STACEIf We Don’t Make Change Happen, Who Will?

By STACEY HUGET

With Something’s Gotta Give, we’re trying to do more than raise awareness about the realities of eating disorders; we’re seeking to change up the way we – as individuals, as institutions, as a society – actually go about beating this disease.

If our approach to battling eating disorders thus far were enough, we would have wrestled the disease down by now. Its current trajectory wouldn’t be as scary as it is: quietly escalating, indiscriminant, deadly.

The SGG campaign calls on all of us to organize ourselves differently, urgently, around deliberate strategies to catch up with the pace of this disease. Slow it down. Beat it.

The stimulus for change must begin with us
The first six months of this campaign is necessarily about capturing the opinions and perspectives and experiences of people who already know and care about this disease. Who else is going to name and fight for the things that need to change? Think about it:

Given the blizzard of daily events, the traditional news media only addresses eating disorders in periodic bursts of cursory interviews, usually sliced and diced without proper context into the over-simplified clips and text they must then cram into the tiny airspace or column width available to them. While individual journalists may be sympathetic, crusading for our cause doesn’t rise to the surface of their many other priorities.

Based on their track record and their motivations, we cannot expect industry – be it in advertising, fitness, fashion, food, beauty, and so on – to be champions for change around eating disorders anymore than we look to polluters to become environmentalists. While many smaller business owners are beginning to adopt more progressive stances around the issue, their voices are but whispers among the cacophony of large-scale “perfection-for-profit” marketing campaigns.

Meanwhile, our elected officials are not only overwhelmed with a staggering number of issues competing for their attention, but also fettered by cumbersome bureaucracies discouraging bold action at every turn. Courageous politicians like former Quebec MP Lauren Liu, who in May 2015 called for a national strategy around eating disorders, are but brief shooting stars that pass through a dark electoral sky.

We must break our own silence
So, it must be us who lights the spark of change. Ironically, though, engaging the people close to this disease – who know and care passionately about the need for change – is a challenge on at least two fronts:

First, those who are or were at one time suffering or who have watched a loved one suffer are the very people who have been silenced through the stigma and shame and marginalization that accompanies this disease. (Not to mention the fact that many of them are in various states of distress, despair, or trauma.)

Second, many of those who provide care for eating disorder sufferers – the advocacy groups, the clinicians, the therapists – are disinclined to speak up. Some are too under-funded and poorly staffed to have time to participate in a campaign such as this. Others see only the people they are able to help – and don’t have a sense of the numbers they don’t. Others still may be hesitant to speak out for fear of criticizing a “system of care” of which they are a part.

These are all very real, seemingly rationale reasons for staying mum. But we must all break our silence if we are to beat this disease.

What does “beating this disease” really mean?
Over and over again since launching Something’s Gotta Give, we encounter people wanting to tell their stories of struggle and recovery. We so embrace that. But we are asking for more. We are asking people to reflect on those stories, to draw conclusions from those experiences, to describe how we could better prevent, treat, recover from, and eliminate eating disorders. Because, that is what is instructive and actionable, that is what will make a broader and more lasting difference to the course of this disease and our response to it as individuals and as a society.

It isn’t like there aren’t things we could be doing, or doing more of, or doing differently. There are. SGG campaign participants have already identified scads of them:

  • Consumer activism against unrealistic body-image and other ED-triggering marketing
  • Myth-busting campaigns to de-stigmatize eating disorders
  • Education to better prevent eating disorders — in the home, in schools, in our community
  • Training to ensure more ED-savvy medical professionals
  • Better systems for earlier detection, diagnosis, and intervention around EDs
  • Comprehensive data collection around ED incidence, impact, and treatment efficacy for different populations
  • More, and more accessible, publicly-funded treatment options
  • Extended health insurance to cover private ED treatment when public care is unavailable
  • Flexible programs and therapies that reflect sufferers’ unique needs, individuality, and dignity
  • Community-based programs to support sustained recovery and relapse prevention
  • Greater dialogue around meaningful cultural and spiritual values
  • Etcetera

That is what we’re hearing from people so far: many ways in which the fight against this disease could be ramped up, must be ramped up if we are to catch it up, overtake it, beat it down.

More than a laundry list, we need a plan
Raising awareness about EDs, without a focus on change, is not enough. Simply articulating the change we know needs to happen is not enough either. We need to compel the public and the decision-makers within it to act with us to collate and coordinate these strategies in an unprecedented attack on eating disorders, society-wide.

That is where our Something’s Gotta Give documentary comes in – because a lot of people will watch a good film. A picture is worth a thousand words. And the narrative is ours.

As our documentary describes and investigates what’s most compelling about the fight against this disease, we believe the media will see that it’s newsworthy, will begin covering it in earnest. There are journalists out there who care about this issue, who are just waiting for someone to give them traction on the eating disorder story.

Even if industry isn’t taking responsibility for the havoc caused by the perfection-for-profit world they’re promoting, consumers might. Our documentary will make the connections on their behalf, get them thinking in new ways, encourage them to “consume” differently. And that can have an impact.

And if our politicians aren’t making eating disorders a priority, our documentary will remove some of their traditional “hiding places”, give them a template for taking action, and call on electors to hold them to account around issues of legislation, policy, and budget allocations.

For us to get to the other side of eating disorders, the levers of real change need to be pulled, and pulled hard. That is what the Something’s Gotta Give campaign and documentary are all about. Breaking our silence. Articulating the change we know needs to happen. Compelling the larger public – and key decision-makers within it – to lock arms with us, and act.

It begins now, and it begins with us. Because if we don’t make change happen, who will?

 

Stacey is The Looking Glass Foundation’s Executive Director. She lives in Vancouver, BC and is an avid jazz and opera buff, enjoys playing bridge and shooting pool, and looks forward to a day when eating disorders are something we sadly remember, as a thing of the past. You can reach Stacey at stacey@lookingglassbc.com