Kim Kardashian West shared some alarming weight loss advice on Twitter this morning, saying that she's "#6lbsdown" because she got the flu, which she dubbed an "amazing diet." People responded to West in full force, replying to her tweet that it's wrong to idealise someone's weight loss from an illness, and saying that some girls might be inspired to go and get the flu now so they can be like West. She eventually deleted the tweet, with no explanation why.
Who knows if West was actually hoping her fans would follow her lead and seek out their own infection, but her tweet sheds light on the problematic way we often talk about losing weight. And no matter how benign-seeming comments like these are, one thing is certain: It can be very damaging to celebrate losing weight from an illness.
West's tweet was obviously intended to be funny (she added a "lol" at the end of it), but the sentiment stems from a culture that values losing weight at all costs, and it could potentially be triggering for someone with an eating disorder. Brushing off her tweet as a joke belittles the fact that eating disorders are an all-encompassing illness that people battle on a daily basis. The truth is: Some people are willing to go to dangerous extremes to lose weight, and normalising these behaviours only makes that worse.
"Drawing attention to weight loss may stir up many uncomfortable thoughts and questions that cause the person to have a tougher time managing their illness," says Lauren Smolar, director of helpline services for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). "Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, so unintentionally causing more suffering can have deadly results."
An estimated 1.6m people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. So when you make an offhand comment or joke about wanting to lose weight from a stomach bug, there's a chance that person you're talking to could be struggling with an illness. And even if that's not the case, comments like these warp people's views of what's healthy (read: "normal") and what's not, and promote the idea that losing weight is more important than your general wellbeing. "Drawing attention to weight — gains, losses, or generally — promotes a focus on appearances and away from things that would be really wonderful to acknowledge, such as achievements and opportunities," Smolar says.
Bottom line: Weight is personal, and how you talk about it is powerful. In a culture that promotes fad diets and weight loss, it can feel like NBD to joke about how you're thrilled that you accidentally lost a few pounds by getting the flu. If you take a minute to figure out what you're actually saying, though, you might realise that you're just perpetuating the overwhelming pressure to lose weight that's already rampant. And the thing is, you don't have to have an eating disorder to feel stressed about diet and weight loss; words can negatively impact anyone.
As for West, she has tons of influence — arguably the most — so let's hope that she spreads the right message going forward.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please call Beat on 0345 634 1414. Support and information is available 365 days a year.