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Eating Disorders

The danger of To The Bone

Author:
to the bone

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

Content note – eating disorders, anorexia

Netflix have done it again. They’ve managed to create something dangerous, and they’re trying to pass it off as helpful, a conversation starter. The show Thirteen Reasons Why (which, somehow, is being renewed – help us all) came under a significant amount of criticism, all of which was completely fair. The show was trivialising, unnecessarily graphic and triggering, and may have even inspired tragic actions taken by viewers.

Unfortunately, Netflix hasn’t learnt its lesson following the response to their show. Either that, or it really does value money over peoples’ lives – because the sad fact is, people are drawn into media such as this, especially when they’re already vulnerable. This is what concerns me most about the site’s new film, To The Bone. If you haven’t already heard about it, To The Bone is about anorexia. It’s about a middle-class white girl who is conventionally attractive, cisgender and heterosexual. It’s a story we’ve all seen before – because media surrounding is very much a visual phenomenon. And that is a major problem.

The trailer alone was enough to be upsetting, and caused considerable damage instantly. Stills from the 2 minutes and 24 second teaser have been put up on pro-ana sites, and tagged under ‘thinspo’ on Tumblr. Some might find this shocking, but I’m not at all surprised. As an eating disorder survivor, with anorexia at the heart of my history, that trailer made me deeply uncomfortable. Even though there was much they got wrong, the images portrayed were familiar – painfully so. The close-up shots of Ellen’s – the main character’s – protruding bones looked just like the images I used to scroll through, just like the image of ‘success’ I had pinned in my mind. I am ashamed to admit that my immediate response was not to be upset or even angry. I paused the trailer on the shot of her jutting spine and I thought “that used to be me”. I thought “I could be that again”. I thought “I could do even better”.

The makers of the film have defended their choice to use imagery such as this. They have said that it is meant to ‘serve as a conversation starter’, not to glamorise eating disorders. Whilst that’s a worthy intention, there would have been far better ways to go about this. They may not have wished to romanticise anorexia, but that is precisely what they’ve done. Depicting how sick and unhealthy it is to do these things to your body isn’t going to put people off if they’re in a vulnerable place. It’s not going to help sufferers of anorexia realise that what they’re doing is harmful. For many with the illness, that is precisely the point. Besides, how can these images of sickness be categorised as ‘undesirable’ when they are not at all dissimilar to those we see in magazines, on catwalks, on red carpets? How do we understand Ellen’s behaviours as disordered when they are those which we are all actively encouraged to partake in by the media and those around us? How do we separate this depiction of anorexia from the images and ‘tips’ used to fuel the illness?

I know that people who will be harmed by this content will watch it, because I am one of those people and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since the trailer was dropped. I feel compelled to watch it, not because I expect the film to shed any light on the reality of living with anorexia, nor because I think it’s going to provide a sense of hope. I’ve felt compelled to watch it because I have an eating disorder, and eating disorders thrive on this sort of thing. I’ve been sucked in by this film, and I’m over four years into recovery. I’ve been set back by it, and I’ve built up a lot of resilience against disordered thoughts and external triggers. It terrifies me to imagine how those new to recovery, or not yet ready for it will be affected. It terrifies me to think how this film will be used by people who are so sick that they see the portrayal of Ellen’s sickness as aspirational and inspirational. It terrifies me to think that those at Netflix genuinely believe that this could be anything other than incredibly harmful.

If you need a support with an eating disorder you can visit www.b-eat.co.uk (UK-based) or www.nationaleatingdisorders.org (US-based)

My Disorder

Author:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A poem by Rousseau Duclos

Content Note: depression, EDNOS, eating disorders, mental illness, self-hatred

My disorder is just that, it’s a disorder,
a realm of chaos and confusion and hatred,
of a mind that can’t quite grasp why but can’t stop either.
My disorder is not a teenage girl with tiny thighs
and a flat stomach, with a bright, clear smile and shining eyes too,
and pale, smooth skin that glistens in the daylight.
My disorder is not a little girl with frail bones and a miniscule waist,
one that excuses herself after every meal but who returns to the table with
breath that smells like peppermints,
or who eats celery and lettuce for dinner, seemingly immune to desire.
My disorder is not your girlfriend, who never lets a single morsel pass through her lips,
but whose stomach is always gurgle-free, or the girl with perfect grades
and shiny, long blonde hair that rests down her back,
a whispered “You could save me.”
My disorder is not a speedy recovery, only one relapse and it’s not even gruesome,
with a handsome man at her side and love in the air and, Wow, wasn’t that so easy?
or midnight sex with hands running over her body, which
is still rail-thin even though she can’t stop saying how much she’s recovered.
My disorder is not love or perfection or anything remotely pleasant,
because that is a lie, perfection doesn’t exist,
and no human can survive on celery and lettuce alone.
My disorder is tears and crying and therapy sessions and hospitalizations,
desperate for help
and also consumed with the belief that nothing is wrong.
My disorder is worried parents and family meals,
just to make sure that you’re actually eating, and then bathroom doors
locked from the outside because the sound of vomiting was heard once too often.
My disorder is not beauty; it is death,
with stringy hair that crumbles in your fingertips,
yellowing teeth, and an overwhelming desire to die, or maybe
to just stop feeling everything for a moment.
My disorder is just a form of prolonged suicide,
because, without end, that’s the inevitable outcome,
an emaciated corpse that was apparently never skinny enough, even in her grave.
My disorder is not just teenage white girls, with money and friends;
it’s people in every single walk of life, of all races, all ages, all genders,
every single social stance imaginable, people with jobs or in school,
with so much potential for growth but who are forced to decay.
My disorder is never just a new weight-loss program,
and that exercise isn’t about getting healthy or being fit,
it’s about making yourself so small you disappear completely.
My disorder is, “Oh, wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight, but it looks great!”
and me clenching my teeth, because can’t you tell that for the past four weeks,
my mind has only daydreamed about the icing on your lips and the slice of bread in your hands
My disorder isn’t health, and will never be health,
it’s “fruit has too many carbs” and eating no vitamins whatsoever,
because what about the bloating?
My disorder is self-hatred, and it isn’t a choice,
it’s never been a choice, because who would chose that?
And it will never make sense.
My disorder is all of the evil and cruelty,
inflicted upon myself, and it isn’t logical,
because it’s a mental illness, brought on by a chemical imbalance in my brain.
My disorder is all the distrust I’ve ever seen in my mother’s eyes,
but it isn’t me, because I am a human being, worthy of every possibility,
and it is only my disorder that deserves to die.
My recovery is a lot of hard work, therapy sessions and a new cocktail of medications,
and sometimes it feels like it’ll never be over,
and maybe it won’t, but in the meantime, I can spend my nights thinking about a day
when I can let you run your hands over my body and not want to shrink away,
when I can run and dance because I love it and it makes me feel good, not to burn calories,
when I can finally love myself and, in turn, eventually love you too,
when I can look back without fear and see all my growth and be amazed at the pure beauty of me,
when I can raise a child and teach them to love themselves and love others too,
when I finally am free.
So, that day is not here yet, and so far the road to strength seems long and winding,
but that doesn’t matter, not now, not ever,
because I’ve come to the realization that
you deserve only the best in life,
I deserve only the best in life,
only the most love and compassion and everything you thought was cheesy as a child.
I’m going to fight to make this life the best one imaginable.

 

Pop Culture of 2014

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

A week into the new year, let’s look back on all of the things  that have happened in the worlds of music, film and fashion in 2014, and hope for a year of awesome things ahead.

Some of 2014 has been truly awful and problematic (Meghan Trainor’s skinny-shaming in All About That Bass, and her subsequent comments on eating disorders, for example!), but we have also had some wonderful things come out of 2014. Of course we must examine the bad in order to overcome it, but it’s always nice to reflect on the positive, so here’s a round-up of some of the highlights…

celebfeminists

 

  • The brilliant Ellen Page came out, with bravery and grace. A world of feminist queer girls cheered – partially in support and solidarity of this wonderful woman, partially in utter delight. In all seriousness, it was a very moving speech, leaving us all bursting with pride, and gave many a fresh wave of courage.
  • Beyoncé released a music video for Pretty Hurts, which is obviously everyone’s favourite song on her latest album. It sends out a powerful message against beauty standards and perfection, critiquing beauty pageants in particular for pitting women against each other in the name of homogenous beauty.
  • Many popular women’s magazines began to take on the ‘feminist’ label. They still have a long way to go, quite frankly – they’re still airbrushing photos, keeping adverts which perpetuate the hyper-sexualisation of women’s bodies etc. etc. However, they are including some pieces on important issues and featuring strong women (and allowing them to talk about more than their make-up routines!). I’ve seen spreads on the dangers of diet pills, sexual harassment, discussions on abortion laws, and heaps of coverage of incredible things done by incredible women! It’s a very big step forward.
  • The greatest independent British film ever happened. PRIDE! Based on the real action of a London-based LGBT group supporting striking miners from a village in Wales, Pride embraces stereotypes and simultaneously smashes them. It’s very feel-good, whilst also being incredibly moving and will bring you to tears in several instances. If you’re not cracking up five minutes after choking up and vice-versa, you’re watching the wrong film.
  • Amazing actress Emma Watson turned activist! In September, Emma gave a very emotive speech to introduce the brilliant He For She campaign. Having such a prominent figure openly denounce the feminism vs. man myth has done wonders for the movement, as can be seen in the influx of support worldwide – including more famous faces to spread the word…
  • Taylor Swift became queen of the whole world (she’s always been queen of my personal world, but hey, the wider world has woken up). The release of 1989 signifies a massive change of tone in Taylor’s music. The singles Shake It Off and Blank Space (although the music videos of each single have been controversial) are total anthems, sending the message that this girl does not care what people think of her anymore, and as a listener, empower you to feel the same. Alongside the songs, Taylor has been vocal about the inequality within the music industry, how she has experienced backlash for writing about relationships and heartache, whilst male musicians do the same thing, but are simply praised for the quality of their song writing. Every criticism this girl has had over the years, she’s just shakin’ it off, because haters gon’ hate, and Taylor’s gon’ slay.
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay pt. 1 was released, and with all the action and emotion came a total reversal of stereotypical gender roles in film! Whilst Katniss is, as ever, our badass heroine, Peeta is the damsel in distress, as the hostage of the Capitol. It makes a refreshing change.

A more personal highlight for me has been joining Powered By Girl – and I am honestly not just saying that! I feel so fortunate to be a part of this, and to know these wonderful girls, some of whom have swiftly become some of my best friends. You all continue to inspire me, make me smile, and make me proud, every single day. Here’s to more feminist adventures in 2015!

The Unspeakable Things Have Been Spoken

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

unspeakable

Laurie Penny. If you’ve not heard the name before, it’s about time you paid attention. I’m a little biased perhaps, as Penny is nothing short of a hero to me. But honestly, she’s great. She’s recently released a book in the U.K., to be released in the U.S. in September. It’s called ‘Unspeakable Things’, and hell, she talks about exactly what girls are told not to. If you’re looking for an easy going, ‘yes you can be a feminist, love pink, wear false eyelashes and shave your legs’ book, this is not for you. Laurie Penny in general, is probably not for you. She is not interested in sugar-coating this movement, making it appealing to the masses. In her eyes, its appeal should just be a given. Frankly, she thinks this kind of lipstick feminism is rather silly. For her, it’s about the nitty-gritty, the things that nobody likes to talk about. But she’s talking about them, and she certainly won’t be silenced any time soon.

Penny interlinks serious analysis of a range of issues, with the ways in which she has personally been affected, making for a very interesting and thought-provoking read. However, the personal side is no sob story – it’s a cold, slightly bitter narrative, at times, relaying the harsh truths of eating disorders, rape culture, and more. There’s no sugar coating, it’s completely honest. And yet, she’s not claiming to speak for everyone, which is an irritatingly common mistake in discussion of these topics. In fact, she regularly stresses otherwise, pointing out that she is a white, middle-class woman; therefore privileged, and unable to tell every woman’s point of view. It is often assumed that feminist texts speak for all women, and often writers assume this ‘voice of the people’ stance. It is incredibly refreshing that Laurie Penny openly refutes this.

The book is in many ways a rant. It is an intense outlet of anger about the world; about neoliberal capitalism; about patriarchal constraints; about transphobia; about white/male/heterosexual/cis-gender/middle-class privileges – you name it, Penny is probably pissed off about it. But it’s still very eloquently written, aside from the regular effing and blinding. She covers ground such as mental illness, single motherhood and abortion. It’s true, these are all topics covered before, but here is the view of a young woman – a view from someone of this generation. However, more importantly, she attacks things barely touched upon before like issues with modern feminism, cybersexism, and uniquely, men’s issues. But it’s not what you think. The chapter on guys is actually the best part of the book. If you only read one part when you pick it up in the bookshop, make it the ‘Lost Boys’ chapter. It’s genuinely eye-opening, and you won’t regret it.

Her unrelenting wit and her ingenious prose style make this book brilliant. Though it was a moving and engrossing read, there were moments when I found myself laughing out loud, because, yes, Laurie Penny kicks patriarchal ass. It is full of dry humour – fitting for the mood of the book and the nature of the issues discussed. Highlights include; “those who are so eager for women and girls to go back to the kitchen might think again… you can plan a lot of damage from a kitchen. It’s also where the knives are kept” and “Having it all now means having a career, kids, a husband, a decent blow-dry – and that’s it.” And that’s only in the introduction.

I’m not saying I agree with every little detail in the book. In fact, there were several points made that I frowned at and found myself strongly disagreeing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t value what’s said – quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that we don’t all have to agree on everything. It’s a necessary aspect of this movement – differing opinions, challenging others and being challenged, that’s how the Suffragettes arose! What matters is that, at the very core, we are united in ideas and are willing to fight for social change. This is how we will make equality a reality.

A Before and After Reversal

Author:

By Guest Blogger Amanda Carbonneau

I came across this ad for a national eating disorder awareness week on Facebook that showed a girl’s eating disorder treatment “before/after” picture with a link to her blog about body positivity.  Not only did the photo serve to culture jam the usual before-after ads that show a girl losing weight, this girl was proudly showing off her new and healthy body.Before-After

More importantly, this girl, Brittany, wrote a blog about eating disorders and invited other girls to share and contribute from their own experience. From the comments and blog posts it’s clear that the readers were engaged in a dialogue about body positivity and health.

This is great. But one thing bothers me. The website positions Brittany as their “brave” leader. She is brave and it’s important to have a leader to motivate others, but I worry that girls will fail to recognize the help that Brittany received from treatment. Not only should we acknowledge the hard work Brittany has done but girls struggling also need to hear about those who supported her just as she supports others now. No girl struggling with disordered eating can become healthy without the support of others!

I love Brittany’s before-after culture jam and how her blog builds coalition between girls. However, I think it’s important also to encourage girls to “culture jam” the single heroine story and include those who support them in their narratives of strength and bravery. It’s important for girls to learn its okay to seek support from others, even if no one is talking about it. People don’t become heroines all on their own.

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