‘An Eating Disorder can happen to anyone’ – is this a helpful message?

I saw an awareness poster recently at a hospital for eating disorders this week, and I really didn’t like it.

Unfortunately I can’t find it online to share it with you, but it said ‘Aged 20-30? It could happen to you/ that doesn’t mean it won’t happen to you’ – as if it can be prevented or is a choice? Eating disorders don’t ‘happen to people’. They have causes – understandable causes – behind them.

An eating disorder does not discriminate, it’s true- but it is not your responsibility to ‘protect yourself’, like eating 5 a day in the hope you might not get cancer. Obviously we can try to ‘prevent’ eating disorders by perhaps having a complete overhaul of how we see ourselves and society’s immense pressure and perception of beauty – but even then, factors such as bullying, traumatic life events or distress and terribly low self-esteem simply can’t be accounted for. Yes, it can happen to anyone – but none of us know when or how we can be affected by a mental health problem, and sometimes even when you are in the thick of it you can’t identify that it is happening.

Instead, shouldn’t we be having posters making people aware of the signs of an eating disorder so they can spot it in themselves or a loved one? Making them aware of services, charities and professional help they can access? And more campaigns like the fabulous This Girl Can and no-photoshop petitions to improve our overall self-esteem? Posters making people aware of eating disorders, how they affect people and encouraging better understanding and empathy? Since eating disorders are still so misunderstood, and sufferers struggle to access help or get a diagnosis, I think this would be much more helpful. What do you think?

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