Where outrage lives

Why don't I join the fray of outrage over Kate Moss saying "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels?"

Because I don't care. I find the opinions and actions and health of models irrelevant to eating disorder activism. What DOES concern me is a tragic over-valuing of the role of the media and a conflation of what that world does to healthy people (not good) and the symptoms we see in the mentally ill.

Modelling surely does attract and exploit very tall thin pretty people, and does cause slightly less naturally tall thin pretty people to do unnatural things to compete with the former, and without a doubt attracts lots of people whose mental illnesses make those unnatural behaviors a resume-plus.

But the attraction to modelling, and to staring at and comparing oneself to models, is a symptom. That fascination is a symptom of a silly and self-destructive part of modern life for otherwise mentally healthy people. The compulsion, however, is a symptom, for some people of mental illness. Symptom, and not cause.

Home improvement magazines and household cleaner advertisements do not cause OCDs. They attract those WITH these brain patterns. For the rest of us, we just struggle to keep up appearances or suffer fits of dismay at how we fall short. People whose brains are healthy are usually able to distinguish a sales pitch from realistic house management.

When Martha Stewart shares her tips for homemade lemon cleanser we all know she has a staff to think this stuff up and do it for her. OCD advocates don't call for her head because of her unreasonably tidy TV studio. When a model professes a devotion to thinness we should know that that is what she is paid to do and be and that this set of values are the only reason she blights our news feeds and screens. The fashion industry doesn't cause eating disorders, it exploits them and the mentally healthy who try to live on green salads and cleansing fasts in pursuit of thinness.

We should refuse to care what purveyors of self-mockery say or do and expend our outrage on the maddeningly unhelpful comments of those who really should know better: those speaking of eating disorders as if they are just incorrect thinking and mistaken priorities. This approach strikes me as terribly cruel to patients and undervalues THEIR heroism and hard work to recover.


  1. Thank you for putting this in such succinct terms. I'm in treatment now and have been puzzling over why both the recovery program and my organic thoughts have been so NON-focused on body image, and this explains why perfectly. (I wrote more about it on my recovery blog, if you're interested.)

    Have been enjoying your blog overall. Thank you.

  2. I've subscribed to your blog - great writing! Looking forward to reading more.

  3. Thanks for this, Laura. At my sickest, I was VERY obsessed with fashion magazines and super skinny models. I never considered that this obsession was actually a sympton of my disease.

  4. Thanks, Laura, for clarifying the differences between cause and effect, and for dispelling the common myth that the media causes EDs. Of course it doesn't! It may not assist some people with an inherent susceptibility to developing EDs, but there's a huge difference between what causes EDs and what are their symptoms.

    I struggled badly with anorexia nervosa (AN) for nearly 30 yrs. My AN was 'non-fat-phobic' and driven mainly by asceticism. I had no interest in media images of thin women. Any body image disturbance I had while emaciated (i.e. I didn't recognise my thinness) was caused by lack of nutrition - which worsened my inherent autistic traits and OCD. I never consciously set out to become emaciated.

    I know of many girls who became obsessed with media images of thin women AFTER they developed AN. Most agree that pre-AN they were not unduly affected or obsessed by such images.

  5. After reading Cathy's comment, I'm wondering if part of the focus on the media's role in eating disorders is because it's something that non-disordered eaters can relate to. Even women with a healthy attitude toward food and eating can feel damaged by these images--but because they don't have disordered eating, it's more likely to both start and stop there. I can see how non-disordered eaters would then extrapolate their experience with those images and apply it to ED patients, not recognizing that what is a more isolated problem for them is a symptom of a much larger issue for patients.

    (And thank you, Laura!)

  6. It is my guess that we are actively encouraging and sometimes simply implanting associations that the person may not have made otherwise. Living in a society seemingly fixated on body size would make someone with any body dysmorphia or proprioceptive issues look for "reasons" and our society is happy to provide them.

    This, as you allude to, probably leads the rest of us to think we "get it" and the patient to think "this is common" when we're really comparing apples to nuclear weapons here. An eating disorder is something exponentially different than the usual (sick, horrible) thinking and behaviors of modern society.


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