I have a confession to make. I love BBC Woman’s Hour. I download and listen to every single podcast, and delight in the breadth of discussion. Anything from sex in a long-term relationship to debating American politics goes down on BBC Woman’s Hour. Trouble is, every time they do a piece on Anorexia or eating disorders they get it wrong.
This has happened to the point where now, if dear Jenny or Jane introduce a show and mention that they will be talking about any sort of eating disorder I have to pause and collect myself. Should I do myself a favour and delete the episode right away? Or, do I listen in the vain hope that maybe, just maybe, they might have someone one who is going to represent something other then the standard old psychoanalytical crap.
Every time I listen. Every time I am disappointed. This is a problem, because I am usually out on a walk with the dogs when I am listening to a podcast. Rather than kicking the dog (who is faster than me) I’ll undoubtedly start walking faster as I fume and mull over what I am hearing. Jaw clenched and ears steaming, I’ll storm along until I realise that I am now miles out from home and very likely lost.
No really, it’s a problem because I am not the only person who listens to BBC Woman’s Hour. Millions of listeners hearing once again that Anorexia is about “control”—or some other popularly held yet factually invalid psychoanalytically-based opinion on what causes this disease.
Here is my most recent letter to BBC Woman’s Hour:
Dear Woman’s Hour
I have written to you regarding your consistent misrepresentation of Anorexia before. As a long-time fan of the show it breaks my heart that you continue to broadcast erroneous information about eating disorders without even a voice from a scientific and factual standpoint to balance the argument.
You had a guest on Woman’s Hour recently saying that Anorexia is about control and purity. Did you know that Anorexia has a genetic base and that it is a mental disease? You can psychoanalyse it all you want, but those are the facts.
Years ago, people used to believe that “refrigerator” parents caused Autism. We now know that this is not the case. Similarly, the common psychoanalyst view on Anorexia was that is a “control thing.” We now know this is not true, but many people—including ex-sufferers who were treated by psychologists who believed in the psychoanalyst’s model—have not got the message.
It’s complicated, but let me break this down in the hope that you will represent a more current scientific model next time you do a show on eating disorders:
1. Anorexia is has a genetic link.
2. The disease can lie dormant until triggered.
3. An environmental trigger is required for the disease to activate, this can be anything that causes a prolonged calorific deficit.
So you can see, that dieting can be a “trigger” for a person who has the genetic set up for Anorexia. For this reason it is easy to confuse the trigger for a cause. The cause is not dieting, the cause is genetic. This is an important difference to understand in terms of treatment and recovery.
I think that it is very popular to talk about the psychological affects of diet and body image, but these are separate from the disease of Anorexia. There may be overlaps, but that is merely because there is hardly a person in the Western World unaffected by these influences. If it were true that a negative body image, stress, or a want to be thin caused Anorexia, then every person alive on earth would have an eating disorder. No, you have to have the genetic predisposition for the disease.
I don’t expect a response.
Having lived in the USA for nearly six years now, I am beginning to revise my views on free speech. How ironic. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but when that opinion is sprouted so frequently and broadly as things now can be over the internet, people begin to see what is opinion as fact. Two words: Donald Trump.
Everything that comes out of this blokes mouth is bile. But it doesn’t matter, because he has the broadcasting breadth and he is consistent enough in his inane rants that he reaches people. He is proof that if you just keep saying something it doesn’t matter how inaccurate it is, after a number of exposures, some people begin to see opinion as fact.
It’s not really about free speech I guess, as much as the oomph and platform behind that speech that gets it broadcast. Some people have a greater ability to purchase a bigger broadcast than others, and this is where free speech falls apart. We are not all on an equal playing field.
I think that it is the responsibility of organisations such as the BBC to represent all sides rather than just one opinion. Maybe it’s because they don’t know otherwise that they consistently misrepresent eating disorders. Or maybe it’s because psychoanalysing any behaviour around food is a fetish that a huge percentage of our population share. The science pointing to genetic factors as a reason for developing Anorexia isn’t as interesting as saying “I felt out of control of my life so I turned to controlling what I ate as a survival mechanism.”
It’s not as interesting because listeners don’t relate to a genetic illness that they do not have in the same way that they relate to feeling out of control and wanting to do something about it. And that comes back to the reasoning that if Anorexia is about control, how come everyone doesn’t develop it when they first fail their driving test, or get dumped, or get acne?
And yes, this is just my opinion. I welcome yours if it differs. Except on the statement that Trump sprouts bile. That’s fact ;).