Books, articles, and commercials about weight loss are unavoidable. And this is especially true now that "bikini season" has arrived. (Can we please permanently retire that phrase?) Eating disorders are a co-companion to society's deeply problematic obsession with weight, but they don't receive nearly enough attention and the illness isn't treated with the seriousness it deserves.
Many people don't even view eating disorders as a "real" illness, but nothing could be further from the truth. In America, approximately 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Anorexia nervosa is the most fatal mental illness, with a mortality rate of 10%.
"This happens every time I go to a used book store looking to add to my collection of obscure, mid century weight loss diet books. Shelf after shelf of unique titles. In this case, these were all too contemporary for my collection--all the books here are from 1995 or later, which is telling in its own right," Browne wrote. "But what struck me most was the tiny section next to it labeled Eating Disorders. Some aren't even actually about eating disorders. Think about that for a second. A whole bookcase for diet books from the 21st century next to a handful of titles about a type of mental illness that manifests through control of diet and body image issues."
"Rarely do you see our collective obsession with weight loss so starkly compared with the shameful refusal to care for the aftermath of its destruction," she concluded.
Of course, societal pressure alone isn't the reason women and men develop eating disorders. The underlying causes are a complex combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Eating disorders are far too often labeled a "vanity illness" that's developed by people who are desperate to look like the models we see in magazine pages, and this is a deeply damaging misconception.
But what Browne's post perfectly illustrates is the fact that society thinks losing weight and attaining that "perfect bikini body" is more important than treating a potentially fatal mental illness.