On ‘Bad Media’ and Bingeing

[Content note: eating disorders]

I still think about this article on writing about eating disorders:

Ginia Bellafante put it well a few years ago, in a book review for the New York Times:“Anorexia is a disease of contradiction: it demands both discipline and indulgence …. The anorexic disappears in order to be seen; she labors to self-improve as she self-annihilates.” Bellafante describes the condition as “an intellectualized hallucination.” That concise definition is better than any I’ve read, and it points to the conflicted way in which we talk about the disease: our intention is critical, but our language is celebratory.

I don’t have a good answer to the main premise–that we are too easily awed and worshipful of deprivation, even when we try to talk about the horrors. I’m wary of overusing the word ‘fetishize’, but it does seem to fit, drawing closer and closer as we write about the horror. Moths and flames, you know.

And I don’t want to object to writing more articles about eating disorders–but there’s a definitive trend in what aspects of eating disorders we talk about. Mainly, we talk about the ones we can link to Big Societal Problems–supermodels and photoshop are making us all want to be unrealistically thin! Young girls are feeling pressure earlier and earlier to diet! And this seems to result in prioritizing a certain kind of story.

Nearly every article about eating disorders ever will describe in painful, clear detail how someone (usually a girl) deprives themselves. 
How they think about it, the tricks they use, how good it feels. 
And nobody ever manages to write about bingeing, though most people who deprive binge as well, and most people with an ED end up wandering through diagnoses. Several targeted google searches for eating disorder articles, and I couldn’t find a intimate interview. No first-person stories that centered around bingeing–the purging afterwards, sure, the bouncing-back into depriving, sure, but not the gripping, hollow, band-around-your-chest feeling of bingeing. 

It’s nice that you want to write those articles about eating disorders, and I’m all in favor. But please, let’s not talk about how bad it is that Other, Bad Media glorifies disordered behavior when all you’ll write about is the stuff that makes you skinnier.


  1. Great American Satan says

    [cw: some discussion of specific caloric intake and weight numbers-Kate]

    I think it also bears mentioning that while these disorders can exist in the same people, due to the inadequacy of our labeling system (maybe we should label symptoms rather than disorders, so seeming contradictions would be less of a problem? dunno),

    The line between these things does need to be crystal clear. Yes, a person with anorexia can also binge, BUT people with anorexia can also wonder “Am I bingeing?” because they ate anything at all. So don’t accidentally feed ED by slipping between talking about these symptoms too easily.

    I saw this problem in an otherwise pretty reasonable book for teens on the subject. Reading it from the perspective of someone who has been privy to the ED voice of another, I noticed it immediately – They weren’t clear enough they had switched which disorder they were talking about mid-paragraph.

    Also, I don’t know that bingeing always makes a person bigger – might be true, i’m no expert – but I’m really tired of people acting like anorexia always makes you smaller. There’s a lot of medium to large sized anorexics who never binged in their lives and cannot lose weight. I don’t know why, but I know this is true from watching it happen.

    600 calories and 2+ hours of exercise a day? Still 5’9″ and hovering around 200 lbs, with a massive increase in constipation and suicidal ambition. Good times.

    • Kate Donovan says

      Yeah, agree to all of this. (I edited your comment to add a content warning, but nothing else)

  2. Great American Satan says

    Thank you. I feel compelled to add an emoticon to this, but I don’t have the vocabulary.

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