About a month ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, a place where most of my article inspiration seems to stem from, and lo and behold, I saw a meme. In the picture, there is an overweight man wearing a shirt that says on it “I beat anorexia.” I remember stopping, staring and trying to figure out why anyone in their right mind would find that funny. I will be the first to admit that I have a dark sense of humor, but there are just some things that shouldn’t be laughed at. I’m a pretty big proponent of not taking oneself too seriously. I was homeschooled all my life and I do enjoy homeschooler memes that make fun of homeschooler stereotypes. I suppose they could be seen as offensive, but I think that they still have the potential to be funny. However, being homeschooled is not a life or death situation. Being anorexic can be and here is where there needs to be a line.
Joking about anorexia goes beyond being offensive and insensitive about a stereotype. Here, you’re joking about a disease that can and does kill people. According to Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Center’s website, eating disorders, especially anorexia, have the highest mortality rate out of all mental illnesses — “5-10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease and 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years.” These are serious statistics and I don’t believe that the disease they reflect should be associated with any kind of humor.
To me, the meme reeks of ignorance. I would hope that people who are educated about what anorexia is and what it does to people’s lives wouldn’t find it acceptable to post on their Facebook page. Eating Disorder Awareness week occurred from Feb. 26 to March 4, a couple weeks before spring break and on March 21, I attended the “Eat, Exercise, and Live Like You Love You” panel in the Lower Level Barone Campus Center. The panel was about healthy eating and eating disorders, and was organized by Fairfield’s Counseling & Psychological Services. The panel featured two of my friends and fellow students at Fairfield, both of whom are survivors of anorexia nervosa. Their testimonies on the panel are one of the reasons why I remembered the meme when I was debating what to write about this week because their words really brought home why jokes like these are not funny in any way, shape or form.
First of all, both of them said that while they remain optimistic, anorexia and their accompanying body dysmorphia are both things that they deal with on a daily basis. Anorexia isn’t something that can be cured like a sinus infection. There are no antibiotics that will make the negative thoughts go away or change the way that a person with anorexia views their body when they look in the mirror. These things can be fought, but the battle is long and hard, and it shouldn’t take much to realize how insensitive it is to trivialize that struggle in any way. In the meme, the man wearing the shirt is assumed to obviously not struggle from a negative image of his body that keeps him from eating enough food. Therefore, wearing a shirt that says, “I beat anorexia” is insensitive and offensive to people who have struggled and who have beaten the disease, and continue to beat it every single day. However, that alone lends itself to another issue with the meme.
There is an assumption that people who are obese or overweight could not possibly struggle from anorexia. According to an article by NBC News Today, this is an untrue assumption and it is shown that people who are obese do often have eating disorders and quite often can have the disorder go unnoticed for much longer periods of time. What often happens is that people who are overweight, especially teenagers, are being told so much that they need to diet and they become obsessed with losing weight and don’t do it in ways that are healthy or beneficial for their bodies. As the same article says, It becomes a “thin vs. fat” situation, rather than a “healthy vs. unhealthy” situation — the perfect breeding ground for an eating disorder.
The point is that the meme is just so wrong. It’s not funny. It’s not ironic. It’s not anything except offensive, tasteless and insensitive in so many different ways. Given the wealth of funny pictures and phrases to use for memes, I don’t see why there also have to be ones like the aforementioned one that make fun of life-threatening diseases. To anyone who chooses to shrug their shoulders and laugh at these memes because they truly don’t understand what anorexia is and what it does to people, I would tell them to count their blessings. It is only because they are fortunate enough not to know the struggle that they can find these types of memes laughable. It is hard to draw the line of where a joke goes too far and there are often gray areas that will vary with personal sensitivity, but as far as a disease like anorexia goes, I believe that the line is crystal clear when one thinks about the irreparable physical and emotional harm that it can do to its victims.