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“Demeaning,” “Angering,” “Offensive”: NEDA Community Members Respond to Pro-Anorexia Sweatshirt Sold on Amazon

Eating disorders kill. Eating disorders are a public health crisis. Considered the deadliest mental illness, an estimated 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Content note: Potentially triggering language and descriptions of eating disordered behaviors

With this in mind, it would seem almost unbelievable that anyone would attempt to make light of and profit off of a deadly mental illness. And then we caught wind of the pro-anorexia hoodie that sparked public outrage. The “Anorexia Styling Hoody for Women” sold by ArturoBuch on Amazon reads “Anorexia (an-uh-rek-see-uh) Like Bulimia, except with self control.”

NEDA CEO Claire Mysko has urged Amazon to remove the hoodie. In a statement released earlier this week, she said: “Jokes about eating disorders are dangerous and cliché. This hoodie propagates the myth that eating disorders are trivial and mere issues of willpower or self-control. Stereotypes like this result in increased stigma and are barriers that prevent people from seeking help. Anorexia is not a ‘lifestyle choice,’ it is a mental health disorder with socio-biological influences. We ask that Amazon stand with those affected by these deadly illnesses and remove the sweatshirt from their store.”

Below, you can also read a few statements from NEDA community members about the highly problematic nature of this hoodie:

“Unfortunately, our culture glamorizes anorexia. Our culture sees and promotes anorexia as a self-control ideal. In reality, anorexia is a deadly mental illness and is anything but control. Anorexia is a brief illusion of control until your entire life spirals. It is the loss of relationships, scholarships, careers, freedom, autonomy, and life. It is not being allowed to use the bathroom unsupervised. It is being in locked units and monitored round the clock. It is court-ordered treatment. It is wanting to eat but feeling like food is just too much to deal with. It is complete loss of power over your own survival. This shirt would be more accurate with “Anorexia: like Bulimia, OSFED, and COE; just sanitized and glamorized by the ignorant. While Amazon has the right to allow sellers to sell any number of things people may find offensive, it is my hope that they will disallow the sale of this item.” -Erin Gargaro

“Every eating disorder is painful and this seller is making profit off of pain. Creating this product is no different than any other cruel act, as words can hurt just as much as actions. I hope this person issues an apology and understands the depth of anguish and hurt that creating this product is causing for so many, like myself, who have dealt with overcoming eating disorders.” -Ashley Michelle Williams

"This sweatshirt shows horrible disregard to those who suffer from anorexia and other eating disorders. I hope Amazon knows that eating disorders are nothing to joke about or make light of. I suffer from anorexia and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone! Amazon needs to rethink this item, because it shows that eating disorders are cool or glamorous. I think Amazon could do better by selling items that show body positivity instead of selling this awful item!" -Katrin Alyss

“Eating disorders KILL. These life-threatening illnesses are no laughing matter. In fact, they're a public health epidemic. Oh, and coming from someone who CONQUERED anorexia, eating disorders are a LACK of control.” -Kaitlin Irwin

“Let me start off by saying that the first emotion that immediately coursed through me when looking at this sweatshirt was pure disgust. Followed by anger, followed by offense, and then followed by what was ultimately a swarm of negative and heavy and horrible feelings that clouded my brain for the most of the day. As someone who has suffered from an eating disorder, bulimia to be more specific, the only question that I keep asking myself when looking at this is: how the hell could this ever be seen as an okay statement? Let alone one that could be plastered on a sweatshirt and sold on one of the most, if not the most, popular, and widely available and successful online markets in the world.

The exploitation and romanticization of mental illnesses, especially eating disorders, is something that is already far too prominent in modern society and our media in general. Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses that can be fueled by competition with others and a constant state of feeling as if you need to be in control of something. One of the most toxic things I experienced in the midst of my own struggles was feeling as though nobody would take me seriously should I seek help, or that bulimia was not as valid a concern as say another disorder, for example: anorexia.

Having one of my own, and multiple other people's, insecurities about my eating disorder flat out printed on a sweatshirt made those thoughts swarm back into my brain again. It is this narrative, and these types of images and messages, that are a major reason why eating disorders are such a huge problem today. This sweatshirt is not only demeaning towards those who have suffered with, are suffering with, and/or are trying to recover from eating disorders, but also encourages and praises those who have suffered with anorexia and its incredible brutality. 'Control' itself is the one thing that plagues those with eating disorders in the first place, and comparing an 'amount of control' between two very serious and deadly eating disorders goes way past the line of being even remotely okay.

Overall, not only is this product harmful to the people it aims to attack, but also to the ones it's ‘praising’ for something that should never by any means be seen in a positive light. Eating disorders are not a joke. Eating disorders are not a marketing ploy. And most importantly, the belittling or encouragement of someone's mental illness should never ever be allowed on any online platform or in life in general. I hope that these points make sense as to why having this product available on Amazon is such a huge issue, and how it can be harmful to such a large number of people.” -Noor Aldayeh

“‘Oh, I could never be anorexic; I’m not nearly that self-controlled and disciplined.’ These were the comments someone said to me after I once admitted my eating disorder history. These words stem from a common societal belief that eating disorders are lifestyle choices, not physical, psychological diseases with extremely fatal consequences. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness. Yet, in my experience, it appears to be the one that is most often belittled, mocked, and made light of. Would we make light of cancer or diabetes or any other disease?

This week, I was reminded of that harsh truth once again when it came to light that there is a sweatshirt being sold on Amazon encouraging eating disordered behavior. Clothing like this—and especially the message it espouses—only deepens the hole that sufferers are trapped in. Herein lies the reason as to why recovering from an eating disorder is so difficult—because we already live in an eating disordered culture, where you are judged by how much space you take up in the world, what you eat, and how many calories you burn. I suppose the creators of this sweatshirt were aiming to be funny but there is nothing funny about eating disorders. There is nothing funny about losing your period. There is nothing funny about abnormal heart rates, fainting spells, hair loss, and fingernails and toenails turning blue. There is nothing funny about parents having to bury their young children because of a nasty monster called ED. There is nothing funny about sufferers being kicked out of treatment because their insurance company would not cover the cost of their treatment.

This is why it is more important than ever for those whose lives have been personally touched by eating disorders to speak out, to educate, to raise awareness about these diseases that have the dangerous power to end lives. I have found that oftentimes people do not know the facts of these diseases—and so this is why we must speak out, we must raise our voices, we must use our collective power, experience, and agency so that one day eating disorders will not be spoken about any differently than any other disease.” -Annie Stewart

“I wish I could say this is the first time I'm seeing an offensive product slide under the radar and be put up for sale. This has happened before on other well-known retail websites, and it's always shocking and heartbreaking. But this sweatshirt really hit me because it feels obvious to me that it's horribly inappropriate. It makes me realize how much we as eating disorder activists, recovered folks, and caretakers are often still in a bubble.

We can easily see how dangerous the stereotype perpetuated on this sweatshirt is. We can think it would have been a no-brainer for Amazon to reject this sweater at first sight. We can look to the achievements we see in the eating disorder field (there are many) and start to feel like our society is above joking about anorexia or bulimia. But our radars are much more finely tuned to mental illness. Outside this bubble, there is still not enough education and awareness to express the extent to which this sweatshirt is problematic. If there was, Amazon would not have let this sweatshirt go up for sale.

There is no place for a freedom of speech argument to be made here. This is an opportunity to reality check the ignorance around eating disorders that still exists in our society. There is a lot of work to be done on a corporate, ecommunity, and individual level to change the way we talk about mental illness.” -Kate Leddy

“I have no words. But at the same time, I have so, so many. My first instinct is to use my words to wage conversational battle upon whatever group of people (whether all part of the same organization or individuals part of many) allowed this product to be made. Instead, I think a more productive way forward is to educate and thus shed light upon this darkness. As many others who have personally struggled with anorexia will tell you, there is no semblance of control on the sick person’s end when they are in the midst of being attacked by an eating disorder. I had the least amount of control when I was listening to the eating disorder.

Anorexia masked my true motives, decision making abilities, hopes, dreams, and personality and enslaved me. However, the bigger problem I would like to talk about here is what I think an even larger part of the population can relate to, of being a silent witness in the face of uncomfortable and dark things. I highly doubt that it was one person’s sole mission to make this hoodie, price it, produce it, and place it on an online marketplace. There were checks and balances made (or should have been made) on behalf of the business selling the shirt, the business printing the shirt, and the online marketplace allowing it to be publicly posted for sale. While I want to place blame on all parties, I forgive them for their ignorance. I forgive all of the individuals along the way for not feeling strong enough or educated enough to speak out against this product.

But I hope that the next time a product like this is even in the conception phase of production that someone recognizes it as dark, detrimental, and untrue, and has the courage and knowledge to stop it in its tracks. We are all responsible for healing this hurt, whether we are business people, activists, friends or family members, in recovery, or educators.” -Stephanie Virbitsky

“We all know that this sweatshirt is outrageously offensive, but what I want to focus on is the power of our community. Every day, I am inspired by the strength and resilience of the eating disorder recovery community. When we raise our collective voices, we can create change. Numerous publications have covered our outcry against this sweatshirt, and this has the potential to educate those who don’t yet have the knowledge we do. Keep tweeting, keep writing, keep speaking out—your voice can change the world.” -Diana Denza, NEDA Communications Associate

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