Watercolor illustration of a beautiful woman with a lily tattoo on her shoulder

My illness isn’t visible. You can’t see how much or how little I’m struggling. You can’t tell whether I’m thinking about how many calories I’m burning or if I’m admiring the nice weather. At one point people did notice as I displayed visible physical symptoms, but people also assumed I was struggling long before I actually was. That’s because the media only perpetuates the same stereotyped image of how a human struggling with an eating disorder “should look.” However, that image isn’t the truth. It’s not beneficial for anybody as it only prevents those of us who don’t fit the stereotype from seeking the help we are worthy of. Therefore I’m listing 5 things the stereotype fails to show. 

1. You don’t have to be a size zero to struggle.

Growing up, I was thin. I remember specifically when I was 12, a classmate told me I looked “anorexic.” That was the first time I heard that word. I was confused by the comment,  because at the time, I wasn’t struggling with anorexia nervosa. I indulged in food, I had no exercise or food rules. My relationship with food and my body wasn’t complicated. I was perfectly healthy at that time. The misconception that everyone has to be a size zero to “actually” have an eating disorder erases so many of us. Eating disorders do not care what size you are — they can affect anyone at any size. Two people can engage in the exact same negative behaviors, yet one might — according to society — be viewed as “fat” while another will be viewed as “skinny.” Your size does not decide whether you have an eating disorder. Eating disorders don’t come in one size, they come in all.

2. You don’t have to identify as a woman to have an eating disorder.

I’m an avid reader and I occasionally watch movies and TV shows. In total, I’ve heard of three books with male characters struggling with eating disorders. That is after extensive research and I can’t name a single movie or TV show. When it comes to female characters, I can easily list 10 books off the top of my head, several TV shows and loads of movies. Considering this fact, it’s not weird that eating disorders are seen as a “women’s issue” — but it’s not. According to NEDA, 10 out of the 30 million struggling with an eating disorder in the U.S. identity as male. The number is probably in reality higher as this too can prevent males and those who don’t identify as a gender other than female to seek help.

3. You don’t have to be a teenager to have an eating disorder.

I long believed eating disorders only affected adolescents. All the characters I saw and still see in the media are teenagers. I really wish they would magically disappear once you turn 18, but they don’t. Eating disorders often develop in adolescence, but there are a lot of people younger than 13 and a lot of people older than 18 that are currently struggling. Eating disorders don’t have age limits.

4. You don’t have to be white to struggle with an eating disorder.

Eating disorders do not only affect white people. The media often fails to recognize this, but an eating disorder doesn’t care about your skin color. Eating disorders are often seen as a “western white phenomenon,” but according to NEDA, studies show that Latino/a, Asian and black individuals are just as likely to have eating disorders. However, many don’t seek help.

5. You don’t have to be “pretty” by society’s standards to be struggling.

I don’t mean “pretty” as synonymous with “thin.” Thin isn’t equal to pretty. I’m talking about the fact that in the media, the women struggling typically never have acne and never display bruises despite being extremely thin. When I was struggling a lot, I was constantly bruised. I still today carry bruises, but now they are from my dog or from bumping into the bed and not from compulsive exercise nor from sitting down on wooden chairs for too long. You don’t have too look like a super model to be struggling and please know you won’t become one from continuing to live with an eating disorder. Eating disorders do not make you pretty — they make you miserable.

The pretty teenage white girl might very well be struggling with an eating disorder, but she isn’t the only one. Eating disorders do not discriminate between sizes, genders, ages, ethnicities or anything else. Unless you’re able to read minds, you can’t always see if I or anybody else is struggling with an eating disorder. Eating disorders can be invisible and they can affect us all, but don’t forget all of us affected are also able to recover. 

May you all be free from these illnesses or heading towards freedom.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via berdsigns.


Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

I am 20 years old, and a student from Mumbai, India. This is the story of my struggle with body acceptance and self-love, which is constantly evolving and improving by the day.

When I was 16, I lost weight in the most unhealthy manner — skipping meals, drinking too much water, brisk walking for hours until my knees hurt and occasionally abusing laxatives. But the weight wasn’t the only thing that I lost in this story. I lost my happiness, my ability to uninhibitedly socialize with friends and family and I lost my period for almost five months. My hair was brittle and falling out, my eyes had sunken into their sockets. I was always cold, even in summer. And I easily caught colds.

Looking back, it seems unfathomable that I was willing to lose so much, only to be smaller. I thought this was a success story. Everyone was complimenting me, but others couldn’t see my pain and suffering. I had managed to create a carefully curated facade of “normalcy” around losing weight, making people believe this was something that “just happened” and was “no big deal,” when I was actually physically and mentally dying.

One day, a few months before my 17th birthday, I came across an Instagram profile that spoke extensively about eating disorders, body image disorders and promoted body positivity. In that moment, it dawned on me that if I continued down this path, my actions and thoughts would consume me entirely. The very next day I wrote a letter to my mother detailing all of my actions. I won’t forget the way it made her weep with helplessness. She took me to a nutritionist, who then started me on supplements and a proper food plan. I slowly started gaining back the weight I had lost, and with it, my life.

In the past few months, I began seeing a therapist for body image issues as well as some other issues. However, loving my body has been the most difficult task of all. It was the one thing I felt wasn’t addressed enough in the society I was brought up in. As a young girl growing up, I never saw my size represented in movies, magazines or on television. The first boy I ever liked bullied me about my weight. Constantly being told to shrink down, not seeing yourself represented in media and being told that just because you are bigger you are a failure and undeserving of love and happiness is harmful.

I’ve casually criticized my body and have been self-deprecating. There has never been a sensitive, vulnerable and empowering conversation I’ve had about body acceptance, body positivity, self-care and self-love with any of my peer groups. I want to stress how important it is to have healthy and enriching discussions about accepting all body types, that fat does not equal to ugly, that being curvier does not mean that you can sexualize someone and how we need to have more heroines in Bollywood (and Hollywood) who are more than the stereotypical size six, and who are not restricted to being just the sidekick, or even worse, the butt of jokes.

Talking to my therapist and to the people I met on social media who had the same struggles as me opened me up to an entire world teeming with inclusion, self-acceptance and body positivity. I realized how sharing my deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities with people who were willing to listen felt like a freedom from the burden of shame and isolation I’d been feeling. For the longest time, I believed I was alone in my fight for self-love; that all the other girls in the world were extremely comfortable with themselves, and it was just me who carried around the horrible and vain secret that I didn’t love the skin I was in. All the girls who ran body positivity accounts on Instagram, who were also body positive activists, made me feel accepted and secure. They made me realize it was OK to not be totally OK with myself — but it’s something I should never stop striving for. Loving the body you have is the most beautiful feeling ever, and although it comes to me in fleeting moments, I embrace and revel in that feeling for as long as I can.

So let us not be afraid to talk about our struggles — however vain or small we might think they are, because all of us deserve to strut our uninhibited selves. I now believe there is always some girl, somewhere, who feels the same way I do. Sharing my issues and engaging in conversations with my sisters is a very credible and helpful type of therapy. And vulnerability is beautiful, and a strong virtue that is hard to come by, so let’s be unafraid to be vulnerable and real. And lastly and most importantly, let’s pledge to stop fighting our own bodies. We aren’t meant to be homogenous or monotonous, for there is so much beauty in our uniqueness if we are willing to look. Let’s be more inclusive, more supportive, more loving and less critical, less hateful and less self-deprecating towards our bodies.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image via Intellistudies

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

There I was, standing in front of the mirror. My body was disappearing. Flashback to the statement I made as I sat in my therapist’s office merely four months prior. “If I just lose 10 pounds, I know I’ll be so happy,” I insisted. She wasn’t buying it, and apparently neither was I.

There was no happiness to be attained from reaching my goals. Instead, I was left only with perpetual self-disgust and misery. My eating disorder disguised itself as my “happy ending.” With each pound lost and each meal purged or skipped, I felt as though I was one small step closer to achieving the euphoric destiny I had longed for. On that race to the finish line of elation and perfection I felt something else too — something that gave me an unexpected rush of adrenaline which exacerbated my desire for thinness even further.

For once in my life, I felt in control. Up until that point, I had lived a life that was so reckless, at times traumatic and overtly out of control. Therefore, I didn’t dare challenge this newfound sense of empowerment that served as such a relief for my greatest faults and obstacles.

The first time I came face to face with my eating disorder was during my junior year of college. At the time, I served as my sorority’s recruitment chair in which I (wrongly) presumed my chapter would garner more prospective women who might be interested in joining had we showcased ourselves as stereotypical “skinny” and “pretty” Barbie dolls rather than as the real, diverse and genuine women we were.

I recall my co-recruitment chair chastising me for proposing that we should mandate that the women in our chapter wear Spanx during formal recruitment rounds. My inherently feminist sense of morale and better judgment knew requests such as these were wrong. I wanted to be the woman who helped to end the body shaming and objectified culture sorority women were subjected to, but in that moment, I simply couldn’t. Morals, innate desires and the means for tolerance were no match for my mind that had been hijacked by an eating disorder.

Luckily, with much convincing from my more grounded and accepting sisters, I never did give such orders to my chapter. I did, however, act upon those insidiously critical body shaming thoughts that engulfed my people pleasing mind. The night before the hysteria of chanting girls, freshly made up faces and overly enthusiastic conversations (more commonly known as “Rush Weekend”) was the very night it all started. On the eve of my big debut as our sorority’s “best yet” recruitment chair, I was perched above the bathroom toilet in my college sorority house. For the very first time, I had binged and purged.

You see, I had deceptively convinced myself my sorority’s success as a growing and thriving organization was dependent solely upon our outward appearance as a sisterhood. If I could act as one stereotypically “attractive” and “skinny” girl in our struggling, quirky little sisterhood, then maybe at least one more potential new member might want to join our organization because they saw me as a representation of it. Along with occasional bouts of bulimia, I started exercising excessively and strictly monitored my food intake — counting nearly every calorie I had consumed.

Much to my own surprise, this phase of my college career wasn’t what I consider the “official” start of my disorder. It wasn’t until my “super senior” year (fifth year in college) when I fell victim to clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) that I was even diagnosed with a full-fledged eating disorder. In my mind, that was because the bouts of disordered eating I had experienced years prior were reflective of my wanting to “improve” myself. This time around, it had nothing to do with making myself or those around me appear to be “better.” Instead, it had everything to do with the fact I completely and utterly despised myself and was holding on to this means of thinness as a way to give myself an identity and a sense of purpose.

Despite the fact I was still enrolled as a full-time college student, upheld part-time employment at a renowned local business and maintained a plethora of friends, family and sorority sisters whom adored me — in my eyes, I had nothing. I was nothing because I was a failure academically, professionally and personally. Every arena in which I had previously excelled in prior to my series of careless decisions and emotional ailments — from school, to my social life, to writing and professional development — were now meaningless to me. I was not the 4.0 collegiate, congressional intern and prospective Ivy League graduate student I once was. According to my twisted, cognitively distorted mind, I was nothing more than a “silly,” “slutty,” sorority girl whose only redeeming qualities were presented in the form of her physical appearance.

By that standard, I felt I had no other choice but to focus on the one and only thing I believed determined my worth — my looks. Subsequently, I proceeded to engage in disordered eating behaviors nearly every day. My hair began to thin and fall out, my face was pale and sunken in and my menstrual periods stopped. It became apparent those around me were concerned about my drastic change in appearance, despite the fact I was convinced they were falling for my, “I’m just running a lot” excuse.

I am by no means trained to offer medical advice or administer specific treatment plans. However, the steps I took in pursuing treatment for my eating disorder may be beneficial to take note of when starting this often daunting and fearful process of recovery.

This is what I did to kick my eating disorder’s ass:

1. Start with counseling.

Regardless of which mental illness might ail you, beginning your recovery process by seeking out a trained counselor or psychotherapist will ensure you are being monitored and that you will be held accountable for your actions. Though this may not seem like the simplest way to ease into recovery, it will prove to be an effective means of taking charge of your own life and health — so long as you choose to be honest with your therapist and actively participate in the treatment plan which he/she lays out for you. I recommend being selective when choosing your care provider. Treat your initial assessment appointment as if it were a first date. After all, your goal is to select someone who can provide you with a treatment regimen which suits your personal needs and flows with your own desires as well. The foundation of effective treatment begins with a positive and trusting relationship with your health care provider.

2. Seek out a specialist

Therapy alone, from a general mental health practitioner is likely going to improve your understanding of yourself and the feelings which lie beneath your behaviors. In any case, you may need far more than a sense of self-awareness to be able to cope with such an all-encompassing illness. Research online to see if there is a practitioner in your area who specializes in disordered eating and body image. You may also want to consider looking up eating disorder treatment centers which can offer either outpatient therapy, inpatient care or a combination with intensive outpatient treatment.

During my treatment, I was under the care of both a general clinical psychologist, a specialized psychotherapist from an eating disorder treatment center, as well as a clinical psychiatrist who prescribed me medication for my depression and anxiety.

3. Don’t be afraid of medication.

There is, without a doubt, an enormous stigma associated with considering medication as a treatment option for behavioral health. Frankly, there shouldn’t be. Medication has done wonders for not only my depressive and anxiety related symptoms, but I also credit it as serving as one of the chief components in expediting my successful eating disorder treatment process. It was essential in decreasing my compulsive thoughts which instigated my bulimic and anorexic behaviors. The pills did not make them dissipate completely —  however, they did significantly decrease the frequency and urgency of those thoughts.

4. Get off social media.

Like most young women I know, I have a love-hate relationship with Instagram. Yes, it is undeniably fulfilling to receive attention from your peers and feel like you’re a celebrity on your campus or in your community. Unfortunately, I believe the pressure of this self-induced publicity can also come at a hefty cost. Filters, Photoshop, angles and lighting all play a serious role in manipulating photographs that appear to be of “real people.” Scrolling through your feed and spotting a toned and tan acquaintance on the beach spewing the caption “Life’s a beach when you’re a babe,” can incite a level of competition and envy that’s reminiscent of high
school days. I believe social media will only hinder your treatment and feed your mind with more negativity towards your own self-reflection. My advice: turn those damn notifications off, delete the app and don’t look back.

5. Remove yourself from a triggering environment.

Living in a sorority house at a university deemed worthy enough to make a spot on the list of “Colleges with the most beautiful women” is not exactly the type of environment that was conducive to my eating disorder recovery. The expectations I maintained about presenting myself as a “sexy sorority girl” became too much to bear in the midst of my healing process, so I left and went back home to mom’s house. Though I am aware not everyone has the option to simply vacate the area they are living in or the one they are working in or spending most of their daily time in, there are ways to condition yourself to reject the cultural standards of that setting itself. A specialist or therapist can work with you to determine which methods you can draw upon to deal with these incessant triggers.

6. Decide you want to get better for yourself.

Everyone who loves raunchy reality TV is familiar with the great series known as “Intervention.” I believe the lesson we can all take from this program is that treatment will only truly work for someone if they themselves are willing to undergo the process for the sake of their own well-being. No matter how many doctors, specialists or therapists you see, you will not see a difference in yourself and a change in your behavioral patterns until you decide you want this for you — and for no one else.

7. Because trust me, you do want to get better.

Now that I consider myself fully recovered from my eating disorder, I have decided to dedicate my time to helping others cope with their own struggles by sharing my experiences. I frequently attend a group therapy session at my eating disorder treatment center where I tell and retell my story to those whom are still grappling with the firm grasp their eating disorder holds in their lives. The sole most important piece of advice I reiterate to them is this: no matter how good you may think skinny feels, the feeling of recovery is insurmountable. I used to thrive off compliments from people who noted how much weight I had lost and how great I looked. They made me feel accomplished and worthy. Those feelings were fulfilling at first, but they served only as a temporary fixation for my insecurities. Yet, the feeling I receive when a person acknowledges my treatment — that’s something that stays with me permanently. It is not only extremely rewarding to know I beat the odds and survived this disorder, it is the single most empowering experience I have ever encountered in my life. I believe there is nothing better than defeating this demon that took over my life. You are more than capable of doing it — so please, don’t wait another second. Start on the path to recovery. You might come across detours and tricky terrain along the way, but I believe you will succeed when you remember what lies ahead in your destination: the rest of your life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via shironosov.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says “calorie labeling on restaurant menus and vending machines can help you make informed and healthful decisions about meals and snacks.” Informed and healthful… that sounds good, right? Well maybe for some people. Not for me, and maybe not for you.

Going out to eat is a challenge in and of itself when recovering from a restrictive-type eating disorder. When you have an eating disorder, numbers such as “fat concentration,” “calories burned.” “sugar,” “current weight,” etc. are dancing around in your head, attempting to calculate themselves into a meal choice. Someone with an eating disorder certainly does not need to punch in more numbers on this internal calculator. Sometimes it’s scary for people like me to choose a meal off a menu without knowing what’s really in it or how much it will “cost” them so to speak. But for me, what is worse is making that decision based on the numbers listed next to my food choices.

The USDA knew consumers could find calories and other nutrition information on the Nutrition Facts label, but took things a step further. Wait! Stop! That was more than enough for me — too much in fact! I don’t like flipping item after item over in my hands at the grocery store, deciding what can and cannot go in my cart based on a label. When visiting a restaurant, shouldn’t I be allowed more ease? Shouldn’t I be able to relax and enjoy myself, in the kind of way dining out is supposed to be? No good deed goes unpunished. As the United States government attempts to control obesity in America, and give its citizens proper knowledge and the ability to make informed choices, I believe they haven’t considered the well-being of some other citizens who are in a different category.

We the people who have to remind ourselves daily we cannot diet, we who have to black out nutrition labels or un-package food so we can pick items out of our cabinets without going into a frenzy, we who throw our scales out, we who limit time in front of a mirror, we who limit our exercise — all because we aren’t well informed? No way. We are over-informed. For people with eating disorders, numbers can be very, very scary.

So what do we do now that the USDA has already enacted this? Now that my once-favorite restaurant now threatens me with nutritional information, placing icons by items literally telling me what the best choice is after I’ve worked so hard to stop distinguishing between “good” and “bad” choices for myself? Well first off, I breathe. That’s right. Deep breaths.

Here are my options. Keep the menu closed and simply ask my server for suggestions, ask whomever I am with to read me off a few choices or use my fingers to block off those ugly numbers as I read the menu (warning, this frequently doesn’t work out because either I’m too tempted to cheat or simply because the ole finger technique is ineffective at covering certain things in full).

If you are recovering from an eating disorder, you are a warrior. You are brave and strong and have been through hell and back. Do not let a silly rule like this trip you up. Do not let anyone take away the joy of eating out, the newfound freedom you’ve gained or the confidence in yourself and in your body to eat whatever you want. Recovery is a long process with any number of obstacles, and that’s OK. If this is an obstacle for you, just as it is for me, that’s OK. We’ll get through this. Keep that chin up and keep continuing down your path to a brighter, healthier future!

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Jack Hollingsworth.

My eating disorder feeds me feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing and feeds on my preoccupation with food and my body. It convinces me that I am not worthy of love and will never find love or maintain a relationship because of my diagnosis. But this voice is misguided, and certainly not my own.

I must remind myself my thoughts and behaviors are not a reflection of me, but of my disorder.

My eating disorder affects my thoughts and behaviors in ways I sometimes think could prevent me from maintaining a relationship. Fear and anxiety regarding food may drive me to go to great lengths to avoid situations involving food. Relapses occur which may compel me to isolate myself from my partner. In both cases, these behaviors can make me seem avoidant and unreliable to those around me, but they stem from something that is not me.

Like my disordered behaviors, my disordered thoughts are not a reflection of me, either. I had my own voice before my eating disorder took over, convincing me to refrain from eating because it helped give me a false sense of control, or to feel guilty for eating because my weight was my worth. Even though I entered treatment four years into my disorder, I was able to separate the two. Amidst the hounding of disordered thoughts, my true voice was uncovered.

I believe isolating yourself until you think you’re “worthy enough” will only prevent you from ever accepting love.

I was able to maintain a relationship when my eating disorder first developed because I felt in control of my diminishing weight. When I began to gain weight, my feelings of disgust overcame the feelings I had for my partner at the time. I was falling farther from meeting the criteria I used as a basis for my worth. I wanted to hide my body. I broke up with him, vowing I wouldn’t let him see me again until I lost the weight. My eating disorder prevented me from believing he could love me regardless of my size.

I believe waiting until you have reached a weight at which you deem yourself “worthy” will only prolong — and even solidify — feelings of worthlessness. As is the nature of eating disorders, many will never feel “thin enough” to placate disordered thoughts. Many will wait and wait for a moment that will never come, effectively preventing them from ever being in a relationship, or accepting of the love their disorder has convinced them they do not deserve.

I believe relationships and love require consistent — but achievable — steps in the direction of fear.

At times, many isolate themselves because of self-loathing or fear or a combination of the two or more. Relationships and recovery, require you to move in the direction of your fear as your disordered thoughts try to hold you back. When I left treatment, one of the first things I did was one of the things I was most afraid of doing: dating again. I knew opening myself up, both physically and emotionally, would foster my ability to love myself and others.

I believe maintaining — or even entering — a relationship in which you can accept the love of another requires you to become accepting of yourself. Sometimes it requires sitting with the discomfort of being in an “imperfect” body. We must learn to believe we are worth more and we can be loved for more than appearance. When I first began dating post-treatment, I wanted to stay where I felt safe. But walking in, instead of away, from the direction of my fear assisted in my recovery. Then I could take the necessary steps to begin building other parts of my life that had been put on the back burner for so long.

You don’t have to love every part of yourself all of the time to be able to maintain a healthy relationship.

When I first met my current partner, I was still engaging in disordered eating behaviors. I would sometimes isolate myself for weeks at a time without explanation, ignoring his attempts to reach out. These episodes have since greatly decreased in frequency, but there are still days when I have trouble quieting my eating disorder. My weight continues to visibly fluctuate as I adapt to lifestyle changes. Sometimes it is difficult for me to look in the mirror or to keep a meal down.

Healthy relationships require open communication and honesty, and mutual respect, support and acceptance. They are not without flaws, regardless of the added dynamics of an eating disorder. Part of my ability to maintain what I believe to be a healthy relationship is due in large part to my decision to disclose my mental health history to my partner. That he knows about my diagnosis and allows me to use him as a healthy support during my recovery, instead of isolating myself during particularly difficult days.

What role your partner plays in your experience with your eating disorder, treatment or recovery is your choice. Whether or not you are even interested in dating is your choice. It is important for you to know that whatever you choose, you can still love and be loved and truly feel deserving of both — whether that be in relation to romantic partners, platonic friends or family members. Beyond your eating disorder is a body that is yours. May you learn to carry it with love, toward what — or who — you love.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via andrej_k.

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

In the eating disorder community and broader public, the upcoming release of “To the Bone” has been laden with controversy. Project Heal has partnered with the movie, but other people in the community have been skeptical. I’ve seen people with eating disorders have reactions ranging from interested to outright angry or disgusted by the graphic imagery depicted in the trailer.

I believe the movie seeks to remove secrecy and increase positive conversations about a topic that is little understood in the media, which is a lofty goal. But I also believe an inadvertent consequence of the movie is that it touches on the topic of misrepresentation of eating disorders in the media.

While the movie claims to be honest, unique and authentic to the experience of someone struggling with an eating disorder, in my opinion, the plot is not actually unique.

The plot for “To the Bone” is similar to the plots of most other eating disorder movies: A white, cisgender, upper-class, long-haired, intelligent, already-thin girl who needs control develops anorexia. She has issues with her family. She enters treatment. At the end, she recovers fully or dies (“To the Bone” seems to have a happy ending, if the trailer is any indication. But other eating disorder movies are less positive about the illness trajectory).

“To the Bone” makes a statement with the demographic choices of the heroine, and this has broad implications. Many who watch this movie might have a limited understanding of eating disorders, so the choice to feature a thin, white, young female will shape the way others view what an eating disorder “looks like.” The reality is eating disorders affect those in any ethnic group, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation, age and geographic location. Moreover, the rates of eating disorders are rising in other key demographic areas: males (especially gay males), younger children and middle-aged women.

Director Marti Noxon defended this story choice, and while I agree Noxon is correct in that millions of ED stories could be told, this is the one being told in the film.

The problem with a white, emaciated woman of privilege being the heroine of this movie has many ramifications:

1. It does not represent the reality of eating disorders, nor does it accurately portray the significant crossover between disorders across a lifetime (e.g. shift from bulimia to anorexia to binge eating back to anorexia). 

Lily Collin’s emaciated frame and overdone sunken eye makeup is misleading. Many people with eating disorders are not underweight. I believe it doesn’t represent the physical “norm” of someone with an eating disorder. There is not one eating disorder “look.”

2. These demographic choices of the main character highlight existing weight stigma — even within the eating disorder recovery community.

Sadly, Lily Collins’ emaciated frame will draw in viewers. I wonder what would happen if Lily Collins had gained weight for the role and depicted the issues of bingeing and purging, for instance. It is sad that I’m not surprised that the dominant narrative of this movie plays into societal fascination with anorexia and the cultural thinness ideal. I have been disgusted by interviews discussing Collins’ weight lossThis press is missing the point of what message the movie is trying to convey, and in so doing, it does us a disservice.

3. The problem with this one story fitting the predominant cultural narrative is that it makes us more likely to miss someone who doesn’t fit the physical “type” of Lily Collins, but is displaying eating disorder behaviors.

Watching this movie without the background of other information, people may be more likely to overlook an older female who is always in the gym or a young male who sneaks off to his car and comes back hours later smelling of food and vomit. Moreover, those who don’t fit the mold “To the Bone” sets forth might feel even more shame. These are things I’ve heard or said dozens of times:

“Someone like me shouldn’t have an eating disorder.”

“I don’t look like I have an eating disorder.”

“My insurance company denied me treatment because my symptoms weren’t severe enough. I think if I lose weight, they’d pay for it.”

“What if my church/friend group/school/ethnic community found out I have an eating disorder? I’ll disappoint everyone.”

4. There is no “normal” eating disorder story.

People are dimensional, complex beings. Those of any religion, race, cultural group, age and sexual orientation can develop an eating disorder. There is nothing wrong with telling the stories of people who are in positions of privilege, as those stories are valid as well. My concern is that “To the Bone” is the story of a woman with privilege seeking treatment, and I fear this narrative will stifle and silence other narratives.

“To the Bone” does more than start a conversation or educate the broader public about eating disorders. Given the film’s reworking similar plot lines of other eating disorder movies and utilizing demographic stereotypes, I believe it highlights another issue entirely:

Eating disorders have a misrepresentation problem.

The trailer does show some diverse characters in the main character’s treatment center, but those characters are not center stage. My fear is that this film, in addition to whatever triggering language and images are used, will exacerbate stereotypes that eating disorder advocacy groups are trying to minimize.

Eating disorders do not discriminate on weight, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or any other social identity. All stories are valid. All struggles matter, regardless of whether they fit into the cultural norm for anorexia that this movie perpetuates.

I have a message for all eating disorder survivors and those struggling:

Your story is beautiful.

Yes, you.

Your story is yours. It is real, and it is valid.

Just because “To the Bone” features an emaciated, white young actress doesn’t mean your pain is less valid.

Eating disorders are eating disorders.

They don’t discriminate.

The problem is not you.

The problem is that your story is not represented.

And we need you to be represented.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Screenshot via Netflix YouTube channel.

Real People. Real Stories.

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We face disability, disease and mental illness together.