Based on media portrayals of eating disorders, and photos we see on social media channels, many people have a stereotypical idea of what they think a person with an eating disorder "looks like." Most of the time, this image is of a straight, white, affluent, thin woman — but that's not the case at all.
In a new video as part of the National Eating Disorder Association's (NEDA) Awareness Week (which is from February 25 to March 1), in collaboration with Instagram, five people opened up about their experiences with eating disorders, body image, and social media. Although their individual journeys with eating disorders are unique, the overall message is clear: using your voice can help build community, dispel stereotypes, and allow other people struggling with eating disorders to get support.
A few people featured said that they didn't know how to discuss eating disorders, because they didn't have the vocabulary or hadn't seen their experience represented in traditional eating disorder education. "When I look back, I don't really remember a conversation about eating disorders and men," Ryan Sheldon of @bingeeaterconfessions said in the video. The reality is that disordered eating behaviours are nearly as common in men as they are in women, according to NEDA.
Nia Patterson of @thefriendineverwanted emphasized that it's important for your mental health to be as authentic as possible. "My body, being that it's fat and Black, means that I deserve respect, just as much as anyone else." Unfortunately, statistics show that people of colour — especially Black women — are less-likely to receive help for eating issues.
The other point highlighted in the interviews is that social media can be a useful tool for people in recovery from an eating disorder. Social media can challenge stereotypes about eating disorders, and helps "give visibility to the spectrum of eating disorders," Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association told Refinery29. There's often a tendency for people with eating disorders to isolate themselves, but social media also allows people to build their own supportive community.
"Being an eating disorder survivor, I experienced a lot of shame, and it's through the body positive community that I've been able to openly talk about my eating disorder," Gloria Lucas, founder of Nalgona Positivity Project, said in the video. "That's the way we break isolation is through connecting." Sam Dylan Finch, another subject in the video, said he hoped queer youth would be able to find his profile, @samdylanfinch, and feel supported. "We can build our communities to be stronger if we're having conversations about mental health," he said.
If you're interested in sharing your stories on social media, be sure to use NEDA's hashtag #ComeAsYouAre. Their goal is to highlight stories that aren't usually told in the typical eating disorder narrative. And while this initiative is highlighted during this awareness week, it's an important message to keep in mind the rest of the year, too.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorder Information Centre hotline at 1-866-633-4220. Support and information is available.