Anorexia: It’s an Illness, Not a Costume

Two years ago, when I was just beginning to open up about my eating disorder to the public, I remember turning bright red in one of my Sociology classes. We were discussing body image within the context of family systems (darned if I remember the connection) and the teacher mentioned something about an Anorexia costume. No…not Anorexia. It was Anna Rexia. Apparently it was the latest costume trend to hit the stands before Halloween. You can find the image here:

Just as my blood began to boil, and tears threatened to roll down my cheeks that fall afternoon in 2011, I can now feel my heart beating faster and my chest constricting in anger, sadness, and frustration as I look at that image and write this post.

What has society come to?

As a dear friend of mine, Jess Therkildsen so aptly put it,

“20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder”
I can not believe this costume is real life. 

Another friend of mine, Shanel Daudy, wrote

Funny, when I was suffering I paid more than $39.99 

When this costume originally came out two years ago, it was actually pulled off the shelves after tremendous backlash. ( I may not be the first person to speak out about the Anna Rexia costume, but I will not stop because I am “just another voice of an eating disorder survivor.” I am a survivor. I survived being called names and being judged…I fought for my own recovery in a world where people decided to dress up like my illness and make a mockery of my suffering.

But this is not about me…I am simply one in a pool of people whose lives have been broken by an eating disorder. People who are pushing to haul themselves onto lifeboats, crashing along the waves. I was lucky enough to make it past my Anorexia but there are too many people out there who are still on the journey to recovery. Costumes such as this only act as triggers to those people and reinforce awful myths; they poke fun at an illness already not taken seriously.

I spoke up in that Sociology class. I raised my hand and after breathing deeply, admitted that I was in recovery from Anorexia. And that I was appalled.

Appalled that anyone could think this was cute or funny.
Appalled that enough people thought this was a great idea, that it became an online success.
Appalled that something as deadly and serious as an eating disorder had now become a Halloween costume.

I spoke up then and I am speaking up now.

This is not cute. This is not sexy.
I wonder how people would react if other illnesses were to be turned into a costume…because that’s what an eating disorder is – an illness. Imagine if the next Halloween craze became wearing a bald cap and hospital gown…it would be pulled off the shelves in seconds and would not re-emerge two years later. An eating disorder is a mental disorder that captivates the mind and robs the body and soul.

What does this costume teach our society? That an eating disorder is not serious, that it is something one can laugh about and experience without the painful and sometimes fatal consequences.

It shows men and women who are suffering that they should never admit their disorders. Not to their loved ones and not to themselves…because somewhere out there people are dressing up like their demons and joking about how “Anorexics look like skeletons.”

Admitting my disorder was half the battle. But the whispers and judgment made this one heck of a challenge.

My hope is that we can work together to not only take these costumes off the shelves (send an email to Yahoo, look up the petitions that are currently circulating the internet!), but to change the stigma and stereotype that seem to exist regarding not only “Anna Rexia” but other eating disorders as well.

My Anorexia was not something I could don one night to go trick or treating. It was life threatening and it fundamentally changed who I am. It robbed me of my interests, opinions, and joy. It took my voice.

I have once again found my voice and I will do everything I can to speak back and ensure that costumes like these do not perpetuate the erroneous thoughts on eating disorders and their severity.





About the Author
Temimah Zucker, LMSW is a primary therapist at Monte Nido Manhattan and also works in private practice in the fields of eating disorders, self-esteem, and mental health. Temimah writes and publicly speaking on these subjects and is also an adjunct professor in NYC teaching on the subject of the treatment of eating disorders. For information or inquiries please see her website.
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