Let’s Reverse the Culture of Normalizing Disordered Eating

From dieting pills to the way clothing lines regard plus-size fashion, these factors are influenced and produced by large, well-known corporations that we rely on for much of our livelihood.

Let’s Reverse the Culture of Normalizing Disordered Eating

McKenna Christy, Contributing Writer, Columbus OH

My life is not crazy. I live in the suburbs outside Columbus, Ohio, and yes, there is a very limited amount of things to do. However, image is the priority of my town. People believe we are representing the city of Powell and not ourselves. There are specific stereotypes that each person must fulfill and a role they must play in order to avoid judgment. There is a reason why my city is nicknamed the “Powell bubble,” and despite people saying the name represents the safety compared to every other part of Columbus, the deeper meaning lies in the fact that as we live here, we are trapped trying to look and think the same way.

I have never lived anywhere else my entire life. No big changes have come about. But despite my life’s seeming blandness, I have struggled.

As a child, I would look at myself in the reflection of windows, mirrors, and in pictures and want to be someone else. I grew sensitive to every comment regarding my weight or food consumption. I continuously asked my mom for reassurance as a child, and I lived off of her reassurance.

My negative feelings toward my body strengthened in high school. I felt that if I wanted to look different and weigh less, I needed to do something about it. I felt as if controlling how many calories I ate would increase my weight loss significantly. Every few pounds I lost deserved a celebration. The amount I was eating started to decrease and it became normal to me.

Once I was able to admit to my mom that my eating patterns were abnormal, I realized I was very unhealthy. I still struggle daily, but my friends have become my emotional support—whether they’re making sure I receive enough nutrients by taking me out to eat or simply comforting me when things become too overwhelming.

Disordered eating can show up in many forms. I believe many people struggle with disordered eating on a daily basis and feel it’s actually normal—most likely because their eating behaviors are not categorized as eating disorder symptoms.

For this and so many other reasons, I believe one of the most important topics to address when discussing body image and disordered eating is the tendency for it to be normalized in our culture. 

There are many factors that I have observed to be the most influential on how we, as one big community, normalize eating disorders. From dieting pills to the way clothing lines regard plus-size fashion, these factors are influenced and produced by large, well-known corporations that we rely on for much of our livelihood.

Photo of Macy’s portion control plates. Photo by Pourtions and courtesy of The Washington Post)

When Macy’s released their portion control plates in July of 2019, the plates were designed to portray portion sizes relative to jean types—“skinny” jeans being the smallest portion and “mom jeans” being the biggest portion. Macy’s responded to the issue by explaining they had “missed the mark.”

To me, this was something much greater than a mistake, and I do not think it should be treated as one. I have seen others triggered, and have been personally triggered, by products that promote dieting or portion control. As a culture, I think we should work together to ensure that we steer away from normalizing eating disorders.

Another recent example in which a chain retail store has been the topic of controversy is when Forever 21 sent diet bars along with online purchases. Those receiving the diet bars were confused and interpreted their receiving the bar to be the company’s way of promoting weight loss and dieting.

In both of these examples, in which Macy’s and Forever 21 faced major backlash from consumers, it’s been proven that people have a willingness and desire to stand up for one another. Especially when it comes to preventing companies from repeating the promotion of disordered eating in the future.

I believe that people are willing to rewrite the narrative, but I think we have to demand that it be rewritten. 

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), “Body image concerns often begin at a young age…and 40-60% of elementary school girls are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat.”

Younger children become victims of the promotion of eating disorders as well, and I think that this can be attributed to the lack of discussion around the topic. I believe that the solution lies in us actually taking action.

Yes, the majority of people see the problem, but what is stopping us from doing something about it? 

What action can we take? We can create a new movement by being open with one another. If we as a culture continue to discuss what factors are encouraging eating disorders, then we’ll be able to see the success that discussing serious topics more comfortably brings.

McKenna originally published her article on The Conversationalist.