It seems that I have become an activist of sorts. I’m a little out of my element; activism seems like such an enormous concept and I’m just one mother who is passionate about the fight against anorexia. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that all activism, big and small, starts with a fervent desire to affect change. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I truly believe in change; even when it seems unlikely at best and impossible at worst.
To be an activist, you need not only passion but strong motivation as well. My love for my anorexic daughter provides that motivation in spades. Watching anorexia steal the light from her eyes, the health from her body, and the brightness from her future makes me feel simultaneously heartbroken and furious. How dare such an ugly illness claim such a beautiful victim as my daughter?
You do not mess with a lion cub and expect the mama lion to just chill. I have tried ripping my daughter’s anorexia to shreds like any fierce mama lion would. Most of the time it feels like David against Goliath, but I am not giving up. Instead, I have become a parent activist in the realm of eating disorders. I have several agendas.
The first agenda is information flow. Parents need readily available, centralized information on treatment options in Israel. Since anorexia is not really out there in the open, parents have no idea of who to turn to for help. I have seen too many parents opt for local treatment that is not specialized enough because they don’t know of any alternatives so they stick with who they know. In addition, there isn’t much information on the internet about treatment options here in Israel.
I am starting to put together a comprehensive database of treatment centers, psychologists, dieticians, psychiatrists, and other professionals who treat eating disorders in both the public and the private sectors throughout Israel. If you want to be in this database or you know someone who should be in it, let me know.
The second agenda is to educate the educators about eating disorders. Teachers, principals, and guidance counselors all too often have no idea how to identify eating disorders, how to voice their concern to a student who they suspect may have an eating disorder, how to engage in a productive dialogue with the student’s parents, and where to refer parents for help.
In our case, two of our daughters were in the same high school. We had cause for the guidance counselor to speak with us about both of them at various points; one due to her anorexia and the other regarding run-of-the-mill teenage issues. In both cases, she recommended the same therapist who recommended the same treatment model for both daughters, even though their personalities and their issues were drastically different. What scared us most is that when we asked the therapist what percentage of kids with anorexia she thought should be treated using her unorthodox method; she answered 100%, as if her approach was the only valid one. The school’s “go to” resource was deficient bordering on dangerous.
On a different note, one of my other daughters had a gym teacher in high school who told the class that a BMI (body mass index) of 18 was normal and they should go home and weight themselves and then use the internet to calculate their BMI. If it was over 18, they need to start dieting and exercising. My daughter was well aware that 18.5 is the lowest end of normal and a person with a BMI of 18 is considered underweight. Given what she was living through with an anorexic sister, having seen the ravages of anorexia first hand, my daughter had a freak attack at the teacher in front of the whole class, claiming that she was disseminating harmful misinformation and that no one should listen to her. She told the teacher to go back and do her homework, to leave her classmates alone, and that beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Score one for my daughter. Apparently, fierceness is hereditary.
The last prong of my agenda is to try and raise eating disorder awareness in the public and political arenas. The Knesset passed a “model law” earlier this year banning the use of clinically underweight models and mandating full disclosure if a publication uses a graphics program to alter images. That was a great start; now let’s move on to other issues like increased treatment funding.
Israel is a country that does the best with what it has. However, when it comes to treating people with eating disorders, we have to do better. In general, what Israel lacks in financial resources, we make up for with ingenuity. I would like to see this applied somehow to the field of eating disorders.
Like any other activist, my goals are daunting, the work is hard, and a positive outcome is far from guaranteed; however, none of that discourages me from trying to achieve the objectives that I have set for myself.
Wish me luck.