Amazon "Anorexia" Merchandise Controversy
October 12th, 2017
Commercialization of serious issues, like mental illness or eating disorders or racism, is never okay, but unfortunately it happens a lot. Recently, this issue arose again when Amazon posted a hoodie making fun of eating disorders. The sweatshirt, which was described as “incredibly offensive and irresponsible” in a statement by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), read: “Anorexia (an-uh-rek-see-uh): Like Bulimia, except with self control.” And NEDA is right; this is absolutely disgusting, it de-legitimizes the struggles that millions of people go through daily, making mental illness into cool new catchy slogans, rather than fatal disorders.
Anorexia Nervosa, according to NEDA, is an eating disorder that primarily affects adolescents, and results in “distorted body image” and unhealthy, dramatic weight loss. It can lead to a variety of symptoms, including death; in fact, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), one person loses their life every 62 minutes as a result of their eating disorder.
It’s never okay to make fun of mental illnesses, but for monetary gain? Mental illness is not something that in any case allows for “self-control”; it’s not cool, and it’s certainly not romantic. And making fun of it on a global level simply for profit demeans individuals who actually suffer with eating disorders (or even simply body image), only contributing to the growing problem of lack of body positivity across the world. These people did not asked to be made fun of, joked about or turned into a t-shirt.
Unfortunately, the ridiculing and romanticizing of mental illnesses has become a trend recently; according to large corporations (like Amazon, and the third-party corporations that use it as a platform to sell their products), eating disorders are trendy or cool. Most of the comments on Amazon’s sweatshirt listing were about the lack of empathy and overall ignorance of the sweater, but a select few told other commenters to “take it easy,” that it was “free speech,” or that the sweater was “hilarious.” Saying that making fun of other people and the struggles they have gone through is “free speech” is part of the problem. The sweater should have never been made in the first place, regardless of free speech.
Claire Mysok, CEO of NEDA deplored Amazon’s product in a statement, saying that the “hoodie propagates the myth that eating disorders are trivial and mere issues of willpower or self-control” and that “stereotypes like this result in increased stigma and are barriers that prevent people from seeking help.” Mysok is right -- Anorexia (or any eating disorder, for that matter) is not something anyone has control over, or would choose as a “lifestyle.” The delegitimizing of mental illness is offensive, harmful, and mocks an entire group of people; it’s the kind of stuff that makes people believe their own serious struggles are insignificant, and that helps literally no one involved.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, tell a close family member or friend and seek professional help immediately. For immediate assistance, call the NEDA hotline at (800) 931-2237.