Three years ago, I sat in a Starbucks on a brisk February night and mindlessly stared at a laptop screen in front of me.
My vision was blurring and my head was pounding. I didn”t know it at the time, but my kidneys were starting to shut down. I scrolled through Facebook, almost on auto-pilot, until something caught my eye. It was a post from a friend of mine in California. She shared a link to an article about National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
The post was simple and sweet, but something about it struck a chord with me. That night, I went home and told my parents. With a single Facebook post, a close friend who was miles away had unknowingly saved my life.
I struggled with an eating disorder for nearly five years, and in all that time I had no idea there was even such a thing as Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
The week runs from Feb. 21-27 and often centers around a theme that helps promote awareness of eating disorders and encourages those who suffer from eating disorders to seek help. This year”s theme, as posted on the National Eating Disorders Awareness website, is “Three Minutes Can Save a Life,” which encourages individuals to undergo a brief eating disorder screening.
This year, the University of Idaho has rebranded their participation in Eating Disorders Awareness Week as Body Positive Week on campus. While body positivity is absolutely something that should be encouraged and promoted in every individual, there is a difference between promoting a positive self-image and encouraging eating disorder awareness.
The consolidation of the two weeks makes sense on a certain level. It”s argued that by helping individuals maintain a positive self-image it”s possible to prevent eating disorders from developing in the first place.
However, spinning Eating Disorders Awareness Week to be about body positivity trivializes the scope and complexity of eating disorders. Not only are there a variety of different eating disorders, but having a negative body image is not the sole cause of such disorders.
Eating disorders are often accompanied by anxiety and depression, and while body image might be a factor in some cases, these disorders can also serve as a way for individuals to cope with tremendous amounts of stress or other negative emotions.
College is a time when many students may develop eating disordered behaviors – such as purposefully skipping meals or obsessing about food – without even knowing it. It”s also much easier to hide eating disordered behaviors in college, when students are on their own and away from their families.
Body Positive Week is a great idea, and encouraging individuals to love their body and maintain a positive self-image is important. Yet, body positivity should stand as its own separate event.
While there are events geared toward promoting eating disorder awareness throughout this week, the focus still remains on building a positive self-image, essentially obscuring a set of days dedicated to promoting a kind of awareness that can, and has, saved lives.
Had I come across a Facebook post about body positivity three years ago, I can”t say it would”ve had any effect on me. It wasn”t my body I was having a problem with, it was my brain.