Proud2Bme | 3 Ways the University Of Idaho’s Body Positive Week Undermines Eating Disorder Sufferers

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3 Ways the University Of Idaho’s Body Positive Week Undermines Eating Disorder Sufferers

The University of Idaho has announced that they are replacing National Eating Disorders Awareness Week with Body Positive Week, inviting students to “increase their self-esteem by improving the way they see their bodies” by hosting body-positive events.

Though the body positive movement is important in countless ways, it cannot serve as an acceptable substitute for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Our writers share three reasons why the University of Idaho should bring back NEDAwareness Week. 

1. Body Positive Week Undermines the Importance of ED Awareness 

Kaitlin Irwin: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week spotlights the real and serious issues of body image and body dysmorphia. It's also a way for people to learn about eating disorders, their symptoms and treatment options.

In a society that doesn't focus enough on mental health, it can be hard for anyone to feel safe and comfortable discussing their personal experience with an eating disorder. On top of that, eating disorder sufferers struggle every day with their sense of worth; NEDAwareness Week is one of the few opportunities for open and honest conversation about the experience of struggling with an eating disorder.

It is crucial to put a week-long spotlight on ED and its fatal consequences. Even those outside of the ED community may see more attention paid to body image. In fact, we now have the body-positive movement, which attacks body ideals and societal pressures to be thin.

Body-positivity has become almost a way of life, with more and more people realizing that they are so much more than a number on a scale. It's expanding to include those with physical limitations, skin conditions and different sexual identities. This inclusion and support is wonderful, and I long for the day when being body-positive is the norm.

UI has great intentions, no doubt. I hope that Body Positive Week helps students discover their self-worth and uniqueness. This could be a great way for them to identify any destructive thought patterns or behaviors. Still, this kind of awareness should always be present on campus and, in this case, I do believe that replacing NEDAwareness Week with Body Positive Week could undermine public understanding of the importance of eating disorders awareness.

2. Addressing Eating Disorders Directly is Crucial

Alison Znamierowski: Being bombarded with the message and the pressure to love your body! can be abrasive if you are involuntarily experiencing exactly the opposite. That is not to say that body positivity is inherently detrimental—it is not at all—but there needs to be a space where people can express that they cannot or do not love their bodies, and work from there to address their body image concerns. It can be extremely difficult for people who feel in conflict with their bodies to immediately jump onto the body positivity bandwagon.

Although the “pressure...of fitting certain body norms” and body dysmorphia are absolutely powerful catalysts for disordered eating, in my experience eating disorders are nuanced, complicated, multifaceted and deeply-rooted, and it is important that they are treated and respected as such. Body Positive Week and campus dietitian Marissa Rudley describe and dismiss eating disorders as “problems,” opting instead to focus on “prevent[ing] habits that can lead to eating disorders.” There is nothing wrong with creating a campus culture that promotes healthy habits. But, by cutting eating disorders out of the conversation, the University of Idaho is potentially eclipsing and silencing people who are suffering.

Realizing that I was not alone in my struggles was by and large the most important factor in both recognizing that I had an eating disorder and beginning and continuing to recover. By replacing NEDAW with Body Positive Week, I fear that the University of Idaho is sweeping eating disorders under the rug—which is counter to their intention, and may make those with eating disorders feel alone and stigmatized.

Perhaps the solution would be to form a committee of students with eating disorders, ask them how they would approach the situation, and what they think the best ways to provide support and care to fellow students would be. There are many body positive activities that could be incorporated into NEDAW—writing lists of the ways in which we appreciate our bodies and what they do for us, for example. But addressing eating disorders directly is important, and markedly different than the message of Body Positive Week; it says: Eating disorders are nothing to be ashamed of. You are not alone. There are other people who are struggling in the same way, and we can create a safe space to speak, to struggle, to heal and to recover—together.

3. Eating Disorders Deserve the Same Acknowledgement as Other Diseases

Sheena: The University of Idaho has decided to recognize this week as Body Positive Week to invite students to increase their self-esteem by improving the way they see their bodies. The idea sounds great, right? But wait, it’s to take place this week, the same week as National Eating Disorders Awareness Week? Actually, this was indeed an intentional choice UI made. Are they trying to disregard the importance of the disease? Are they trying to undermine the impact an eating disorder has on families? Did they really say they are focusing on a broader audience? If so, then why bring awareness to something everyone is already aware of? I mean, call me crazy, but isn’t the whole point of bringing awareness to others not because they understand, but to help them to understand?

I can’t help but wonder why it is that society openly accepts terms like “anorexic” or “bulimic” when used to label a passerby, yet discussing the illnesses “anorexia” and “bulimia” have become so much as taboo? This isn’t the time to silence our voices. It’s time to spread the word. The reason eating disorders are so difficult to understand is because no one talks about them. Everyone wants to sweep these illnesses under the rug as though they never existed, but let me share a secret—they do exist.

It’s hard to believe that a licensed dietician would endorse diminishing eating disorders awareness and that a university would allow such disregard of the disease. Maybe they don’t understand the scope of their actions, so let’s take a look from another angle. Take HIV/AIDS, for example, and suppose it’s the annual HIV/AIDS awareness week. This year, however, the University of Idaho will not be participating. Instead they will turn their focus toward bringing awareness to general health, since “general health issues are everybody’s issue.” Sounds pretty cruel, huh? Especially when HIV/AIDS has claimed so many lives. If that’s not a huge slap in the face of every HIV/AIDS victim, their families, and sufferers, then I don’t know what is.

So, what’s the difference? Is it any less cruel to do this with eating disorders? Every year lives are claimed by eating disorders. I have to ask, how is it that UI can justify this effort? I mean, yes, I get that bringing awareness to eating disorders can be scary, but if you just educate people, help them understand that it’s not a choice, and teach them that those struggling are in fact still human beings, then maybe, just maybe, it will get a little easier.

The problem with eating disorders is that people don’t understand. They just don't get it. It’s not going to take one person spreading the word, it’s going to take a tribe of survivors standing together, proving that fighting this disease isn’t a lost cause. The more we talk about it, the easier it becomes. Don’t be afraid. You don’t have to be afraid. For seven days, stand strong and talk about eating disorders—even if your voice shakes. You can do this—if you are fighting this disease, supporting a loved one in their fight, or a survivor, then you’re already stronger than anyone will ever know. Don’t allow this to silence you. Instead, let it awaken you.

For more on recovery, check out:

Undiagnosed but Not Without a Voice

Fighting for Recovery

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