Recognition of eating disorders overdue at Guilford

Guilford College, like many other liberal arts schools, has a hyperfocus on political correctness.

Generally speaking, we make swift judgments against anyone who uses the wrong pronoun when addressing their peers. We call others out on their inability to recognize their privilege.

We pride ourselves on using all the right words, avoiding offense at all costs.

Yet, while we are overly cognizant of these issues, we have let others fly under the radar. The level of insensitivity regarding how we address food and body issues on campus is alarming.

As someone who has personally grappled with an eating disorder, I find myself exceptionally aware of the impact that words can have on those affected.

“Wow, you must really be hungry.”

“Are you really going to eat all that?”

“You must have a hollow leg. I don’t know where you put it all.”

These are all comments that have been made to me while eating. Although they may seem harmless, they can be triggering to someone with any history of an eating disorder.

Sufferers have a hard enough time convincing themselves to eat “normally” without others’ input. Reconnecting with our intuitive cues takes self-trust that can easily falter by someone else’s criticisms.

Even if someone does not appear to be struggling, you must still be cautious with your words.

“Eating disorders can be an invisible wound,” said sophomore and peer health and wellness educator Molly Anne Marcotte.

The sunken cheeks, protruding bones and refusal to eat can be indicating factors, but they are not fundamental.

“The publicized figure in the media remains emaciated models with ribs and collarbones begging for nourishment, but a friend of a healthy weight could just as easily be throwing up their food after every meal,” said Marcotte.

In the United States, 20 million women and half as many men experience an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Eating Disorder Association.

At Guilford, I hear no discourse about these numbers. Eating disorders are rarely mentioned, let alone discussed. Acknowledgement must be made for those who suffer from what is another form of mental illness.

In order to change, education needs to begin now.

This is made difficult because of our culture’s diet mentality. Virtually everyone is at war with his or her body. We have taught ourselves that lots of food is bad and lots of exercise is good. Period.

It is therefore easy for us to make assumptions about others and their needs, hence the unsolicited comments.

“When the messages surrounding healthy eating and exercise introduce such natural elements of life only as a means to lose weight, we devalue the need for people of all weights to treat their bodies well as an act of self-love, instead of self-deprivation,” said Marcotte.

When restriction is the status quo, I can understand how someone might deem it appropriate to make an observation about the size or quality of someone’s meal.

But, the fact is that it is not.

The most direct way to confront this is by conditioning students to abstain from publicly assessing others’ food choices.

The next step is to create opportunities on campus for students to learn about those with eating disorders and how to be tactful when relating to them.

Marcotte suggests inviting speakers, or fellow students, to talk about the issue in order to raise awareness.

Ultimately, consciousness is key. You never know who is battling demons beneath the surface or how your words may affect them.

Guilford needs to step up and make strides towards inclusion for all people, including those with eating disorders.