Eating Disorders: A Conversation Presented by University Recreation

TW: This post talks about eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

On Wednesday, February 21st, I attended the Eating Disorder Awareness Panel presented by University Recreation. There were four panelists who had their own personal or career connections to JMU and our student body who addressed questions regarding eating disorders, body dysmorphia, social media, and much more. Each question was answered with intent, concern, and understanding of the difficulties of disordered eating.

Coming to this panel, I knew it would be difficult. Disordered eating, body image, comparison, (and probably everything under that umbrella) is something that I’ve struggled with so much over the past few years. And I know I’m not alone in this, as so many women have expressed their difficulties with disordered eating. Even a panelist came forward with her struggles with bulimia and her continual recovery. But something that concerned me during this event was how much eating disorder topics were focused on and tailored toward women. It didn’t strike me in the sense that women are affected by it, it moreover bothered me about how little men are included in this conversation.

While this is a feminist blog that aims to cover feminist issues, I believe in inclusivity and equality for all, which I’m sure feminism would agree with. With that being said, the only time men were considered in conversation was with questions regarding bulking. Thinking about all the men in the room (and there was a good amount of them), it made me wonder how and if they feel included in this conversation. It’s no secret that men also struggle mentally, physically, through social media, or in the gym just like women. Disordered eating and personal struggles are not discriminatory toward your identity. This is why I believe that when having these conversations and events, it’s extremely important to use inclusive language to create an environment where everyone can learn and find resources that benefit them.

But I don’t want to discredit this event and the beneficial information that they gave. It was an amazing resource for me to learn about what I can do to better myself in a healthy way, and I bet many other attendees feel the same. A major point they discussed was social media and the body dysmorphia and body dissatisfaction it perpetuates. They emphasized that social media was a notorious source for body comparison, but also a known place for filters and editing which creates false and usually unrealistic images. For me, it feels like this trap of social media is how it’s always been like, especially while experiencing burdensome body dysmorphia. But a panelist shared a tip for social media that seemed so simple in retrospect, but it’s not something I would usually be mindful of. She explained that we must be “critical viewers” and use social media through a critical lens. She elaborated on these ideas by explaining that we must be mindful and censorious of who we follow and if they promote body love and positive realistic pictures. We need to know who we follow and mindfully consider what it’s doing to us mentally.

Continuing with being critical on social media, a panelist explained how she uses social media as a platform for body positivity by following accounts that show real and unedited bodies. For example, a well-known Instagram user, Bree Lenehan, posts pictures of her side-by-side posing and resting as well as in different clothing styles, acknowledging that posing and finding the “perfect” angle is everything on social media. This account is just one way we can promote healthier media consumption, one panelist reiterated. Finding simple but impactful ways like this is one example of how social media is capable of encouraging positivity and can help women with such a prominent struggle like body dysmorphia or disordered eating.

Overall, the Eating Disorder Awareness Panel was very impactful and helped me find simple tips that will guide me into a more positive headspace within my personal life and through social media. Although this event can serve as a positive learning experience for women, I still believe including men in this conversation is crucial. Being inclusive to everyone and recognizing that everyone has their own struggles will take away the “strong man” stereotype and patriarchal stigma that men can’t suffer, or must suffer in silence. But remember, you are beautiful the way you are, challenge yourself with true statements (don’t believe what your mind is trying to convince you), and learn to make new positive associations toward yourself and your body!

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