This weekend I was perusing the internet when I found a YouTube video of the 2015 National Poetry Slam. In the video, Blythe Baird is performing her piece called “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny”. She explains how she grew up an overweight child, but was happy with her body until she realized that being overweight was something society viewed as “bad”. Once she recognized that her body was something that society perceived as a problem, Blythe developed anorexia. Often, anorexia is imagined as a disorder that requires medical attention as it transforms someone who has a “normal” weight into an emaciated person. However, as Blythe was overweight, others saw her anorexia and resulting weight loss as an accomplishment. One of the lines from the piece that stuck out to me the most was
“If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story.”
Weight, society, and eating disorders intersect every day to frame perceptions about body image. Beginning in elementary school, our formal education teaches that the key to achieving optimum health is a good diet and exercising. However, there is far more that is learned outside of the classroom. As a young child, we learn about nutrition and exercise from our families. This knowledge is influenced by many factors, including economic position (in the case of accessibility and food deserts) and cultural background (and the resulting varying ideals of beauty). Classmates, friends, and siblings also shape our perception of our own body. Although it has been close to two decades since I stepped foot on an elementary school playground, the recent media focus on bullying lets me know that young children are probably still being teased and taunted in the schoolyard about their body size.
In short, it is no wonder that like Blythe, hundreds of thousands of young people of all genders develop eating disorders each year. Blythe’s experience provides an important and rarely heard insight into the world where anorexia is not treated as a dangerous, life threatening disorder. Rather, it is idolized because it results in a lower number on the scale. In the throes of her eating disorder, Blythe explained that when she had initially lost a significant amount of weight, her father said he was “proud to see me taking care of myself”. Therefore, as we enter 2016 and you begin to hear about New Year’s Resolutions that center on losing weight, remember that it is far more important to get healthy. Weight truly is just a number on a scale and not a reflection of your self-worth, education, abilities, or personality. Just as we learned in elementary school, the key to a positive body image is balance- with your diet, exercise, health, and happiness!
Disclaimer: If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please contact the Georgia Tech Eating Disorder Treatment Team at 404-894-9980. An online anonymous screening for eating disorders can be accessed here.
By: Julia Greenspan