Please stop telling me to “Just Stay Positive”
I am so sick of hearing these words and so many other ignorant statements that have been made. I am sick of constantly being told by people whom have never experienced what I’ve experienced on how to behave – how to cope with MY symptoms – and while some advice may be helpful, there are so many times in my life when I have sat through a conversation when someone is trying to be nice and they are actually hurting me.
Unfortunately, our society has an obsession with an idealized body type and strict beauty standards (for both males and females, eating disorders don’t have a concept of gender) which can actually affect our communication. We easily find ways to manipulate words so that they have different meanings in different situations. Due to heavy stigmatization of mental health, we haven’t allowed a proper pathway to body positive communication and this is HEAVILY reflected in the many comments I’ve received throughout my recovery journey. We need language that reflects us in a constructive way, rather than just being critical. These comments may come off as polite, genuine, and all-around supportive; however, they do not reflect any actual knowledge of eating disorders.
“You’re too pretty to have an eating disorder.”
Since WHEN has someone’s physical appearance ever been the determining factor in a medical diagnoses? Eating disorders have nothing to do with one’s appearance. Eating disorders are serious and complex mental illnesses that are defined by severely disturbed patterns of eating behaviours. Anyone in any culture of any gender is capable of developing an eating disorder, regardless of physical appearance.
How I look makes no real difference to the severity of my eating disorder because no matter how I look, I am looking through a distorted lens caused by my eating disorder. My perception of my body and how I look is so warped and distorted by my eating disorder that I try very hard to maintain a neutral stance around my body in order to go about my day. By bringing attention to my looks, I become hyper-aware of my body and am at a higher risk of having a symptom. My eating disorder, or as I call her Ana, begins to scream. Ana has skills that would mind-fuck a master manipulator. Ana takes “you’re too pretty to have an eating disorder” and responds with “well, I have an eating disorder so I’m ugly.” This comment has no place in any conversation and can contribute to stigmatization of mental health. Whatsoever. So if someone tells you they have an eating disorder, please, just don’t say this.
“Just stay positive.”
This comment really does come from a good place. We have been taught from a young age that positivity can help make you successful and that focusing on negativity will only dwindle your potential. However, the reality is that by only focusing on the positive, we numb out all of the negative. In reality, we may need to actually sit in the negativity – feeling the discomfort of the situation and accepting it – to be able to learn healthy coping mechanisms.
When I’m having a bad day, being positive isn’t always possible and the one thing that I have learned to help me through those days is that it’s okay to be sad. Honestly. I know, crazy, right? It’s a normal process that our bodies and minds need to go through. Crying is actually a natural reaction to sadness and stress, and can genuinely make you feel better. So if you’re sad – feel it. Actually experience it. You’re allowed to be sad and no one has to tell you otherwise.
This comment I come across a lot in a variety of ways and it’s one that hurts me every time. Eating disorders are called eating disorders for a reason – they are severe mental health disorders that have physical manifestations through food. People with eating disorders can’t “just eat” because of the very nature of the disorder. Ana distorts my perspective of food so severely that jumping off a bridge seems like a better option than eating an apple (yes, I’ve actually had these thoughts). The thoughts I have regarding my eating disorder don’t always make sense – and that’s the reason I’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder. I can’t sit down and just eat because, as a result of my eating disorder my body went through a long period of starvation and lost all hunger cues (yes, this happens); and now I have to retrain my body every day with three meals and three snacks prescribed (yes, prescribed) by a dietitian and monitored by my RP/Relapse-Prevention Therapist. Sometimes, it takes me 3 hours to eat a muffin because Ana tells me I become horrible with each bite I take. So trust me when I say I would LOVE to “just eat” – and eating disorders aren’t that easy.
“You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.”
This angers me every time I hear it. When I tell people I’m in recovery from an eating disorder, the very first thing I hear is: “you don’t look like you have an eating disorder”. FIRST THINGS FIRST, eating disorders are very heavily stigmatized causing most people to think of very thin girl who barely eats when they hear ‘eating disorder’ and that’s just not the case. I will tell you from my own experience that eating disorders can affect anyone of any size, gender, culture, hair colour, however y’all want to categorize – eating disorders do not discriminate. This statement adds to the stigmatization of eating disorders by saying that eating disorders have a certain look and invalidating those that may not fit that certain look. In fact, most people with eating disorders look completely healthy. This statement shows no knowledge on eating disorders and how they can affect those struggling. The following blog post, “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder”, written by contributor Daisy, tells how damaging this and similar statements can damage an individual.In my experience, Ana takes a comment like “you don’t look like you have an eating disorder” and turns it into “you’re not working hard enough to show you have an eating disorder”. Remember, Ana is capable of master manipulation so while it may not make sense to you, it makes perfect sense to someone in the depths of their eating disorder. Please don’t judge.
“You should try Weight Watchers!”
Please don’t ever say this to someone who is struggling with an eating disorder. As someone who has been pushed towards Weight Watcher’s and other weight-loss/weight-management companies more times than I can count, I have had to suck it up and listen to people explain how if I’m struggling with food that I should try Weight Watcher’s. Guess what’s NOT a good idea for someone already restricting their daily intake and counting every morsel of food entering their body? That’s right – Weight Watcher’s. Recovery Warriors blogger, Kelly Spears, nails how programs like Weight Watcher’s fuel one’s eating disorder on the head by promoting focus on body, weight & shape. Please, for the sake of anybody in your life with an eating disorder, do NOT suggest Weight Watcher’s. I have finally come to a place where I can sit in my discomfort with my body and by suggesting programs like these, I can already hear Ana screaming about how I need to change my body and how Weight Watchers can help me to achieve that. I don’t need to change my body to be valid and I definitely don’t need Weight Watcher’s to pull me back into my eating disorder.
These comments can really hurt someone. They’ve hurt me in the past and all I want is to move on. I don’t want to live in a society where thinner is the winner and negativity is all-consuming because it doesn’t have to be. I am capable of recovering and I refuse to let Ana suck me in again.
Please think of your words VERY carefully. We love you and know that you love us. Together, we can work on creating positive communication and a world that accepts people as we are, rather than what we could be.
HAUSofHAIRROR, Jennifer Walton