Stigmatizing alienates eating disorder victims
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I am writing in response to Ms. Koch's letter in the Oct. 6 issue of The Observer. I commend Ms. Koch and Mr. Hagerty for their willingness to take on an issue as complex and overwhelming as eating disorders. I, too, am in agreement with the letters that have been published thus far concerning this subject. Notre Dame does severely lack any sort of effective offense in eating disorder education and treatment.
However, I strongly urge Ms. Koch and Mr. Hagerty to better educate themselves on the topic. Comments made in Ms. Koch's article were ignorant. People who suffer from eating disorders live their lives in a manner that they feel will please others and make everyone around them feel most comfortable. Simply stated, everyone else's feelings and needs dominate, not allowing the person suffering from the eating disorder to be aware of his or her needs.
It was very detrimental of Ms. Koch to make her first priority the creation of a "zero tolerance environment" where there is no place for "self-defilement." By suggesting that people who suffer from eating disorders make the environment intolerable for others, Ms. Koch is further stigmatizing and alienating a group of young men and women who emotionally batter themselves every day. In her letter, she told a group of people who will go to any length to please others and make others comfortable that their very presence and "self-degradation" creates an unpleasant environment.
I have suffered from an eating disorder for more than eight years. I never recall making comments in public like "I am so fat" or "I look like a whale." I even checked it out with my roommate of three years, and she never heard me say those things. I, and others who suffer from eating disorders, may feel that way and think those thoughts 100 percent of the time, but it is a very private and secretive disease. Therefore, most people are ashamed of these feelings and do not profess them to anyone.
It also goes back to that whole uncomfortable idea. Don't you think that I realize that I would make people uncomfortable by saying such things? Please don't advise people to "be brave and let people know that it makes you to be subject to their self-degradation." That is another sure-fire way to leave the victim feeling alienated and isolated.
I have been in treatment for my eating disorder for more than six months now. With every step forward, I take three steps back. I wish it were as easy as "adopting a more positive self-image." I have an unbelievably strong support system made up of family and friends who constantly remind me of my worth.
Yet, an eating disorder goes so much deeper than that. It is something that most people will never understand; I know that I don't understand it and I live it every minute of the day. What I do know, however, is that the disorder is not just about food and weight, but rather manifests itself through these avenues. It is about feelings, needs and self-worth, and until people understand that, nothing will be successful in combating this deadly disease.
Ms. Koch and Mr. Hagerty, again I sincerely thank you for your efforts and I offer my help to you if you would like it. I have no doubt that you have the best intentions. However, I beg you to better educate yourselves. I believe that you could accomplish a great deal with the right information.
Very few people know that I suffer from an eating disorder. I was planning on writing this letter anonymously, but I think that it is better for all involved if I accept Ms. Deeter's challenge to break the silence of eating disorders. Also, my heart goes out to the male freshman whose letter appeared in the Oct. 6 issue. I know how you can get help if you would like it; please e-mail me.
October 28, 1999
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, October 29, 1999