Because of some weird sadomasochistic desire to burn my brain with literary witch sticks, I subscribed to Cosmopolitan for a year. It was a special offer it was only £12. I have no idea what a normal subscription costs to Cosmo but I suspect it’s wildly overpriced and your money could be spent in much wiser ways like developing and producing cotton ear buds in pretty pastel easter shades in cute boxes to be sold at pharmacies.
It would be far too easy and predictable of me to pick apart Cosmo’s conflicting advice (and there is a lot of numbered, bullet-pointed, illustrated, advice in this thing) and it has be done far far better on other sites such as the amazingly brilliant vagenda. So I’m not going to do that. Although I am mega tempted.
What really got me thinking was the totally ridiculous and abysmal Cosmopolitan joining forces with Beat, a lottery and NHS funded organisation working to remove the stigma around eating disorders.
Beat wants to “change the way people think and talk about eating disorders” while “improving services and treatment” for Anorexia, Bulimia, and, what has rather cumbersomely been named EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). No, EDNOS is not a new data input programme at your job or giant robot who wants to kill us all, it is basically a catch all phrase for any other eating behaviour not classed as ‘normal’.
Eating disorders are a real and debilitating issue for men and women, you only have to read a couple of first hand experiences on the Beat website or on Cosmopolitan or any body positive website/instagram/twitter to realise there are many people out there feeling like utter shit, doing bad things to their body and souls who need support and guidance through their dark times, in order for them to lead, for the most part possible, pleasurable, fulfilling lives.
Statistically, the number of young people (16 and under) being admitted to hospital in the UK with eating disorders rose by 8% last year, the youngest being five years old. Beat estimates that 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders, at least 11% of them male. Beat claims that it is estimated 50% of people with eating disorders fall into the EDNOS category, anorexia and bulimia filling the other 50%.
So clearly, there are issues that need to be addressed, people that need to be helped and yes, attitudes do need to be changed. People suffering should be allowed to talk about their problems with a view to “beat” their disorders.
But I’m firmly convinced drawing attention to the unspecified wishy washy area of EDNOS to Cosmopolitan’s audience could do more harm than good. First of all the EDNOS arena is a blurred place, about as specific as a free daily newspaper horoscope which just about anyone could believe they suffer with. While anorexia and bulimia have clear cut symptoms (vomiting, BMI) EDNOS could be just about anything, could be diagnosed from any mismatch range of symptoms from any of the eating disorders. Take your pick from these;
- Weight gain
- Eating large quantities of food
- Feeling depressed and out of control
- Eating inappropriate food
- Mood swings
- Being secretive
- Emotional behaviour
- Feeling guilty after eating
- Wanting to be left alone
- Wearing big baggy clothes
Or as I like to call it ‘the weekend’
Basically anyone, anywhere could diagnose themselves with having an eating disorder and it is for that reason that I think instead of campaigning for eating disorders to be de stigmatised, Cosmopolitan could instead concentrate on contributing to a magical new world where women aren’t constantly preoccupied with food, eating and body image. But they won’t.
Ironic process theory dictates in essence that telling someone not to think about something, makes them think about it even harder and this is exactly the problem with drawing pink shiny paper attention to eating disorders. By telling people they are bad and should be solved they’re more likely to think about them in the first place.
Diagnosis of mental disorders can be helpful in order for people to organise the help they need to get back on track with their lives, but they can also hold people back, making them feel labeled and disadvantaged from other people.
Encouraging people to talk about their problems is important, but inviting women to casually self diagnose themselves as having eating disorders doesn’t help them to move forward and cast off the shackles of body image and body consciousness. It keeps them a prisoner, forever. Which when mixed with Cosmo’s ridiculous mixed messages (be happy with yourself! as illustrated by this impossibly thin model with the butt cheeks of bambi, frolicking on a beach you’ll never be able to afford to even aspire to visiting!) sends out a really confusing message for its readers and ironic subscribers alike.
There are some feminist issues brought up by magazines such as Elle’s rebranding feminism campaign that were at least interesting but this is so obviously just going to be washed away by next months obsession, probably stepping up and speaking out fake tan abuse.