Dear Amazon, Please Stop Selling the 'Anorexia Hoodie'
There’s nothing funny about eating disorders. There is no humor in slowly starving one’s body, nothing comical about purging meals and no amusement to be found in slowly killing oneself from the inside out.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me. There are some who still choose to make eating disorders the butt of a joke. “I tried being anorexic, but I needed a bagel.” “I had the flu and threw up for three straight days. I don’t know how models do it.” These are just a couple of the “jokes” I’ve heard over the years.
They call it “dark” comedy or defend their choice of words as freedom of speech. They say that it’s all in jest and that those of us who disagree need to get a sense of humor.
But as someone who is celebrating five years in recovery from anorexia, I’m not laughing. As someone who has been hospitalized as a result of my illness and came close to death, every time I hear a so-called “joke” about eating disorders, it feels like a slap across the face. I don’t think it will ever stop feeling like a personal assault, one I am unprepared for and leaves me with a knot in my stomach for hours afterwards.
I was totally unprepared for this type of affront when I was scrolling through my Twitter feed Tuesday morning, but that’s exactly what occurred. And this is what I saw: A link to a piece of apparel being sold by Amazon, a sweatshirt that read “anorexia (an-uh-rek-see-uh): Like Bulimia, except with self control”.
I was appalled. Surely people couldn’t actually find this funny? And yet, I was wrong. In the replies of the tweet, there were already hundreds of users responding, adding their own jokes at the expense of the eating disorder community. One said, “Y’all need to chill out and eat a steak.” “They’d only throw it up later,” another responded. One joked they were going to buy it, “…for their fat neighbors.” Still another replied to those voicing their horror, “If you’re more concerned with a shirt than your own psychological short falls, you are the problem.”
But I will not let anyone write this off as comedy. This sweatshirt is not “just a joke.” No, it makes a subliminal, yet very clear, statement about society’s view of eating disorders and mental health in general. It downplays the significance of eating disorders and minimizes the very real threat they pose. It suggests that anorexia and bulimia are a choice, a practice in self-control, when in reality, an eating disorder offers you zero control. It scoffs at the permanent damage eating disorders can do to one’s body and mind and ignores their prevalence, what seems like an almost silent epidemic, in today’s culture.
Putting this product out into the world ensures that the silence, the stigma and the misunderstanding surrounding eating disorders will remain and perhaps even grow. It encourages those struggling with an eating disorder to keep quiet about their struggle, sure that if they speak up, their illness will also be seen as a joke. Currently, only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders will receive treatment. Further stigmatizing this illness will result in even fewer individuals getting the help they need.
Beyond continuing to miseducate the general public about the reality of eating disorders, this hoodie could also cause dangerous issues within the eating disorder community.
Too often, individuals with eating disorders compare themselves to others. They may look at the bodies of those around them and of the models they see in advertisements to see how they stack up. And if they fall short (because with the disorder you will never win), they return to the comfort their eating disorder provides.
By seemingly juxtaposing anorexia and bulimia, putting one up against the other, this product is encouraging the comparisons to continue. Wording it so bulimia is seen as “less than,” or as a disease for those “lacking self-control,” might prompt those struggling to further escalate their behaviors, desperate to prove they have control and to achieve the “success” or “status” anorexia is being given. Seeing this could lead someone who has bulimia to feel as though they “aren’t sick enough” or that their eating disorder isn’t “real.” In reality, neither is better than the other and both have horrific consequences.
Selling this sweatshirt is also highly irresponsible because it could serve as a trigger for those who live with or are in recovery from an eating disorder. Those words, that “joke,” won’t just roll off their backs. No, it will probably stay with them all day. Their disorder might use it as fuel, a way to gain further control. “See, this isn’t wrong. It’s all in good fun.” “They’ll just laugh at you if you ask for help.”
And while it’s important to note that Amazon is not manufacturing this product, selling the apparel on their website is essentially endorsing the continued marginalization of those living with an eating disorder. As a high-profile company with a major presence in the world and a loyal customer base, Amazon is giving this hoodie and the brand that designed it a platform on which to continue to sow misconceptions and inaccuracies about this very real mental illness.
Amazon sells over 480 million products. This is just one of many, but unlike a life-sized Bigfoot statue or a pillow shaped like a tonsil (both of which you can actually buy on the website), this hoodie has the very real ability to cause harm.
This is why I am calling on Amazon to remove this product from their website. This isn’t about being politically correct. Eating disorders are not contained to one race, gender, political party or religious group. And they are not a trend or some catchy slogan you print on a T-shirt.
Eating disorders are a very real mental health issue that affect over 70 million people worldwide. Anorexia is a disease that has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Bulimia is an illness that affects as many as 25% of college-aged women.
Amazon, you have the opportunity to make a difference. To take a stand and be an example to your millions of customers. To refuse to make a profit glorifying mental illness. Show that you support the eating disorder community and don’t shrug this off as just a joke.
Because we’re not laughing.