Syndicated via The Argus and EllieIrvine.com
For what must be the millionth time I hear the sentence more likely to provoke infinite rage than any other, “I would never have guessed you were anorexic”. Always uttered with an incredulous smile and a fatherly pat on the shoulder or a squeeze of the arm.
Despite the other party meaning no harm by this statement, it is guaranteed to throw the majority of those of us diagnosed completely off kilter.
The second most common statement that pops up to slap me in the face; “If only I could just give you some of my extra weight!”, usually accompanied by a jovial wink and a playful nudge to the rib cage.
Though both of these statements may appear to be fairly innocuous, they are heavily weighted (excuse the pun) with connotations and an assumption that eating disorders begin with weight loss and end with the achievement of a healthy weight.
To reduce the entire experience of being diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening mental illness down into one quantifiable number is incredibly insulting. Unfortunately however, most people simply don’t know any better.
Too many people have read the incessant articles on celebrity eating disorders – “Stars plummet to new Low Scary Skinny Anorexia Fears!”. Too many people have watched documentaries on eating disorders in which anorexics and bulimics alike cry and baulk at weight gain and scream that they are getting fat.
The truth is, weight loss is a symptom of eating disorders, a by-product of a carefully constructed mental prison. It is not the cause of the problem.
My desire to highlight this psychological torment is the reason I began ‘Immeasurable’.
As I flicked through previous artists’ work documenting eating disorders, I was disturbed to note that almost every practitioner allows a focus on weight, on numbers on a scale, on calorie intake.
While this is undeniably an important aspect of the lived experience of an eating disorder, it in no way reflects the complex phenomena at play in the lives of those diagnosed.
When I began work on Immeasurable, I chose to exclude any mention of calorie intake, weights or numbers.
Instead I have asked participants to reveal their perceptions of the psychological experience of having an eating disorder.
Each portrait is a collaborative construction of the participants’ ‘headspace’ throughout their illness.
The stories that come from this project show the extreme psychological torment, the sense of futility and hopelessness that comes from being trapped in such a destructive mental environment.
These stories represent a complex experience that is, sadly, occurring all over Australia and internationally.
The Butterfly Foundation’s annual report conservatively estimates over 900,000 people in Australia were living with an eating disorder in 2012.
Those diagnosed experienced double the mortality rate of the general population, and those diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa (as opposed to Bulimia Nervosa and other disorders) had a mortality rate of 5.86 times the average population.
Understanding and awareness of the psychological aspects of these illnesses is desperately needed in order to facilitate better access and support for individuals and families.
For information about support and points of contact in your state visit:
National Eating Disorders Collaboration
The Butterfly Foundation or call the National Support Line 1800 33 4673
Lifeline or call 13 11 14 for 24/7 crisis support
or call The Eating Disorder Helpline 1300 550 236 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.
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