Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Mighty Misstep: An Open Letter To A Mighty Girl

Dear A Mighty Girl,

It is a really tough thing when someone--or some organization--you respect and admire lets you down. That's the place the members of International Eating Disorder Action find ourselves in right now. We are sad, we are confused and, if we're being honest (and we are), we are getting angry.

Many of us are followers of your Facebook page and believe tremendously in the work you do. Heck, many of us DO the same work you do--"inspiring the next generation of history makers" as educators and school counselors. It's too early to tell, but it's possible some of us will even go down in history. We are exactly the women A Mighty Girl is encouraging girls to become.

February is National Eating Disorder Awareness Month. You, AMG, had a laudable idea to publish a book list to encourage awareness of eating disorders. That's when things started to go south a bit. Instead of consulting an expert about how and what and why and which books to recommend, it appears the author took a stroll down the aisles of Amazon and picked some things that looked suitable--they've been around a while, the authors are known; that seems to have been the criteria.

It doesn't seem to have been on the radar that eating disorders are deadly genetic, brain-based biological illnesses with a psychosocial component and by virtue of this only an expert would be qualified to make such a reading list for an influential group to distribute.

But hey, mistakes happen and we understand that many people only have a Lifetime TV movie understanding of eating disorders. We have, in fact, been there ourselves in the not-too-distant past.

We are no longer there because either our children or ourselves had an eating disorder and when that happens A Mighty Woman gets educated mighty quickly.

So we know that teaching kids about eating disorders does nothing to prevent eating disorders. In fact, we know there is no evidence eating disorders can be prevented. We know that both Wasted and Wintergirls have cult followings in the pro-Ana/Thinspo communities and are considered ill-advised reading even for young people without eating disorders. We know that the conflation of disordered eating with eating disorders reinforces the idea that eating disorders are a diet gone bad. We know that males get eating disorders. We know that people of color get eating disorders. We know that people with no body-image issues and great self-esteem get eating disorders. We know that eating disorders can be triggered by any negative energy imbalance such as a stomach bug or when wisdom teeth are pulled. We know the belief that controlling mothers, absent fathers and dysfunctional families cause eating disorders is both untrue and persistent. We know that societal misunderstandings of eating disorders hamper diagnosis, access to treatment and research funding parity.

Because this is a matter of life and death importance to us--anorexia having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness--we gave AMG our feedback on Facebook. We also tried to comment on the blog, but our comments were never published, so we emailed. A disclaimer was put in place, but that didn't fully address all our issues and so we asked for further dialogue.

How can it be that AMG is unwilling to listen to the very mothers and daughters the list purports to be helping? How can it be that an organization such as AMG deletes or doesn't publish comments? How can it be that AMG is uninterested in a dialogue with women who are both educators and parents of those with eating disorders? How can it be that AMG ignores eating disorder experts who have reached out?

As we contemplate next steps we are asking ourselves What Would Malala Yousafzi/Eleanor Roosevelt/Sojourner Truth/Hillary Clinton/Margaret Mead Do?

Our answer--it's certainly not to sit down, give up, shut up or go away.

Let's turn this around AMG--it is a sign of strength to acknowledge a misstep, engage in dialogue and change for the better. Let us help you help us. Please.


The Many Mighty Women (and More Than A Few Men) of International Eating Disorder Action


  1. This is absolutely beautifully written. The only way we are going to get the attention that this illness deserve, the miney to fund research and access to appropriate care is by dispelling myths and providing a true and accurate picture of what these illnesses are all about. The aks for you hard work.

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  3. The only way we are going to get the attention that this illness deserve.