Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Eye on Russia: Eating Disorder Treatment

A few months ago my cousin, Mark, sent me an article: Anorexia takes toll on Russian women.

I started writing this post back in March but couldn't get myself to click "publish." There was just so much going on in this article i didn't know where to start - Obviously the piece itself is saddening, it's terrible and damaging that so many young women in Russia are dealing with eating disorders, especially on their own without adequate professional support. But the tone and message of the article troubled me almost as much as the issue. And the "professional support" quoted seemed to miss the mark entirely.

The only doctor they interview for the piece said, “it’s a paranoia and an obsession. Some of those girls have never even been plump, but they get the idea that they have to lose weight and become perfect. So we use all the means to cure it.”

1. I'd be really interested to see what she meant by eating disorders are a "paranoia," that's a new one to me... definitely not sure i agree.
2. Being "plump" as the doctor describes it should not at all be the focus here. Firstly, even "plump" women can have life-threatening eating disorders. Weight isn't the only determinant of how sick someone is or whether or not someone needs help dealing with an eating disorder.
3. The wording: "they get the idea that they have to lose weight and become perfect." The "and" really stands out to me there. I wouldn't have given it a second thought if she said, "they get the idea that they have to lose weight to become perfect." But she says "and" and she's supposed to be the professional. The way she says it associates weight with becoming perfect (the thinner one is, the better, or closer to "perfection one is.) The "to" rather than "and" illustrates to me that the doctor understands the person dealing with the eating disorder believes that thinness and perfection are linked but the professional does not see it this way herself. It troubles me that she used "and" because it makes me believe she thinks there is a link between weight and perfection.

I wonder if this article was originally published in Russian? If so, I'd really like to read it because quotes like that make me wonder if there is something lost in translation.

The other shocking thing about the article was it said there is only ONE clinic in all of Russia specializing in eating disorders?! And the clinic only has 7 beds?! Wha Wha WHAT?! That seems incredibly hard for me to believe, especially with all the dancers and figure skaters in the country (not to stereotype, but comeon...) If this is the case, Russia has more of a problem than I ever realized.

Another troubling quote came from a woman who works for Maxim magazine and describes women's eating disorders as an "investment in their future."

“In Russia women aren’t that financially independent. They’re not equally paid and not interested in getting a job. The girls dream is to get the right guy, who will pay rent at least, or marry her or take care of her and the kids.”

Wow, talk about sexism in a huge way. It seems that eating disorders in Russia are closely intertwined with the systematic problem of women unable to be financial independent, which by the way should be at the forefront here. The quote though? I don't buy that woman's solution for a number of reasons.

1. Looking a certain way does not guarantee snagging a man, or a woman...
2. Snagging that perfect, rich, sig o should not be the solution for a systematic problem.
3. Russia's focus should be on equalizing pay and providing women opportunities to become financially independent.
3. I refuse to believe that all these women suffer from eating disorders as a result of trying to snag a guy, that's simply insulting and she's definitely missing something big here...
4. She says "[Russian women] are not interested in getting a job." I find that hard to believe. Mostly because i am a Russian woman, i was raised by Russian women (and men) and i grew up surrounded by a magnitude of strong, independent, forward thinking, and intelligent Russian women. These women valued hard work and did not sit around a wait for a man to save them. Saying comments like hers is insulting and demonstrates that inequality and sexism isn't always straight forward.

Criticism aside, Russia needs far better profession support for individuals dealing with eating disorders than the doctor highlighted in the article.


Anonymous said...

As a recovered/recovering Anorexic/Bulimic nothing gets my goat more than when people say that ED's are all about "trying to impress guys", "trying to lose weight" or a variant thereof.

Let me tell you (this is personal experience only with programmes both inpatient and out) that is so, so, so rarely because of that and usually an underlying issue; feeling like you have no control over your life, so you take control of your eating.

Anonymous said...

I agree. This whole article is BAD. I come from a russian background and I was always raised to be very independant and career oriented. Not many of my friends in russia rely on men to provide for fact i think its considered to be emberassing now.
As someone who is also struggling with an eating disorder... the issues are very personal and I dont think can be generalized at all. It is either a traumatic experience or a personality trait or really anything.... use your imagination. It is a mental disorder not a behavior we choose.