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Let’s take on eating disorders, one state at a time

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There’s some exciting legislation coming out of Boston that is aiming to help make eating disorders and weight stigma a thing of the past. Introduced by state Rep. Kay Khan (D-Mass.), H.1942 will keep dangerous diet pills and muscle-building supplements out of the hands of Massachusetts youth and H.3892 will help to get rid of digital alteration of ad images that promote harmful beauty norms if passed. 

The National Eating Disorders Association recently participated in the Massachusetts Eating Disorders & Body Confidence Advocacy Day in Boston. We are partnering with STRIPED, MEDA, I Weigh, and Be Real USA to educate lawmakers about eating disorders and advocate in support of these two Massachusetts House bills to promote body confidence in young people. 

These may seem like niche issues, but they represent a larger movement of challenging outdated and harmful beauty standards that have gone unchecked for too long. 

Beauty norms, which were designed to be unattainable, trap people into spending their time and money becoming “healthy,”“fit” and “toned. In certain cases, the measures people go through to attain them — like restrictive diets and exercise with the intention of changing the way you look — can perpetuate disordered eating or even trigger an eating disorder

There’s clearly public interest behind these initiatives, and there’s real momentum that can help us make notable progress in ending weight stigma and diet culture (or, as it’s more commonly referred to, “wellness” culture). In addition to Khan’s work in Boston, City Councilor Mark Levine in New York City recently filed a bill that would restrict the sale of dangerous diet products to minors

It’s time for states to take Massachusetts’ and New York’s examples and be champions of these issues. NEDA is currently working with five other states in anti-weight discrimination legislation around the country, but there is still plenty of work to be done. 

Earlier this year, activist and actress Jameela Jamil raised much needed awareness around the dangers of celebrities promoting “diet teas” (a fancy name for laxatives) on Instagram. In September, NEDA and Jamil, among others, worked with Instagram to create a policy that prohibited users under the age of 18 from viewing harmful weight loss and dieting products on their platform. 

Some brands are already on board with more realistic advertisements. Lingerie lifestyle retailer Aerie have been breaking standard beauty norms in advertisements since 2014 when they stopped airbrushing their models.

More recently, women’s razor brand Billie became the first female shaving company to show real body hair in their ads. While there are more and more brands who prioritize authenticity over traditional beauty standards, they are unfortunately still the exception to the norm. 

We implore the public to reach out to their local representatives to make their voices heard on these issues, because, as we’ve seen time and time again, change starts on the local level. To keep on top of legislation in your state, sign up to receive Legislative Action Alerts

Given how complex and invasive media has become in our daily lives, we can no longer depend on the good will of a few brands and corporations to fix these issues. The consequences at stake here are severe. In the United States, approximately 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives and have the second highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, surpassed only by opioid addiction. 

This is a public health crisis, and public servants across the country have a responsibility to protect their constituents by limiting the exposure of dangerous products and images that can lead to severe mental and physical ramifications. 

While the work being done in Massachusetts and New York are only the beginning, they set a strong example that other states can emulate to prioritize the mental and physical health of their constituents and lay the groundworks to create a world without weight stigma and eating disorders.

Chevese Turner is the chief policy and strategy officer at the National Eating Disorders Association.

Tags Abnormal psychology Body shape Eating disorders Human behavior Mark Levin Mental health National Eating Disorders Association Psychiatry Social constructionism

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