“I failed eating, failed drinking, failed not cutting myself into shreds…Failed mirrors and scales…” Laurie Halse Anderson wrote in her book Wintergirls.

We’ve all pictured similar scenes: the girl leaning over the toilet with the end of her toothbrush shoved deep into her throat in hopes of losing her last meal; the boy spending hours on end in the gym to satisfy society’s definition of “masculine;”or the teenager who eats once a week until she wastes into nothing.

Most often we see the first and last of these images, the anorexic or bulimic high school girl, sometimes depicted as the popular one, or other times as an introverted and depressed loner. But I am here to shed some light on the under discussed and over stereotyped issue of eating disorders:

  1. Anorexia and Bulimia are not the only types of eating disorders, nor are they the most common. There are four main types of eating disorders: anorexia-nervosa (AN), bulimia-nervosa (BN), binge eating disorder (BED), and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). There can also be combinations of these illnesses such as anorexia-bulimia, or instances of BED which often accompany AN and BN.

This misconception not only cuts out the largest group of people who suffer from eating disorders, but also tells them that what they feel doesn’t have a name. Fluctuating weight loss and gain, anxiety and depression, and being hyper-vigilant about one’s own weight, appearance and food consumption: this is a dangerous disorder. But lack of awareness and informative discussions about it simply tell people who suffer from EDNOS that they don’t fit into the category of anorexic or bulimic.

  1. Females are not the only group who suffer from eating disorders – men and boys do, too. They suffer from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders as well. While taking steroids, working out for hours on end and eating a ton due to a need to be buff and “manly” is dangerous and requires professional help, there are 10 million males in the US who have an eating disorder (either AN, BN, BED, or EDNOS).

The hype about only young adolescent girls having eating disorders leads to an extremely low rate of males seeking help for their illness. This lack of publicity due to a smaller number of males speaking up about it causes the awareness of male eating disorders to remain low. There’s nothing feminine about having an eating disorder, and while getting help no matter what is difficult, encouraging an all-gender-encompassing view of eating disorders will help make it easier for guys to reach out for help.

  1. Eating disorders are not solely a rich-white-American issue: people of all classes and color are affected. Due to the history of eating disorders, social media, movies and TV shows, people have developed this assumption. Everyone’s seen movies, similar to Mean Girls, where that popular white-girl goes into the bathroom to casually throw up. First of all, it is not normal and should never be normalized. Also, in reality people of color, from all socioeconomic statuses, are more susceptible to eating disorders. This is because, from the a person of color’s view, most racial minorities live with the mentality that they must be twice as good as any white American. Therefore, this pressure involves wanted to represent their race and culture well, which includes through beauty and other body image related methods.

Assuming that rich white American girls are the only ones who are allowed to have this disorder has a similar effect on people of color as the feminine stereotype on men. They can be reluctant to acknowledge their disorder and avoid getting help.

Yes, all of this is very heavy and hard to discuss. But it needs to be talked about. An eating disorder is a mental illness, and is not just physical. There are so many different types and combinations of disorders, other illnesses which accompany them, and an enormous number of genetic and environmental factors. All of these things make having an eating disorder incredibly difficult from before it’s even recognized to long after the major physical and mental healing have been completed. However, crushing stereotypes and misconceptions, educating oneself and others, can make it just a bit easier to start recovering.

“There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter any more, I am thawing,” Laurie Halse Andersen, Wintergirls.

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