Trigger warning for discussion of eating disorder behaviors. This post was originally published on Rebecca Recovered. Cross-posted with permission.
Dear Joy, Michelle, Candace, Paula, and Whoopi,
I love The View. If you walk into my house at 11, chances are my mom and grandma are watching ABC. In a world where women’s voices are stymied and silenced, it is wonderful to see intelligent women share their opinions on what is happening in the world. That is why hearing your jokes about anorexia and bulimia made me so upset.
Joy, you mentioned that you had asked backstage if it would be better to be anorexic or bulimic. I’m not sure what you meant by that question, especially since the symptoms of anorexia and bulimia can overlap. Eating disorders are consistently portrayed as vain lifestyle choices in the media, even though they are not, let me repeat NOT choices. No one “chooses” between anorexia and bulimia. Research shows that 50 to 80% of a person’s risk for an eating disorder is genetic. Symptoms can vary, and some people may receive different diagnoses at different stages in their disease. Both are deadly, both are debilitating, and by portraying one as better or worse than the other, you have contributed to the stigma around seeking treatment.
Michelle, you said that you would “definitely [be] bulimic” because “you get to enjoy the meal.” I understand that most people in the country are unaware of the medical definition of an eating disorder, so I don’t fault you for your misunderstanding of what bulimia entails. Part of the reason I joined Embody Carolina is to educate people about the realities of EDs. For all those who do not know, the diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa involves binge eating — which is defined as an episode in which someone eats an unusually large amount of food in a short period time and experiences a loss of control over eating during the episode — followed by a compensatory behavior (self-induced vomiting, laxative misuse, fasting, over-exercising, etc.)
I have struggled with bulimia since I was thirteen. Let me tell you, bingeing is not a “meal”, and it is absolutely not enjoyable. It can be cathartic, or anxiolytic, but never enjoyable. Eating to the point where you feel like your body is going to explode and feeling as though you physically cannot stop yourself is incredibly scary. When it’s over, the anxiety and guilt that accompanies it is almost unimaginable, unless you have been there. It’s uncomfortable and, in my opinion, the opposite of enjoyable. I won’t get into the physical issues it has caused (even though there are plenty, and there are some that I’m still dealing with to this day even though I’m pretty strong into my recovery), but I will say that I would never wish bulimia on my worst enemy. That is why it hurts me when I hear Michelle say that she would choose to have bulimia, and that she views it as something she would enjoy.
Candace, you mentioned that, because you have personally struggled with an eating disorder, you feel that you can joke about it. I understand that. Sometimes humor is a way of healing, but it is also a way of marginalizing an experience. In the past, I have made fun of my own illness in order to downplay its severity to those around me and avoid unwanted attention. But, not too long ago, I realized that this did not do me any good. By playing down what I’ve dealt with, I realized I was adding to the stigma and shame associated with EDs. By making it seem that what I went through was “not a big deal” and “something to laugh about”, I was communicating to other people that it was okay for them to joke about it too. It is not my place to tell you how to live your recovery, but I am asking you now to simply rethink how you approach speaking and joking about eating disorders.
Now I am writing to all of you as a group. Something that really worries me about this segment is the emphasis placed on body shape and size in general. Equalizing “thin” and “healthy”, and implying that “skinny” is bad, reinforces the rampant body shaming in our culture. It’s true that “skinny shaming” does not have quite as detrimental of an effect as fat shaming/fatphobia, since fat shaming is also a form of prejudice and discrimination. However, both are hurtful and reinforce the idea that a woman’s (or man’s, or non-cis person’s) body has to look a certain way.
Embody Carolina and other body-positive groups try to push the message of Health at Every Size. This movement aims to show the world that there is no one way to look “healthy”, and that thinness does not equal health (or beauty). We want to encourage people to engage in habits such as eating a balanced diet or exercising for the goal of health, and not to achieve a certain weight or size.
I know that you all meant well. I know that you never had the intention of hurting people with your words, and I appreciate the apology you all gave. However, having good intentions does not excuse a negative impact.
In order to show that you really do view eating disorders as illnesses, and that you do care about body positivity and the mental health of your viewers, please do more to incorporate these ideas into your program. Please try to use inclusive, person-first language. For example, you can say something about “a person with anorexia”, not an anorexic, since diseases and disabilities do not define a person. Furthermore, please avoid fat talk and body shaming on your show. Fat talk can include anything from negatively commenting on a person’s size (particularly your own), to commenting on a person’s weight loss/gain or muscle loss/gain, to praising one body type over another. When talking about eating disorders, please try to do so respectfully and responsibly. If The View is about empowering women, about making them feel included in the dialogue, then taking the steps to promote positivity will go a long way.