Wearing Disordered Eating On Your Sleeve

By Katie, 7:51 am

It deeply pains me to say this, but I think it needs to be put out there. When I was at my darkest place with emotional overeating, I wished that I were anorexic. I literally remember thinking, “If only I dealt with my stress by shunning food instead of gorging on it.” :-(

Where on earth would I have gotten the idea that starving myself was the better option, that it was more acceptable or legitimate, that it was, dare I say, cool? Oh, that’s right…

I don’t think I’m over-exaggerating when I say that our society glamorizes eating disorders – particularly anorexia – in much the same way it romanticizes drinking and smoking. And yet when I first saw these t-shirts, I was still shocked. 8-O And deeply saddened.

You can read more about the first shirt here and the second shirt here. I believe they have both been pulled from the shelves at this point, due to the (justified) outcries they stirred. And yet why on earth were they even designed in the first place???

I am outraged when I see things like this. :-x  But my anger is not directed at any particular company or designer because I believe that the issue is much more complex than that. I am angry at our entire culture, which too often idolizes thinness above all else. I am angry at the entire media industry, which continues to prioritize images of waif-like women. I am angry at every consumer who supports these images and ideas by continuing to buy the magazines and the clothes, which means that I am angry at myself. I am angry that I am not doing more to fight this system, even though the very notion of doing so sounds so huge and impossible that I am immediately discouraged. :-?

But I will continue to do my important, albeit small, part. I will continue to speak out – in conversations and on this blog. I will encourage others to express their outrage as well, in useful and productive ways. And hopefully someday I will enlist my children to continue the work through the next generation.

What’s your reaction to the above t-shirts? What do you think can be done to challenge these kinds of messages?

53 Responses to “Wearing Disordered Eating On Your Sleeve”

  1. I think it’s appalling that those t-shirts even exist. I can’t for the life of me understand why our society idolizes extreme thinness over healthiness and strength. I think just getting your voice out there through your blog and spreading the word to those you know is a great way to challenge the system. Every little bit helps…

  2. Wow. Just wow. Those t-shirts should not exist. I think you’re totally right though– our society totally glamourizes the idea of eating disorders.

    It’s interesting, because I do a unit on body image in my Freshman English class (rhetoric of the body, etc.), and all of my girl students say that part of the frustration of the whole body image thing is the extent to which eating disorders are celebrated, not just by the media, but by GIRLS, especially girls in groups. So, if one girl starts to eat less, every other girl in their circle of friends will not feel sad or scared for that girl, but will feel jealous of her, intimidated by her, etc., and will basically feel the need to “compete” and do the same thing.

    So scary.

    • Katie says:

      Wow, that’s so interesting…and yet not surprising, unfortunately. I definitely remember feeling that way in high school – envious of the girls who didn’t eat instead of concerned for their wellbeing.

  3. Melissa says:

    Wow is right! Hi there! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I’m finally getting a chance to comment! Ack!

    You’re not alone on the ‘wishing you were anorexic’ when it came to disordered eating. Right now, I’m in that place. I’m trying to remove myself from that place. I, too, have overeaten for my entire life to soothe emotional distress and childhood pain. I’ve been trying to solve the problem alone for the sake of my two little girls, but it hasn’t been working very well. Granted the weight is starting to come off, but I have decided to get help with the ‘inside issue’.

    The t-shirts are very wrong, but very true. The way society is these days, nothing does taste as good as skinny feels…because if you’re any larger than skinny, you don’t feel like you ‘fit in’. Lucky, after getting married, I’ve felt much better about the entire thing, because I didn’t have to worry about trying to impress someone…which means I felt the need to be MUCH thinner. Ugh. If we could only change the way the world sees the human body…

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for commenting, Melissa! It’s really comforting to know that others have felt the same way. It’s great that you’ve decided to seek help for the deeper issues underlying your food struggles; I truly believe that addressing those “inside issues” is the only real way to deal with the struggles for good.

  4. Mo says:

    Wow… The one on Perez’s site looks more like it was supposed to be funny and make fun of eating disorders, but there’s still nothing okay with that.

    I’d like it if every single magazine stopped using airbrush on ALL of their photos for at least 5 issues. It’d give everyone a better idea of what’s real.

  5. I think those t-shirts are disgusting. And you’re right – society totall makes EDs seem glamorous – all the models are tiny tiny TINY, and it’s blatently obvious they have EDs (no one is THAT thin. I would know!Been there, done that, it’s not fun). Plus, ALL the magazines encourage weight loss – it’s all about ‘drop 10 pounds in a week’ etc, and it’s so stupid! Whatever happened to just being healthy??
    I actually stopped buying some of my favourite magazines during my recovery, because they were so triggering. I’d look at models and think ‘ah see, it’s OK to be thin [aka DYING]‘. Not good!!
    Thanks for highlighting this :)

  6. Shawnee says:

    Those shirts are gross. People with eating disorders are killing themselves and we as a society thinks that’s ok. One thing I’ve been struggling with lately is this goal/desire that has been laid upon my heart. I want to become a group exercise/yoga teacher. I plan to study to take the group certification test and go to yoga school. But I am worried that because I myself am trying to lose weight and our society (especially the fitness industry) is so caught up in appearances, that I won’t get a job. I keep trying to pep talk myself and help myself believe that if I do go through with it, I will be breaking some sort of boundary. I’ll be fighting against the man so to speak. It is scary though, but I am trying to be brave.

    • Katie says:

      I totally understand that it’s scary, but for what it’s worth, I definitely think that you will be nothing but an inspiration! I know that whenever I’ve had a fitness instructor who didn’t fit the typical mold, I’ve found it refreshing; those teachers have often been my favorites! :)

  7. those shirts are pretty scary. I would be extremely uncomfortable if I ever saw someone in them, and would feel a bit sad for the person wearing it, too. I think that what people have done – speak up to get them taken down – is what needs to be done. If people talk about it enough and help others, then hopefully this won’t be such a problem in the future.

    I have to admit, I’ve had the same thought you did quite a few times during my struggles. You’re not alone.

    Thanks for brining attention to this.

  8. Good post.

    Those t-shirts make me equally sad and angry. As do the majority of purported health/fitness/’women’s’ magazines. We are inundated with images and advertising that constantly tell we are not good enough. It angers me to my core.

    I think we have to do what we can. For me that means raising my girls to enjoy their bodies, to revel in what they can do, to not judge themselves or others or hold either up to anybody else’s standards. It has also meant cancelling some magazine subcriptions (most recently to Health (ha!) magazine) and telling the publishers exactly why.

    • Katie says:

      Ohhhh good point!!! It’s not enough to stop buying the stuff – we need to be vocal about our reasoning so they start to get it!

      I cancelled my SELF subscription after all the fuss over the photoshopped cover photo of Kelly Clarkson. You’ve inspired me to write them a letter explaining why!

  9. every single day we make a choice to interact with not only women, but girls and boys with how we eat, what we say, how we move, dress, interact and carry ourselves.

    THAT’S where it starts.

  10. Holly says:

    Oh my gosh. I can’t imagine these were even on the market, but even more I can’t fathom who would want to wear something like that??? In a world where some women brag about skipping meals and how little they ate, this just doesn’t seem right at all. It makes me very sad….but I’m hoping that the pendulum swings the other way. Eating is GOOD – and fun!

    I only wish I knew what I could do to help change things. I guess for right now, I’m just trying my best to set an example to small kids (particularly my nieces) and also correct my friends when I hear them bragging about skipping meals or engaging in “fat talk.”

    • Katie says:

      I think that those sorts of small actions – talking to friends, encouraging the next generation, etc. – are really really important!

  11. christina says:

    i cant’ believe those were even made in the first place. that’s crazy. the girl in the second shirt looks TIRED!! probably from not eating!

  12. Jessica Lee says:

    I think people like us take these more offensively to but to “regular people” who dont know anything, think it’s funny. Sigh…I wish they weren’t designed in the first place.

  13. Brooke says:

    Can I get an ‘Amen’! I could not have said this better myself and 100000% agree with you. The expectations that society puts on women are unreal and unhealthy. The emaciated models are considered the ideal and how can any one of us live up to such an expectation. It sets one up for failure, disappointment and discontentement with one’s own body. It breaks my heart and makes me want to raise my daughter in a protective bubble!

    • Katie says:

      I know what you mean! I get most infuriated when I think about having a daughter someday. I am going to try my best to infuse her mind with positivity and self-acceptance, but it will be impossible to shield her completely from junk like these t-shirts.

  14. Erin says:

    I have been there, too. I struggled with bulimia for 10 years. It can be very similar and also very different to anorexia. I never felt in control with food, though. There were many times when I wish I just didn’t eat because I thought that it would be easier (I know, that’s crazy. One is definitely not better than the other) I also carried around a lot of shame because I felt like it was WAY more socially acceptable to say that I didn’t eat than to say that I ate too much and threw up. I thought that not eatig would be more desirable.

    • Katie says:

      Thank you for your comment! It’s comforting for me to know that others have felt the same way I did. I’m glad to hear that you’re challenging the notion that not eating is ok/acceptable/legitimate/desirable. :)

  15. Tamara says:

    My reaction to the t-shirts isn’t that strong, because (a) they’re just putting in print the damaging things people say in everyday conversation, and (b) anyone who wears one would be the subject of ridicule. Imagine a larger person walking down the street with a “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels” shirt. Even if nobody says anything, you know half the people who see her will mentally snigger and the desperate fashionista who tries so hard but will never be beautifully thin. And if a classically waif-like model were to wear it, half the crowd passing by will think, “Eww, anorexic!” even if that’s just her natural shape. And if you’re somewhere in the middle, you’ll get the gamut of labels of sorority snob, woman who thinks she’s a teenager, disgustingly uplifting Weight Watchers moderator, etc. etc.

    I don’t think society glamorizes eating disorders on purpose. What we do is hypocritically encourage anorexic thoughts and behavior without realizing it. Most women do not have the unrealistic expectation that dieting will make them look like Giselle. But they do believe the message on every television show and magazine: Thin is healthy, fat kills. Everyone knows you should eat less and exercise more for your “health.” If you lose weight you’ll live longer. You’ll have energy to play with your kids. There’s a terrifying obesity epidemic sweeping across America )never mind that life expectancy is up by 15 years since the 50′s, fast food is killing us all!) The motives are so /pure/.

    This is the real root of bulemia, anorexia, even binge eating disorder: the assumption backed by the public and misguided doctors that fat is bad bad bad. Simply featuring bigger models in Glamour will not change the standard–public health officials and researchers need to step up and say, “Sorry, we were lying. Weight doesn’t actually have anything to do with health. We shouldn’t have told you to eat less–we should have specified to eat /better/ and exercise moderately.” Then the imaginary scaffolding people have been standing on to justify calorie counting and carb-shunning and other anorexic behaviors as “good” would fall apart, and they’d be forced to admit that their oh-so-pure intentions were really driven by society’s prejudice for thinness.

    • Katie says:

      I completely agree with you that the message we’re constantly getting is that fat is horrible, it’s going to kill us, all of that. And yet you’re also right that there are very few messages that take that idea and address it meaningfully – we never hear about moderate exercise or avoiding processed foods, instead we hear about Jenny Craig and liquid cleanses.

      I wonder if our society’s overall impatience plays a role too. The fact is that getting and maintaining good health is a long, slow process, and yet all of the products and programs we see advertised promise a quick fix.

  16. Immdeiately I think of the young girls that these shirts will impact. They are so influential they don’t need more mass media telling them they aren’t good enough. Sadly I’m almost not surprised though. It’s sad how our society works. You are right that ED’s are glamorized much like smoking and drinking are.

  17. I’m actually disgusted by these t-shirts. Sadly, I work in an industry where thin is close to venerated, every conversation in the office revolves around eating, but not healthy eating, eating to loose weight, to loose weight quickly and all just to look ‘good’ in certain clothes.

    Like you, I’m not angry with the manufacturers per se, I’m actually really consfused at who I should be angry at.

    The media certainly perpetuates the idea that thin is best, but where does it come from? It hasn’t always been that way.

    I think ultimately and VERY sadly there is a very warped perception on what ‘best’ equates to and at the moment it’s being able to fit into a certain style of jeans and look a certain way, not be healthy.

    I wonder if the only way things can begin to be solved is slowly but surely replacing all those role models who shun health, with people like this blogging community, for whom health and wellbeing is the real goal and what we should be proud of. We need role models in the public eye showing just how great and how much ‘better’ health is, in whatever shape or size it manifests itself.

    It’s certainly not going to be something that happens overnight though and I guess even the above isn’t a surefire solution…

    • Katie says:

      You bring up some really interesting points! I’m sure someone out there has compiled a history of how body image and body standards have evolved over the years, which I’d be very interested in reading.

      And I do think that having more positive role models out there could make a real difference. They just have to be TRULY positive ones. I worry that many of today’s magazines and celebrities say the right things about health, and yet it’s not genuine; it’s just masking the fact that the real intention is about looking a certain way.

  18. Dont feel alone. I had the same thoughts–wishing I just didnt eat instead of having my problem of overeating!

    I actually think Perez made a new shirt–and changed it to nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels. something along those lines.

    the shirts are sad and irresponsible.

  19. just so you know you’re not alone, there were days that i wished i could have been anorexic again…it’s hard because as i stopped being afraid of food i’d eat everything in sight, and then i ended up on the other end of the disordered eating spectrum.

    those shirts, quite frankly, piss me off. people who design those have no idea what it’s like to suffer from an eating disorder and clearly don’t have any idea what they’re doing to people. not cool!

  20. Great post today. When I was a WW member I’d constantly hear that quote at meetings. Women would constantly say “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and I remember sitting there thinking “hmm, actually… chocolate brownies are WAY better!” I always felt weird that I didn’t find the inspiration in this quote.

    As for the beginning of your post, I too used to wish I was anorexic. How sad and disgusting, but I used to think if I could just NOT EAT all of my problems would go away.

    • Kate says:

      I hated that quote. Every time someone would bring it up at a meeting I would just roll my eyes.

  21. Meg says:

    I also have wished that I could have restricted food instead of bingeing on it. I hadn’t quite put the two together until now. I can’t believe (well I can) that they are making shirts like that.

    I think you’re absolutely right that society glamorizes eating disorders. I think that can be grouped into high-risk behavior in general, including unprotected sex. Women can be powerful without being their own worst enemy.

    • Katie says:

      The last line of your comment gave me chills. That is such a great way of putting it!

  22. Nicole, RD says:

    Wow. I just can’t imagine people would WEAR these things. For a project in school I had to go to pro-ana websites and the things I read seriously scarred me for life. The people on the message boards would congratulate one another for not eating for days on end and would list everything they put in their mouth, including gum and Crystal Light. So sad. :( Thanks for doing your part, Katie!

  23. Jena says:

    Wow. I can’t say the first thing that came to my mind. I don’t want to get flamed. It was not positive, that’s for sure.

    I don’t think those shirts are cute, they are awful. I don’t know that media necessarily “glamorizes” eating disorders. I haven’t seen anyone going around saying, “Oh, you should so totally be anorexic because it will make you skinny”. They do however glamorize the heck out of dieting and those cleanses. They do glamorize being thin. There are some actresses that speak out and say they are “okay” with their body, Tyra Banks, I believe has always said she was comfortable with her body. i used to respect the Kardashian sisters, Khloe & Kim were not overly skinny, they were healthy, shapely women. Now they sell whatever that product is they sell, I forget, but I have lost a lot of respect of them over that.

    • Katie says:

      Yes, I too am wary of celebrities who claim complete body acceptance, only because knowing how hard it is for me, I can’t imagine how much harder it is for someone in the public eye! And unfortunately, like you said, body acceptance means little in the face of making money and marketing products. :(

  24. I think those shirts are sad :(

  25. erica says:

    This is horrible. No wonder our society has so many patients suffering from ED. I work at an ED center and so many patients would see these pieces of clothing and immediately start restricting. Absolutely horrible.

  26. dotsie says:

    Sad. Disgusting. I would never buy those shirts and I really hope they are off the shelves.

  27. Hayley says:

    I’m so with you on this issue Katie – after having gone through a bout of anorexia which eventually transformed into binge eating I often found myself thinking, “Why can’t I be anorexic again?” What irritates me is that I am NOT ashamed to admit that – sounds awful, right? I’m angry because I feel that when I was at my thinnest every felt so sorry for me and worried about me, but when I gained the weight back + more (not that I was ever overweight or anything) I STILL struggled with food issues that people knew about but you don’t receive anywhere near the same kind of sympathy. With anorexia people feel sorry and worry about you, but when someone I know struggles with binge-eating I feel like people think it’s because they lack willpower, are lazy, etc. I CONSTANTLY have this argument with my husband who has never had weight issues, never dieted, etc. We don’t often speak about this because he know it upsets me, but I truly think more should be done to help people with binge eating disorder and compulsive eating. I know this is kind of off tangent to your post…sorry I got carried away! :)

    I do think our society has a lot of questions to answer for, specifically the air-brushed models on the cover of magazines and the idea that looking thin is acceptable while having “meat on your bones” is not. I may be out of line here, but I often feel like many actresses and models are not honest with how they stay so thin either. I will look at their pictures and think, “There is no WAY she’s not starving herself at least somewhat…” They may claim to “eat healthy and exercise 4-5 days a week” but more often than not I feel like they’re going to extremes to look a specific way and it’s just not NORMAL.

    Ok I promise I’ll get off my soapbox now – I am SO glad you put this stuff out there!

    • Katie says:

      There is so much goodness in this comment I don’t even know where to begin!

      First, I COMPLETELY agree with what you’re saying about binge eating having this awful stigma. That’s why I didn’t tell anyone about it for years and years – because I knew that some people would just think I was a pig! It’s definitely not treated as a real problem the way other eating issues are. GREAT POINT!

      Second, I too have questioned celebrities when they share their workout schedules and meal plans. Sure, some people are naturally very thin, but many (most?) people would have to work really hard – to the point of being unhealthy – to look like that. I hate when they act like it’s so simple, when they wrap it up in a neat little box of “4-5 days of cardio a week, a lean protein with dinner,” blah blah blah.

  28. These shirts make me so angry! I mean, I guess you could argue that they’re really just sending out the same message as magazines that feature rail-thin models, but to display it like that on a shirt is disgusting.

    It is these kind of messages that are causing so many disordered relationships with food and body image. These shirts make me want to retaliate with a line of shirts promoting loving ourselves and our bodies!

  29. Kate says:

    I’ve slowly stopped reading women’s magazines (I still have a subscription to Self due to an auto renewal I’ve forgotten to take care of and a subscription to Glamour.) Part of me wants to cancel the subscriptions (I do find them triggering) but the part of me that loves magazines wants to keep them for habits sake.

    The Perez t-shirt drives me crazy because it sounds like a WW slogan. Actually, a pretty similar slogan was printed on a poster at my old meeting and every once in awhile my former leader would quote it. I have never been skinny so I have no frame of reference as to why being skinny is better than not feeling guilty over eating a cookie.

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one that has wish to be anorexic over being a binge eater! It isn’t often, but every so often (usually when I feel usually overweight) i wish I was super skinny because I perceive anorexics have it easier. I know that isn’t really the case and I feel weird for thinking that way.

    • Katie says:

      I appreciate you sharing this; it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who has felt that way!

      Have you ever checked out the magazine Body + Soul? (I actually think they’re changing the name to Whole Living.) It’s one of the few health related magazines that doesn’t make me frustrated!

  30. I absolutely HATE that saying, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels!” I HATE IT and I hear it all the time. It doesn’t surprise me to see it on a shirt. I hear women all the time say that is their motivating quote! It makes me so sad…because being thin does not mean not eating! Being healthy includes eating right but it does not include starving yourself…EVER! EVER! EVER! Oh this makes me so angry!

  31. Wow, this is appalling! I’m not really surprised though because the clothing industry does unacceptable things all the time in the name of profits (like run sweat shops, for example). I can’t imagine how horrible I would feel if I was struggling with body issues and saw a thin person wearing one of those shirts – I would feel absolutely awful and not even realize how ridiculous the messages are. The model looks so unenergetic and sickly too, but a lot of teens/women probably would not even notice, they would just see how thin she is and think it’s “glamorous”.

  32. Katie, this post is fantastic!! Thanks so much for talking about this. I’ll just echo what everyone else has said because I absolutely agree: These shirts are disgusting and irresponsible. It totally makes eating less seem like a cool thing. Which is soooo damaging!!

    I was really sad to read Anna’s comment about how salient the celebration of eating disorders is in groups and how girls feel the need to compete with each other by eating less.

    I could totally relate to the pressure of being thin and looking good in college. That’s where much of my disordered eating manifested itself. And, Katie, I also wished I could eat less like someone with anorexia (even though it’s a painful and devastating disorder) instead of emotionally overeating. It’s definitely comforting knowing that you and other bloggers have had the same feelings and experiences – and that we’re all moving forward and getting better!

    Again, I loved this post!

  33. This “skinny at all costs” mindset is exactly what makes girls almost happy when they get the flu because while they feel horrible, they might just lose a few pounds. I’ve heard it, and felt it, a million times.

    Years ago, I lost an alarming amount of weight in a very short time, and not one person (besides my Mom) asked me how I was. All I heard was how good I looked. Katie, you’re right on with this one. We need to be vocal!

    Keep posting pics of what you EAT, everyone!

  34. [...] blog lately and I think she has an extremely healthy attitude towards eating, exercise, etc.  Her post yesterday was particularly insightful and I enjoyed reading the comments as much as what she wrote.  Part of [...]

  35. Christina says:

    Those t-shirts are horrible, absolutely horrible. I can’t believe that those shirts are sold. This was an amazing post, Katie. Thanks for posting it. It just breaks my heart to think of how many young, impressionable girls are hurt by these shirts.

    In my sophomore English class this last semester, I had my students identify something about themselves that they didn’t like. It could be anything. I did this because the main character of the story had something he did not like about him and I wanted the students to be able to relate to him on a more personal level. Almost all of the girls commented on their weight, or their stomachs, or their “fat.” It just broke my heart.

    • Katie says:

      That sounds like a great exercise you do with yor class…but it breaks my heart too that the first thing so many girls do is criticize their bodies. :(

  36. Wow. There’s definitely a lot of insightful comments already. Those shirts are shocking — but I’d think that’s probably what they’re going for. I think putting these slogans on t-shirts is completely tasteless and awful. However, I have seen/heard many woman use the “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” quote to motivate themselves to lose weight. None of these women were (are) anorexic or in danger of becoming so. But they found this quote to be a good maxim that helped them pass on that extra piece of cake, etc. Is it the best phrasing? No…we get outraged by it because it says nothing about being healthy, and ultimately promotes the wrong message. But the reality is that many individuals in our society find this motivating. I think we glamorize being skinny more than disordered eating. We want to be skinny no matter what it takes, but the focus is on how we look — not on the unhealthy choices that helped us get there.

    The reality is that we have a culture extremely focused on our weight, and not so focused on our health. We need to re-frame the message if we want any significant change to occur.

    Thanks for making us all think, Katie!

    • Katie says:

      Lauren – I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that the problem is the focus on weight instead of health. BINGO! Very well-put!

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