The disease destroys the lives of too many girls: don’t mock it on a t.shirt
[Trigger warning for eating disorder sufferers]
Three have come close to death a number of times. I want them to stay alive. They want to live too.
Some facts about the disease from the Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria: Approximately one in 100 adolescent girls develops anorexia nervosa.
- Anorexia Nervosa is the third most common chronic illness for adolescent girls in Australia.
- The overall mortality rate for anorexia is 5 times that of the same aged population in general.
- The average duration is 7 years. Those who recover are unlikely to return to normal health.
- Many sufferers develop chronic social problems, which can escalate to the extent experienced by schizophrenic patients.
- Morbidity includes osteoporosis, anovulation, dysthymia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and social isolation.
- Although 70% of patients regain weight within 6 months of onset of treatment, 15-25% of these relapse, usually within 2 years.
- The estimated mortality rate is 12 times that of similar aged women in the community and double that of women suffering other psychiatric disorders. Risk of suicide is high, being 1.5 times higher than for people with major depression.
These stats don’t fit easily on a t.shirt.
‘I heart anorexia’ does.
Artist Alexsandro Palombos has created a line of t.shirts featuring the ‘I heart anorexia’ slogan and ultra-thin celebrities. In claiming he wants to break down the ‘taboo’ on anorexia so that young women are not attracted to it, he shows a complete lack of understanding of this life-threatening condition.
In making fun of thin celebrities, depicting them as skeletal with apples or skeletal on the toilet, Palombos seems to think he can turn others off going down the same path.
According to my friend and colleague Lydia Turner from BodyMatters Australasia, Anorexia Nervosa is increasingly being seen as a brain disorder by leading eating disorder experts. So much so they are now looking at studies on schizophrenia to understand the neurological/cognitive impairment. Lydia says:
People don’t choose to have anorexia, so his statement. “Every day just eat a nice apple for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Make sure it’s always a glamorous red one, it gives the idea of substance. Don’t drink water, an apple contains enough liquid. Replace it with champagne and lots of coke” only serves to mock anorexics and hold them up as objects of ridicule. His statement reflects how many genuinely think – it’s like mocking a person with schizophrenia whose thinking patterns are also distorted.
Ironically, heart disease is the most common medical cause of death in people with severe anorexia.
There’s another danger in these t.shirts.
Messages like this make it harder for sufferers to acknowledge they have a problem. In the distorted thinking of some sufferers, it could glamourise their condition by giving them permission to advertise their love for anorexia.
These are the sufferers who congregate on on-line ‘pro-ana’ sites to urge each other on to continue their ‘lifestyle’. The ones who see themselves as the ultimate symbols of discipline, willpower and self-control in their quest for ultra-thinness. ‘I heart anorexia’ could become popular like ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ in the ‘thinspiration’ club.
‘I have fought 3 long years to reclaim my life from this monster’: Jackie
Here’s the thoughts of a young woman with the condition. Jacqueline reacted this way on my Facebook page:
I have lost the past 3 years to this illness – it cost me a university degree, it cost me my ability to work, it cost me friendships & a relationship, it cost me my freedom, instead filling every moment of my days & nights with rules & regulations & a never-ending screaming torment if i didn’t follow them.
It has cost me time that i can never get back, it has cost me tears of grief & terror. And it very nearly cost me my very life more than once. Do you know how humiliating it is to have an ambulance called to your place of work, because your entire body has seized up & you can literally cannot move a muscle? Or how terrifying it is to lie in the back of that ambulance & have seizures which they tell you may cause a stroke in you at your young age of just 23?
Glamorising such an incredibly serious illness such as anorexia – which holds the devastating honour of highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness – is disgusting & incredibly dangerous. This glamourisation causes even professionals to look upon this hideous illness as something they “wouldn’t mind a little of” – at the height of my illness i have been asked by such people for tips on how to starve themselves! It means that a sufferer’s pain is often not taken seriously, as we seem to have something everyone else wants. Well guess what – i DON’T want this, & i have fought 3 long years so far in treatment to reclaim my life from this monster.
If i wore a tshirt that said “i ♥ cancer” or “i ♥ AIDS”, there would be an absolute uproar over my cruel insensitivity – why is it acceptable to glorify & in turn diminish the pain & suffering of those with a different form of illness; anorexia nervosa?
Here’s myself and Dr Naomi Craft from the Eating Disorder Foundation of Victoria, commenting on the t.shirts on Channel 7’s Morning Show yesterday: