind of my point here: the article isn't written for someone who has struggled with these issues and has given so much thought, time, and effort to learning about the history, significance, reasons, manifestations, treatments, etc., ... it was written for neighbors, co-workers, the checkout girl who sees you three times a week, so that they have a chance of identifying what they see, and possibly even being concerned for the right reasons if someone close to them exhibits any of the more-obvious symptoms.

Marzie:  Which is why the commentary is all the more disturbing, as few people will likely have the sense or skill set to parse the issues raised in some of them. Some people may read the sociobabble of RC or psychobabble of LL and actually take away the idea that they're insightful. In fact some of the other commenters did.

Sometimes the internet can be a crucible of ignorance to a truly disheartening extent. (Was it only a week ago I read Ann Coulter's column on how radiation was really good for us? My eyes!!! My eyes!!! Burned by her idiocy!!!!)  The article: just fine for its particular purpose. The commentary: cost me brain cells, because of exploding white matter.

CN:  These are all true points, I believe.  But I think this is also some of the problem.

Since most people are indeed "in one ear/out the other" when it comes to things not directly relevant to their own lives, then it follows that most people are never going to gain a more thorough understanding of eating disorders and their interplay with everyday life, unless and until an eating disorder directly affects them or their family...  The problem with eating disorders is that yes, sometimes a diet or a new exercise regimen is the trigger that sets them off, but frankly, that's not usually the case.  Talking about eating disorders in terms of "and then she decided to lose weight" is like talking about addictions in terms of "and then he decided to start drinking more."

I can appreciate what the article wants to do, and I'd rather have it written and published than not.  But it doesn't actually do much to address the fact that people in mid-life or later life with eating disorders have always been around, like that older article didn't address the fact that eating disorders and substance abuse have long been bosom buddies.  Maybe that's part of my issue with these two articles: they read to me like just more NY Times "trend pieces."  And in some way they are.

But while their aim is to teach, whereas most of the NY Times trend pieces you see aim to divert or socially titillate (Women are deciding en masse to stop wearing perfume because they don't want to impinge upon others' space!  Women are raising chickens in Brooklyn because they are feminists and also environmentalists!), what this piece sometimes does (and what that older piece did to a much larger extent) is to continue to address what are basically ED tropes, and employ rather ham-handed tactics.

For instance, it's hard to see how the writer or editor let the comment "... so [physicians] can recognize and distinguish between menopause-related changes, real health problems and eating disorders..." stand without in-print clarification that when the doctor said "real health problems" she meant, for example, anemia borne of ulcerative colitis, as opposed to the psychiatric problem of an eating disorder that leads to health problems.  Tara Parker-Pope clears that up in the comments, but the fact that it made it to print unadorned suggests an unawareness that is discouraging.  It unwittingly underscores the suggestion that eating disorders are not "real health problems," which you can clearly tell from the comments is a dearly cherished belief by many.  That combined with the weight/height/pounds triggers suggests that while this piece aims to help people "get it," the piece itself doesn't entirely "get it."

So the point and merit of the piece is definitely summed up in the one doctor's quote, "We need to let everybody know that it’s possible to develop these illnesses across the life span."  But in the course of letting everybody know that, the writer and editors missed some pretty easy fixes.

Is there ever going to be a perfect eating disorder education piece that accomplishes consciousness-raising and balanced sensitivity to the special interest group of patients and loved ones?  No.  But that definitely doesn't mean that I have to accept some of the shortcomings in the existing pieces.

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