To ‘The View’ Hosts Who Made Those Eating Disorder Jokes
Dear Joy, Michelle, Candace, Paula and Whoopi,
I love “The View.” If you walk into my house at 11, chances are my mom and grandma are watching ABC. In a world where women’s voices are stymied and silenced, it’s wonderful to see intelligent women share their opinions on important topics. That’s why hearing your jokes about anorexia and bulimia made me so upset.
I know you said you were joking and (briefly) mentioned eating disorders are illnesses, and while I commend you for letting the audience know eating disorders are indeed illnesses, joking about them does not reduce the stigma surrounding them. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. The physical, emotional and interpersonal effects of these diseases are truly horrible. Making light of them reinforces the idea that EDs are not serious and that those struggling should not receive the treatment and respect they need while in the recovery process.
Joy, you mentioned you’d asked backstage if it would be better to be anorexic or bulimic. I’m not sure what you meant by that question, especially since the symptoms of anorexia and bulimia can overlap. Eating disorders are consistently portrayed as vain lifestyle choices, even though they’re not. Let me repeat that: eating disorders are not choices. No one “chooses” between anorexia and bulimia. Research shows 50 to 80 percent of a person’s risk for an eating disorder is genetic. Symptoms can vary, and some people may receive different diagnoses at different stages in their disease. Both anorexia and bulimia are deadly and debilitating, and by portraying one as better or worse than the other, you’ve contributed to the stigma around seeking treatment.
Michelle, you said you would “definitely [be] bulimic” because “you get to enjoy the meal.” I understand most people in the country are unaware of the medical definition of an eating disorder, so I don’t fault you for your misunderstanding of what bulimia entails. Part of the reason I joined Embody Carolina is to educate people about the realities of EDs. For all those who do not know, the diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa involves binge eating — which is defined as an episode in which someone eats an unusually large amount of food in a short period time and experiences a loss of control over eating during the episode — followed by a compensatory behavior (self-induced vomiting, laxative misuse, fasting, over-exercising, etc.).
I’ve struggled with bulimia since I was 13. Let me tell you, binging is not a “meal,” and it’s absolutely not enjoyable. It can be cathartic or anxiolytic but never enjoyable. Eating to the point where you feel like your body is going to explode and feeling as though you physically cannot stop yourself is incredibly scary. When it’s over, the anxiety and guilt that accompanies it is almost unimaginable unless you’ve been there. It’s uncomfortable and, in my opinion, the opposite of enjoyable. I won’t get into the physical issues it’s caused (even though plenty exist, and I’m still dealing with some to this day even though I’m pretty strong into my recovery). But I will say I would never wish bulimia on my worst enemy.
Candace, you mentioned that, because you’ve personally struggled with an eating disorder, you feel you can joke about it. I understand that. Sometimes humor is a way of healing, but it’s also a way of marginalizing an experience. In the past, I’ve made fun of my own illness to downplay its severity to those around me and avoid unwanted attention. But not too long ago I realized this didn’t do me any good. By playing down what I’ve dealt with, I realized I was adding to the stigma and shame associated with EDs. By making it seem that what I went through was “not a big deal” and “something to laugh about,” I was communicating to other people it was OK for them to joke about it too. It’s not my place to tell you how to live your recovery, but I’m asking you now to simply rethink how you approach speaking and joking about eating disorders.
Something that worries me about this segment is the emphasis placed on body shape and size in general. Equalizing “thin” and “healthy” and implying that “skinny” is bad reinforces the rampant body shaming in our culture. What we need to understand is that both “skinny-shaming” and “fat-shaming” are hurtful and reinforce the idea that a woman’s (or man’s, or non-cis person’s) body has to look a certain way.
Embody Carolina and other body-positive groups try to push the message of “Health at Every Size.” This movement aims to show the world there’s no one way to look “healthy,” and that thinness does not equal health (or beauty). We want to encourage people to engage in habits such as eating a balanced diet or exercising for the goal of health and not to achieve a certain weight or size.
I know you all meant well. I know you never had the intention of hurting people with your words, and I appreciate the apology you all gave. However, having good intentions does not excuse a negative impact.
To show you really do view eating disorders as illnesses and that you do care about body positivity and the mental health of your viewers, please do more to incorporate these ideas into your program. Please try to use inclusive, person-first language. For example, you can say something about “a person with anorexia,” not “an anorexic,” since diseases do not define a person. Furthermore, please avoid body shaming on your show. Negatively commenting on a person’s size (particularly your own), commenting on a person’s weight loss/gain or muscle loss/gain, or praising one body type over another are all problematic. When talking about eating disorders, please try to do so respectfully and responsibly. If “The View” is about empowering women, about making them feel included in the dialogue, then taking the steps to promote positivity will go a long way.
Follow this journey on Rebecca Recovered.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorder confidential helpline at 1-800-931-2237.