Have an eating disorder? Don’t expect any privacy.

2 Feb

I was just having a look at the Consumerist, where there’s an article about a court ruling in which a judge required that the families of New Jersey girls suing Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield turn over records of all the things they had written about their battles with anorexia on MySpace and Facebook, and to turn over records of e-mails that included discussions of the disorder. Apparently, the insurance company refused to cover the girls’ illnesses, claiming that anorexia and bulimia aren’t real diseases. So, since the girls’ diaries might provide evidence that their eating disorders were caused by emotional problems rather than biological factors, the company, under New Jersey law, is not required to cover the treatment that the disorders required.

I don’t think anyone thinks that there is a biological cause behind eating disorders. But are they purely psychological? I’m pretty sure that when you have a psychological disorder that causes you to do something that physically harms you, you’ve moved beyond the psychologist’s office. Still, as a joke, let’s say that anorexia is just a psychological disorder. When someone has gone so long without eating that their organs shut down and they have to go to the hospital, should the treatment that they receive be covered by health insurance? Guess not. These young girls who have been told from the second they were born that the only thing that matters about them is how closely they resemble an increasingly unrealistic and distorted beauty standard are now apparently to blame for a disorder that stems entirely from their attempt to control their lives in the only way that they see available to them.

This case points out some serious problems in American institutions and social structures. First, what the fuck are we doing when we are warping girls’ minds to the point that their desire to fit into the beauty mold is so strong that it overrides the instinct toward self-preservation? Eating disorders, along with plastic surgery, are the most striking examples of how distorted and grotesque our ideas of beauty, femininity, and sexuality have become. We now have an entire generation of young women who believe that sexually titillating men should be their priority numero uno, and that the way to do that is to look as much like a cross between a concentration camp inmate and a Bratz doll as possible. Fucking awesome. Second, we’ve allowed insurance companies to gain such a firm grip on our medical system that it has become nearly impossible to get proper care. That’s self-evident and I don’t think I need to go into it. Third, our medical system has somehow fragmented to the point that our minds, which reside in our brains, are considered entities completely separate from our bodies. Of course, that development is also a result of the fact that insurance companies control our access to medical care and will cover only that which will keep us alive (sometimes) and save them future expenses. But it also stems in part from the long-standing idea inherent in western culture that the body and the mind are indeed separate entities, and that the body is on a permanent quest to lead the mind astray. But despite adages like “mind over matter,” people seem reluctant to believe that the mind has the ability to cause dysfunction within the body. We really need to rethink the way we are treating the interaction between mental and physical disorders. Finally, it’s pretty clear that the law in this case is really not protecting these girls. The original order stated that the girls would even have to turn over their own personal writings, including their diaries, to the insurance company’s attorneys. I’m pretty sure having their innermost thoughts, feelings, and fears dragged out before scores of fairly unsympathetic strangers isn’t going to help these girls overcome whatever they need to overcome in order to get well again.

Overall, it seems like a lot of big institutional and cultural forces have lined up to make things suck as much as possible for these girls, and that those forces are created and perpetuated by, that’s right, the motherfucking patriarchy.


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3 Responses to “Have an eating disorder? Don’t expect any privacy.”

  1. Alex March 28, 2008 at 1:52 AM #

    Hey, nice article. This is a little late, and doesn’t really pertain to the sexist issues you are addressing, but I just wanted to say that there IS some evidence to suggest eating disorders are in part biological. There are statistics like, if your grandma had anorexia, you’re four times more likely blablabla, and you also inherit the activity level of your anterior cingulate gyrus. Overactive ACG’s are always present in an eating disorder, as well as other obsessive disorders (OCD).

  2. Imaginary October 26, 2009 at 6:58 PM #

    Hugs to those girls with some lovely sparkly vegan cupcakes; those insurance pricks are horrible!

  3. skeptifem September 20, 2010 at 12:48 AM #

    I am surprised that the law could even attempt to say that the psychological is not biological. They are essentially making a claim about the free will of humans, which is quite astonishing. Even if there isn’t a supernatural force controlling our actions (fate, god, karma, etc) there isn’t any real way for any of us to know that we aren’t on some chemical ride that determines actions for us.

    Even if it were completely up to us, I don’t know how a court of a secular country could claim that biological chemical reactions within the brain that cause a compulsion to starve are less real than biological chemical reactions within other organs that cause dysfunction. The line is completely imaginary.

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