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  • Eli Stuart (they/them)

The Romanticization of Anorexia and Bulimia and Its Harm (TW)

Big Trigger Warning for anorexia and bulimia and how they are romanticized. As such, there will be mentions of how people have encouraged restricting and purging. Stay safe and proceed with caution (or skip this article if you feel it would be triggering and bad for your mental health).

[Cover Image Description: Scrabble tiles are lined up on a dark, wooden table. Horizontally, the tiles read: "Eating Disorder". Down from the "A" in "Eating Disorder" spells out "Anorexia". From the "I" in "Disorder", the word "Bulimia" is spelled out]

Mental Health is a topic that is being discussed more and more and resources of mental illnesses have improved over the years. However, there is also romanticization of certain mental illnesses or of specific symptoms that is harmful for how we view mental health. This also hurts people with a mental illness as the romanticization may isolate them or discourage treatment/healing. This is mostly seen in depression, anxiety, anorexia, and bulimia. I will go into each of these and explain what is romanticized about them, what is stigmatized about them, and the harm romanticization brings in separate articles. This one focuses on anorexia and bulimia ( These are different disorders but romanticized and stigmatized in very similar ways so that’s why they are combined).

Anorexia and bulimia are both eating disorders. Anorexia is characterized by restrictive eating and excessive exercise. Bulimia is characterized by binging and purging (generally done through throwing up).

Anorexia and bulimia are often romanticized by its association with (cis) women who are starving themselves (as seen by extreme weight loss). This even goes so far that communities that are “pro anorexia and bulimia” will shorten the names to “Ana” (anorexia) and “Mia” bulimia.

There are people who encourage restrictive eating and purging behaviors. These do tend to be by people who also are anorexic/bulimic, but it is still harmful and toxic. This directly conflicts with getting treatment for disordered eating and keeps the person in the belief they don’t need help and they still have control.

Eating disorders have been associated with trying to find control in someone’s life and many people with eating disorders can attest how at first it may feel like you are in control and could stop whenever you want but that proves to be wrong. Eating disorders are not a choice and the “just eat” comments don’t work. Additionally, people saying "I wish I had anorexia so I could lose weight" treats anorexia as a diet, instead of the mental illness it actually is.

The fact is that eating disorders are equated with anorexia and bulimia and starving/extreme thinness. This stigmatizes people with other eating disorders like binge eating disorder who may gain weight as a result. Which goes back to saying that those who were not thin before their eating disorder and aren’t considered “too thin” while dealing with such an eating disorder are discounted. Regardless of the size, anorexia and bulimia aren’t problems just because of the physical effects or weight. Disordered eating comes from disordered thought patterns and beliefs that need to be addressed. Blythe Baird has a lot of good and impactful poetry on eating disorders, but this line is one that sticks in my head :

"If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you were not thin to begin with, you are a success story," (From "When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny", link to full poem here:

Further, the “prototype” or the stereotypical image of anorexia and bulimia tend to be thin (so starving or was considered thin before their disorder), cishet women. This isolates people who don’t fit that mold, such as trans people (especially transwomen or trans femme people), cis guys, people of color, and, as mentioned before, those who were “fat” before or who are not dangerously underweight. The names “Ana” and “Mia” also hint to those gender stereotypes held about these eating disorders.

All of this is to say this: Eating disorders are not romantic, they are not just thin white cishet girls/women, they are not just starving and dangerously underweight, they are not just purging or restricting, they are not a diet. Anorexia and bulimia are mental illnesses, and when people pretend they aren't or put a romantic spin on it, it damages recovery of anorexia and bulimia and it excludes those who don't fit into a certain mold


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