Anorexia is not an adjective

To Whom It May Concern:

It was with great sadness and frustration that I read the article Housing Crisis by Louis Nowra in this weekend’s (25th Janurary) Good Weekend.


In particular, I took great objection to Nowra’s description of arriving at a house ‘to be greet by an anoxeric [sic] woman.’ Anorexia is a mental illness; a medical condition. It has no place in a description of anyone not diagnosed with such a condition, especially someone the author (apparently) has not warmed to, as this frames the condition as something of which the sufferer should be embarrassed.

Leukemia is a medical condition. Anorexia Nervosa is also a medical condition. When was the last time you described someone as “leukemic”? The trend in reducing an incredibly serious condition to a descriptive moniker synonymous with “thin” is incredibly reductive and erases the suffering of those affected. Anorexia is a noun, referring to an individual who is living with the tortuous disease that has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The mortality rate for individuals with eating disorders is 12 times that in people without eating disorders. Perhaps the word Nowra was searching for was the adjective anorectic, which refers to having no appetite, a loss of appetite, or an individual that is diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.

Grammatical and orthographical tussles aside, neither ‘anorexic’ nor ‘anorectic’ is an appropriate way to describe someone’s body type. Why? Because people diagnosed with anorexia come in all shapes and sizes, and using it as a synonym for “thin” erases sufferers and undermines their selfhood.

 When the media acts with such apparent disregard to the thoughts and feelings of those affected by anorexia it perpetuates a culture of stigmatisation of mental illness. It has to stop. I implore editors to act with responsibility and sensitivity.

Perhaps it may be prudent for the editors and authors alike to reflect upon the Mindframe media guidelines for responsible reporting of eating disorders.

For more information see the National Eating Disorders Collaboration or the Butterfly Foundation.

Kind regards,

Madeline Beveridge


About madelinebevs

Mathematics and religion teacher and researcher. Runner. Home-renovation enthusiast. PhD Candidate. I'm excited by education. Having taught high-school mathematics for several years I am currently studying a Master of Education (Honours) in mathematics education, with the aim to ‘upgrade’ to a PhD later this year. My research is addressing how the constructivist epistemology (more specifically explicit instruction in metacognitive and self-reflective strategies) influences students’ affective domain. Mathematics education and research excites me greatly. I’m thrilled that I have the opportunity to write and work in this area. This blog will be (mostly) a collection of opinion pieces published several times a week on contemporary issues in mathematics education, with an Australian focus. More often than not topics will be generated from recent news headlines.
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4 Responses to Anorexia is not an adjective

  1. Thanks for writing this. The stigma associated with eating disorders is extraordinary. You’re also questioned if you don’t “look the part”. I don’t exactly look like a recovering bulimic, but making me feel fat by pointing that out certainly doesn’t help me recover.

    I can’t believe someone actually used that to describe someone….it’s like describing someone who’s having a bad hair day as schizophrenic; it’s just ignorant and impolite.

    • madelinebevs says:

      Thank you so much for your comment Danielle!

      It’s so difficult when dealing with an eating disorder to also receive commentary from people that you don’t fit their (or the media’s) mould of what an ED is ‘supposed’ to look like. It makes accessing treatment and talking about your health issues all the more challenging.

      I hope you’re doing well now. x

  2. deborah says:

    Your passionate message made my heart sing. You said so much with only a few words. Anorexia is indeed not something one can sum up with a word. It is a violent, pervasive illness,
    that touches not just those that suffer but those that love them. Anyone who has ever struggled with an eating disorder, or even those that walk beside them thank you.

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