I’m Nancy, I’m 21 years old and I live in London.
As well as writing, I currently work full-time as a nanny, and am still in therapy for my remaining struggles with food and feelings. This autumn I will be starting my undergraduate degree in Experimental Psychology at Pembroke College, Oxford, and eventually hope to train as a counselling psychologist.
Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyCNTucker
Why We Need Good Representations of Eating Disorders in Books and the Media for Young Adults
To my mind, the importance of the representation of eating disorders is two-fold: for the sake of sufferers, and for the sake of non-sufferers.
For eating disorder sufferers, representations of the illness – be they in books, magazines or on television (though the latter should be approached with extreme caution) – articulate a simple but significant message: you are not alone in this. Your pain and shame have been felt before, by men and women who have found ways to muffle the cruel, critical Voice inside. Your struggle is real, but not insurmountable. For non-sufferers, the inverse of this message is important: they feel alone in this. They feel a level of pain and shame which they think no one else can ever have felt before them; they are constantly, mercilessly taunted by a cruel, critical inner Voice they don’t know how to muffle. Their struggle feels real, and insurmountable.
But a world without any media representation of eating disorders whatsoever would be infinitely superior to a world in which such representations are confined to the sensationalist and voyeuristic: the world in which tabloids and breakfast television would have us believe we live. In this world, ghoulish photographs of fragile, bone-bearing young bodies are flaunted across television screens in front of which fragile children spoon – or cease to spoon – pre-school cornflakes into hungry mouths. In this world, ‘lowest weights’ are boasted like flawless exam scores, pride swelling as the number dwindles. In this world, anorexia is synonymous with ‘very-very-thin’; bulimia is synonymous with ‘not-that-serious-we-don’t-really-care’.
In order to help rather than hinder, representations of eating disorders must be sensitive, honest and intelligent. We shouldn’t be so scared of ‘political correctness’ or ‘ableist language’ that we skirt around acknowledging these illnesses for what they are – a form of pure, simple insanity – because if we do, we come dangerously close to holding them up as examples of enviable willpower. We should stress, until we are blue in the face, if necessary, that ‘anorexic’ is not an adjective, and – more importantly – that anorexia is not the only eating disorder. We should impress upon audiences that, in the grips of an eating disorder, one does not float serenely above mere mortals, free of the messy, human need to fuel the body: one crawls, depleted and decaying, on the ground, dragging along a body which is oozing and putrefying and ready to crumble. We should grant non-sufferers a window into the eating disordered mind, in the hope that this will distract them from the superficial, unimportant eating disordered body.
The bottom line? Eating disorders happen. They happen with greater frequency and in younger people than they used to, and they happen with more brutality, viciousness and ferocity than most understand. To stifle representations of eating disorders would be to neglect a huge and important facet of the maze of mental illness, but the task of representing these illnesses must be undertaken with consideration, caution and care. A picture of an emaciated body as an accompaniment to a story of anorexia is as good as a challenge to sufferers: a cruelly cocked eyebrow, silently expressing, ‘this is what is expected of you. Don’t look like this? Get lost. You can’t join our club’. For as long as we continue to put out such representations, we continue to buy into the myth that an eating disorder is little more than a scrawny frame and empty stomach – and continue to neglect the true needs of the millions of men and women worldwide who are bruised, battered and broken by the blows of their own minds.
Good representations of eating disorders have the power to inspire, influence and educate, but bad ones can just as easily injure, invalidate and traumatize. In an area where so much is at stake, it is imperative that strict controls are exercised by experts before any material is circulated to an audience, to protect the vulnerable from self-destruction and the ignorant from self-delusion..
Also read Nancy’s previous guest post:
Five Eating Disorder Misconceptions
When Nancy Tucker was eight years old, her class had to write about what they wanted in life. She thought, and thought, and then, though she didn’t know why, she wrote: ‘I want to be thin.’
Over the next twelve years, she developed anorexia nervosa, was hospitalised, and finally swung the other way towards bulimia nervosa. She left school, rejoined school; went in and out of therapy; ebbed in and out of life. From the bleak reality of a body breaking down to the electric mental highs of starvation, hers has been a life held in thrall by food.
Told with remarkable insight, dark humour and acute intelligence, The Time in Between is a profound, important window into the workings of an unquiet mind – a Wasted for the 21st century.