An emaciated girl – protesting at puberty though her hunger – a teenage over-achiever trying to be perfect – a Snapchat thinspiration model? It is almost certainly a young girl whose family are fighting to save her life. What about a man, a person of colour, a mother or an elegant, slim and successful woman? The woman you see on the street, at work or the gym – slender, but not painfully so, and presenting an image of strength and confidence.
But that person who conforms to all of society's expectations may be hiding a secret.
Do they spend their evenings alone, bingeing and purging? Lose weekends in a coma of sugar overload? Look on holidays as an excuse to eat to excess then fast?
Are they lost in a cycle of self-hatred, slowly destroying their physical and mental health?
Eating disorders are one of the most prevalent mental health conditions. In 2015, it was estimated that 725,000 people are affected. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Even the most optimistic statistics state that less than half will make a full recovery.
Early intervention in mental health is vital – so many teenagers could be helped to build a better life without falling into the pit of long-term depression or eating disorders. But there is also a hidden need – that of sufferers who live with shame, fear and guilt and see nowhere to turn.
Please ask for help, talk to a medical professional – if you are ignored, try again – please fight – your life is worth saving.
I am a woman who had been fighting an eating disorder for the majority of my life – it has dominated and damaged my life in profound ways and at times I believed that it had destroyed my life, but 27 June 2017 was my anniversary – six weeks without bingeing, fasting or purging. And this time I truly believe that I can overcome the eating disorder which has dominated my every waking hour for more than 30 years.
Is it difficult? Hell yes. Do I wake up every morning wanting to fast? Am I scared? Am I conscious of how far I have to go? Yes, yes and yes.
I fear that it has almost been too easy – I am waiting for things to go badly wrong. I have thrown out my 'anorexic' jeans, but still spend hours going through my wardrobe, trying on all my clothes – I do not really believe that I can still wear them now that I am no longer purging. I fear that one day I will wake up the size of a small house and all that fat will appear. And when I have a problem, a challenge my first instinct is to fast. Any appointment prompts me to speculate on how much weight I can lose.
I thought that I had dug deep in the past – that I had found all the reasons behind my problems – but only through truly facing the physical consequences of all these years of disordered eating have I been able to understand the strength of my illness. I have had to face up to some very unpalatable truths – about myself and my past. Insight is painful, but only through this pain can I find freedom.
So why do I believe that this time I will succeed? I know that if I do not recover I will die, or my existence will be so empty that it will not be worth living. I believe that I have something to contribute to the world. I acknowledge that there will be problems, but there is always another day. I will have to take small steps – not every experiment with food or life will work, whatever my weight not everyone will like me, I may not get my dream job, I will always have problems. All I will be is normal – but normal would be so good.