A Dangerous New Trend: Throwing Around the Word "Anorexic" Is Not OK

Lately, I have noticed a new, dangerous trend stemmed from a lack of understanding: “anorexic” is being used as a nonchalant term more than ever. In the hallways, I often hear snarky whispers like, “Did you see her legs? She is sooooo anorexic!” On social media, “anorexic” has been grossly misused as a compliment akin to calling someone beautiful or fit (I know, it’s almost unbelievable). This needs to end now, because throwing around the word “anorexic” impulsively and without certainty is far from ok.

First off, in no way, shape, or form should we use anorexia as a compliment. How is calling someone mentally ill a form of appraisal? I am not saying that those who are anorexic should be ashamed, because trust me—it is not a reflection of their character. In fact, some of the strongest, most amazing people I have been blessed to know are those that I connected with through treatment and the mutual trials & tribulations of recovery. What I am trying to say is that labelling someone with a mental illness is a job that is best left to the experts—to the psychiatrists who have had formal training in this subjective, delicate science. Also, acts such as commenting “anorexic” followed by a smiley face are plain ignorant. It is no different from commenting “schizophrenic” with a heart on someone’s photograph. I know this seems crazy, so why doesn’t commenting “anorexic” seem as ridiculous? Anorexia, too, is a mental illness, not a term we call anyone who has a “nice body.” In fact, anorexia is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate, with 4% of those diagnosed eventually succumbing to the disease. Anorexics are 50 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, so obviously, there is no levity concomitant with possessing this characteristic. Thus, using anorexia lightly, without realizing its devastating consequences on a suffering population, is not only wrong, but inherently disrespectful to all those grieving families who actually had to watch their loved ones wither away.

Second, we cannot tell if someone is anorexic merely by looking at them. Someone could look totally fine on the outside, but we don’t know what they are thinking, what internal wars are waging in their neural battlefields. We don’t know whether food and calories and the desire to be thin preoccupies their minds, hindering them from enjoying life, from feeling true happiness and warmth. We are not mind readers, so how can we possibly know what disordered thoughts are clouding over others’ minds? We can’t….And, not every skinny person in this world is anorexic. Because anorexia is associated with self-starvation and sometimes a harrowing image of sickly emaciation, we often jump to hasty conclusions regarding those who fit this stereotype. However, anorexia is not a description of a physical attribute, but a specific mental illness accompanied by an obsessive desire to lose weight.

Third, using anorexia in this sense is extremely hurtful and insensitive to those who have had to face recovery…. Using it as such an adjective denies it of the seriosity and legitimacy of a real medical condition. I faced the toughest and most trying of processes throughout my adolescence, I have spent hundreds of miles away from family, and I have had many mornings where getting out of bed seems impossible. I have had to fight with all of my heart, to rewire my brain to think in a healthy manner, to do the impossible…. So, yes, joking about the word “anorexia” is a huge insult to all the warriors who have conquered the illness, because it is a seeming devaluation of our momentous victories and inspiring journeys.

I know it can be extremely hard to fully grasp the concept of an illness that has not personally affected us, so to wrap up my rant, here is a great analogy I once heard to shed light on the ridiculous misuse of the word anorexic: Imagine a world where being bald has become part of our collective aspirations. Despite most people not possessing this coveted baldness, all the top supermodels are bald, revered and rewarded for this rare mark of beauty. Time and time again, you find yourself saying, “I am so sick of all these cancerous models!” Obviously, this statement makes no sense for multiple reasons: first, those suffering with cancer deserve our unparalleled support and sympathy, for they are facing a debilitating battle. Second, just because these models are bald does not mean they have cancer….Plenty of healthy, cancer-free individuals are bald too. Finally, cancer itself does not result in hair loss….Baldness is merely a side-effect of chemotherapy, the treatment that many cancer patients often undergo. It in itself is not a holistic representation of cancer, but a physical characteristic that CAN accompany the disease. Now, in our real world, the baldness is the “thinness” and the nonsensical phrase that is often used is, “I am so sick of all these anorexic models!” Like the scenario above, this statement is not only derogatory, but absurd. Those suffering with anorexia deserve our unparalleled support and sympathy, for they are facing a debilitating battle. Second, just because those models are thin does not mean they are anorexic….plenty of healthy people are naturally lean, their thinness a result of their genes instead of starvation. Finally, anorexia does not always cause emaciation. Emaciation is not the illness itself, but a side-effect of the obsessive thoughts of weight loss and restriction. It in itself is not a holistic representation of anorexia, but a physical characteristic that CAN (but does not necessarily) accompany the disease. Thus, we cannot jump to conclusions about someone solely based on their appearances, for these conclusions are often false and unfair.

Simran BansalComment