Our Unhealthy Bodies Can’t: The Problem with Project Heal’s New Campaign

“My Healthy Body Can” is the title of Project Heal’s new campaign. In conjunction with Straight Curve Film, the organization is encouraging participants celebrate their recovered bodies by posting pictures of themselves engaging in various (presumably physical) activities that they are now healthy enough to enjoy. The endeavour and its endeavourees are admirable, but there are some very obvious issues here.

This is a remarkably ableist, exclusive, and offensive campaign. With its tagline, “My Healthy Body Can” this movement neglects and excludes a huge portion of the recovery community–the chronically ill, the disabled, individuals who settled at unconventional body weights, and those with irreparable damage done by their eating disorder. What about them? Their unhealthy bodies can’t. Does that somehow disqualify them from celebration? Does that deprive them of support? Does that discredit their achievements? Does that discount their recoveries?

It shouldn’t. They have had to fight even harder for recovery. Treatment resources are harder to come by, care is more expensive, certain problems are taken less seriously, and every day is a struggle to balance the mental and physical components of their recovery. Some of of them will never recover from their eating disorders; some of them literally can’t.

I am one of those people–one of the unhealthy, one of the excluded, one of the perpetually sick. I will never recover from my eating disorder. I have incurable cardiovascular, endocrine, reproductive, digestive, and metabolic damage from ten years of severe anorexia. I suffered a heart attack that has led to irreversible myocardial tissue death and dangerous tachyarrhythmias, which will only get worse; I do not get periods, have a less than optimal body fat percentage, and can never bear children; I eat a specialized diet of 4000 calories a day, catered to my numerous acquired food tolerances and permanently low electrolytes, to barely maintain a below minimum BMI; I see doctors weekly, exercise daily, and take medications (nearly) hourly to keep my liver running, my kidneys working, and my heart beating, but, despite all that, I will someday need transplants anyway. My body is not and never will be healthy, and because of that, there are many things I cannot do. Maybe you can ride your horses and do your yoga (thank you, Amalie Lee for that gem!), but I’ll be here in a hospital, hooked up to a heart monitor, trying not die.

So, Project Heal, I’ll ask you once again. What about us? I see you’ve replied to your dissenters with a copy-and-pasted link to a tokenistic (phrase borrowed from the wonderful Michelle Elman) blog post, but I think I speak for everyone when I say, that isn’t good enough. Please apologize, please revise your campaign slogan, and better yet, please help us. We want and need, deserve and demand change. Increased support and resources for the minority members of the eating disorder recovery community–for those of us who don’t have the perfect, conventional recovery–are essential. Our unhealthy bodies can’t, but we matter, too; we deserve help, too; and most importantly, we can recover, too.

Transformation Tuesday

Today transformation posts flood the eating disorder recovery community. Pictures of emaciated girls are juxtaposed to fit, healthy young women, and captions tell shuddersome stories of health endeavors gone wrong. Social media is saturated with deathly diet details and accounts of dangerous exercise regimes. Scary low weights are boasted and innumerable inpatient stays are calculated. Recovery is posted about and promised; after all, all these people did it, so so can you!

Posters’ aim is here to aid and inspire, but regardless of and contrary to their admirable intentions, these photos do more harm than good. They fixate on the physicality of the illness, which not only trivializes but triggers it. Typecasting eating disorders and eating disorder recovery, these photos foster competition within the community, create stigma, and impede recovery. They tell sufferers and bystanders alike that you have to look a certain way to have an eating disorder and that, if you don’t, you do not struggle and transitively do not deserve help. Such an attitude belittles suffering, prolongs illnesses, and costs lives.

These photos are not inspiring but ‘thinspiring’, feeding the eating disorder instead of facilitating recovery. The viewer is forced to compare their journey to a snapshot of someone else’s, allowing the eating disorder voice to inevitably creep back in; ‘you recovered wrong,’ it’ll say, or ‘if you just lost five more pounds…’ The poster can experience a similar phenomenon; ‘you were prettier at weight,’ their eating disorder can tell them, or ‘you were happier then’. Insecurities are thereby sparked and spurred in all of us–those in recovery, those in relapse, and all those somewhere in between.

These photos are clearly unhealthy, and I urge you to think before you post them–think of yourself and think of others. Is this conducive to recovery? Does this help anyone? Would I be better off deleting these photos? Consider these questions carefully and remember that it is your duty as a member of this community to promote and facilitate recovery. Please do so responsibly.

Thank you.

Health at Every Size?

After quite a bit of pondering, I can only assume that the Health at Every Size movement is trying to say ‘health is not a size’ or ‘health is more than a size’. Proponents’ point is that you don’t have to be a size 2 to be healthy, and that just because you’re a size 2, you’re not automatically a mentally stable non-smoker with stellar blood pressure and a liver that’ll last forever. We understand and agree with these sentiments, but we find the diction in which they are presented to be misinterpretable, misleading, and consequently malign.

The movement’s signature phrase literally states ‘every size is healthy’ and ‘you are healthy at every size’. This is false and fallacious, promoting, intentionally or otherwise, obesity and emaciation, thereby endorsing the disordered measures used to achieve such physiques. As a result, misconceptions get perpetuated, and people are spoonfed the perfect reason to continue with their eating disorder(s)–oh, it’s healthy!

It’s not. Both extremes can damage your skeletal, neural, digestive, and cardiovascular systems, and both can result in hormonal-irregularity-induced depression and/or mania. Associated behaviors of each can cause electrolyte imbalances and nutritional deficiencies, which, in turn, lead to bone abrasion, muscle atrophy, and organ arrest. Clearly, neither side of the scale behoves your health–physically NOR mentally.

Serious health consequences stem from being severely under- or overweight, and that is something the body positivity and recovery communities need to acknowledge. Yes, everyBODY is beautiful, but no, not everyBODY is healthy. We are doing everyone disservice by glossing over the facts, by conflating body positivity and health, by deluding ourselves with yet another unattainable ideal. Health at Every Size is a medical impossibility, and we must stop pretending that it isn’t.

Starving Children in India

My mother always used to tell me that there were starving children in India. I should be grateful for what I have, she said, because other people had it so much worse. They lived on the streets, they didn’t own any shoes, their parents didn’t love them, and they couldn’t afford food. Here I was, an honor student, living in nice suburban home with a ‘caring’ mother, four cats, and fancy meals from Whole Foods. I had no right to complain; I was one of the lucky ones.

So what if my dad was dead? So what if I had an eating disorder? So what if I couldn’t afford Prada purses like all the other girls at school? So what if I got a B in calculus? So what if I had no friends? So what if I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed? It didn’t matter, because there were bigger problems. I was a brat for whining, and I should just get back to my homework so I could get a nice job and help the starving children in India.

I didn’t matter; I wasn’t suffering enough. I was a white, middle-class, smart, pretty, American girl; I was fine in the grand scheme of things. I needed to suck it up, eat more, appreciate what I had, and work harder at math. I was being selfish, and that wasn’t fair to the starving children in India. I should just get over myself and focus on them, right?

WRONG.

Sure, it sucks that there are starving children in India, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Their suffering has nothing to do with me, and their problems do not magically preclude mine. My troubles exist independently of theirs and are important regardless. I need and deserve help even though someone, somewhere, somehow has it worse than I do. My struggles are valid; I am valid. Your struggles are valid; you are valid. Don’t let anyone ever, ever tell you otherwise.

Body Negativity: The Deterioration of the BoPo Movement

You don’t have to be a plus-size lingerie model to be body positive. You don’t have to have cellulite, back fat, and stomach rolls to be body positive. You don’t have to forgo makeup, obsess over Aerie, and take #transformationtuesday selfies to be body positive. You don’t have to be young, middle-class, able-bodied, or female to be body positive. You don’t have to be anything to be body positive–and that is the point!

Body positivity is a quintessentially inclusive movement, one rooted in compassion and kindness. It is a celebration of diversity and individuality, of you–however you look, whatever you do, whoever you are. You are honored and embraced regardless and because of your size, shape, skintone, and sex. There is no such thing as ‘too big’, ‘too small’, ‘too pretty,’ ‘too ugly’, ‘too muscular,’ ‘too fat’, ‘too dark’, too whatever. You are labelless; you are limitless, and so, too, is body positivity.

I am, thusly, appalled when I consider the movement’s current state. The aforesaid idyll has festered, and a cultural cultivation of love has become a constricted, commercialised entity. Body positivity has turned into a marketing scheme, a hot-hourglass-babe appreciation club devoted to selling of sweatpants, supplements, and sex tips. ‘Be body positive!’ Billboards scream. ‘No, not like that, but we have this overpriced hairbrush to help you!’

We, the movement and its members, should be fighting this. We should be standing together and soldiering against this catastrophic consumerism NOT buying into it. We are imploding when we should explode–marginalising, criticising, and excluding each other when we should unite, compliment, and include. Body positivity is quickly becoming body negativity from the inside out, and that is intolerable. This is not a time for hate, but a time for change. So please, please be kind, be considerate, be inclusive, be supportive, and most of all be positive, because, after all, isn’t THAT what body positivity is all about?

Self-Love Sunday: What You Need To Hear

About three sentences into my preachy post on self-love, I realised I had absolutely no clue what I was talking about. I cannot seriously tell you that you’re a magical rainbow unicorn who deserves to love yourself unconditionally. I don’t think your tummy rolls and toenails are the quintessence of radiance, and I have absolutely no intention to inundate you with saccharine Tumblr-sourced affirmations. I’m not going to tell you what I know you you want to hear; I’m going to tell you what I think you need to hear:

So, are you fucking insane? What are you thinking? Do you know what you’re doing? You are killing yourself. You are doing irreversible damage to your body. You are torturing the people who care about you. You are destroying any chance you have at your dreams. Why? You want to be thin. You think it’ll make you happy; you think it’ll solve all your problems.

I promise you it won’t. Chances are, you won’t even reach that obscenely low goal weight; you’ll get caught up in a vicious binge-purge cycle and rip your esophagus in two or suffer a lethal cardiac arrest. Pray that you do, ’cause losing forty pounds or whatever is much, much worse. You’re going be more miserable than you’ve ever been; you’ll wish you were dead, and darling, you will be, if you–when you–lose those ‘last ten pounds.’

Get your shit together. Move on. Snap out of it. RECOVER. It’s not just #thisorhospital; it’s this or death, and trust me when I tell you, you don’t want to die. Please, please choose recovery; choose it today and choose it everyday. It is not just the right choice; it is the only choice.

Fries Not Lies: Rant On an Image

I was horrified when this image popped up in my newsfeed.

Yes, trans-fats from some french fries will raise your LDL-cholesterol levels and yes, buckets-full will probably lead to obesity, but this infographic is highly inappropriate; the message it sends is disportionate not to mention disordered.

Consider one of each: One cigarette is actually going actually harm you; the carcinogens will reach your lungs, and the nicotine is immediately addictive. One french fry does not have the same effect; your arteries won’t suddenly clog, and you won’t drop dead of a massive heart attack. In fact, on occasion, fries can actually be good for you. They’re fun, delicious, and if your body is craving them, what you should eat.

French fries are not the enemy, and food is not the problem. Weight and diet are contributing factors to heart disease because of extremism and excess (on both sides of the scale). So, cardiovascular health community, please stop fat shaming and please stop vilifying food. Advocate for moderation instead. Encourage people to maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet–which, yes, does include french fries!

(original image by Instagram user @epatientbrazil; vandalism thereof by yours truly)