What do emphysema, eating disorders and chronic liver disease have in common? They are all devastating illnesses where research lags due to blaming the victim.
Thank you to Margaret Johnson blogging at The Washington Post for bringing this issue to light and especially for this quote: "...we tend to underfund things where we blame the victim."
We blame the victims of emphysema for smoking, liver disease for drinking, and eating disorders for.... eating. Or, more precisely, for having parents and a society that caused them to choose an eating disorder.
But eating disorders are not a choice. Eating disorders are a mental illness like Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, and they are treatable. I get a lot of flak for emphasizing the biological predisposition for eating disorders, for de-emphasizing the personal narrative, for banging on about "not your fault, not your parents' fault, not society's fault."
What gets lost in that debate is that I'm fighting against what we all want to stop: blaming the victim. I'm fighting for eating disorder patients and their families to get the early intervention, evidence-based treatment, research priority and community support for patients who need it. I really, truly believe it is not the patient's responsibility or burden it is OURS. Not because we caused it, but because it is treatable.
As long as we're batting the causation shuttlecock over the net we're debating whether it's the patient or the family or society and all of that is still blaming the victims for going down that road as if there was a choice to "just eat normally." We don't say or think that of people with OCD, or a stroke: "just think normally." The victims here are patients and their families. No one chose these disorders. No one is at fault any more than for diabetes or autism. And, while we're at it, for addiction to nicotine or alcohol.
If we want more funding and attention we need as a field to come to some basic understandings of the illness together and present a united front. In a world where eating disorder advocacy is largely limited to affirmations and rainbows we're not going to get funders to see the need for real research. If we want to be taken seriously we have to be serious. We need to stop blaming the victims, ourselves, and stop seeing them as victims but as patients of treatable disorders where research matters. Rainbows are free. Data is expensive.