Discussing Eating Disorders and Diet Culture With 20 Year Old Author Sarah Morrish by Juliet Poucher
Sarah Morrish is a 20 year old author based in the United Kingdom and she has already published two books about eating disorders, what it's like to deal with them personally and through loved ones. She emphasizes how her "public outpouring" allowed others to truly see her suffering and to hopefully gain a better understanding with people who undergo this illness. Eating disorders is an invisible illness, therefore we can't really assume or see who really goes through it based on their appearance; Sarah strives to bring attention to the fact that it's more relevant than we think and that people of all gender (in or outside of normative binaries), race, and age identities experience this and deserve an art form to relate to. Sarah's poetry provides guidance to recovery along with debunking misrepresentations of eating disorders and discussing social media's impact on one's mental health. It's important we learn more about these hidden illnesses and elicit empathy/sympathy to others who may feel alone in their experience. Sarah has offered a platform through her beautiful writing and social media pages to increase awareness of the various subtypes of eating disorders.
Q: Can you tell us about what inspired you to start writing?
Sarah: There wasn’t one specific eureka moment that whiplashed me into writing for a purpose (or for writing at all, in fact). As I got older, that passion started to wane as writing became intermingled with academia and assignments rather than leisure and release. It was a revamped feminist curriculum that, à la Take That, relit my fire. For me, it’s always been an emotional mirror; I write to take up room, I write to weasel into uncomfortable and unexplored spaces.
I wrote mulberries in rye – my first poetry collection – in a little under two months, concurrent with my dissertation and undergraduate degree I was working toward at the University of Exeter. Having been plagued with several emotional blows over those past few months, I went down two routes: first was the whole dark-humour-to-mask-my-pain (!) gig, but second was the realisation that I needed a space to process my serious feelings in serious words. I set up an Instagram account (@sarahmorrishpoetry) where I’d share my poems, some dealing with issues such as sex, feminism, class and love, but most dealing with an undertone that gestured towards mental health. And I’m quite happy to wear my heart on my sleeve; I don’t care who hears my innermost thoughts because, ultimately, there will always be someone out there with a shared experience.
For someone like me, a working class kid with two misrepresented and demonised mental health conditions under her belt, I felt it important that other people saw themselves on paper. I aim to represent the underrepresented. It doesn’t matter that their circumstances might not line up with mine to a tee. It just matters that my words can allow someone to feel.
Q: What are some things about eating disorders you think more people should understand?
Sarah: Eating disorders are invisible illnesses, and warped diet culture is more normalised than you might think.
As far as diet culture is concerned, the worst thing you could be (lightyears beyond selfish, manipulative, abusive, or unkind) is fat. And this narrative is weaved because, without it, no one would care about 10 Ways to Lose X Pounds in X Days articles (which will all be water weight) or Z-List TV Star’s Body Bootcamp! (read: already-slim person uses unflattering paparazzi photo to market so-called transformation) or Skinny Tea (which is a laxative, all these influencers are doing is shitting more). In short, companies would not be making as much cash.
In a similar vein, congratulating someone’s weight loss is done with the best intentions. This is a fine line to walk when you don’t know how someone has lost weight: you just congratulate them because they did. This feeds into the fact that eating disorders are invisible illnesses. In fact, around 80% of those suffering with an eating disorder are not underweight. Take a programme like The Biggest Loser. Here, overweight people’s dramatic weight loss, obtained through extreme restriction and intense exercise regimes, is turned into an achievement. Atypical anorexia’s boundaries become so enmeshed and blurred with diet culture and societal fatphobia through television shows like this - had these behaviours been enacted by an underweight person, the show would be labelled as promoting eating disorders. That the overweight person has more weight to lose compared to the underweight person should not be the issue; these behaviours are dangerous no matter whose body is demonstrating them.
Q: You've recently published your second book, A Sparrow Salutes to the Moon. Can you tell us what this is about?
Sarah: Split into seven comprehensive sections, A Sparrow Salutes to the Moon is all about helping people understand their loved one’s eating disorder (be it anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, OSFED/EDNOS, or orthorexia). It aims to evaluate causes and symptoms using medical research, as well as probing concepts such as diet culture and the impact of online communities in worsening or promoting the illness. This book aims to defeat stigmas and misconceptions (such as the idea that sufferers must be underweight) in an approachable and accessible way. Ignorance in this area means that many individuals don’t think they’ll be taken seriously when seeking professional help or when confiding in friends and family. But also, this book gives pointers in the recovery process and ways to get started. Eating disorders have been a taboo subject for too long; we’re aware this mental illness exists, but we hate to confront it when it manifests. Too many people have lost their lives.
Q: On your first Instagram post, you state that your page is for documenting your journey to recovery, writing out your honest feelings, and celebrating small victories. How has this method been working for you so far?
Sarah: Those ‘social media seriously harms your mental health’ phone cases paraded around in Instagram selfies (usually by influencers and celebrities with millions of followers at their beck and call, ironically) are a perfect personification of social media being both a blessing and a curse. Social media is, of course, advantageous in many ways: we are able to communicate with people all over the world, we are able to promote smaller causes and campaigns to a global platform, and it’s all instantaneous. But it can also be a disadvantage when it comes to oversaturation of a certain rhetoric or aesthetic, distraction and procrastination, and online interaction as a substitute for offline interaction. But that’s also where I’ve found social media a fantastic tool to interact with likeminded people going through the same things; I don’t feel a pressure to be perfect because, so long as I establish myself as candid and honest from the start, my audience won’t expect that from me. In any case, it’s cathartic to document your ups-and-downs and, for me, I feel a little less alone knowing that I have a virtual support system rooting for me.
Q: What was the biggest takeaway for you from your personal experience with an eating disorder?
Sarah: My biggest takeaway from my personal journey with an eating disorder is that we are all so different. Aren’t people marvellous? What one person feels, another person might not be able to comprehend or relate to at all. This applies within the eating disorder community (someone in the depths of their condition might not relate to someone who is recovering, or someone with anorexic behaviours might not understand someone with binge-eating tendencies) but also outside of it. We’re all on a path, even if that path looks untrodden and brambly.
Q: Do you have any advice for people struggling with this now?
Sarah: To someone struggling with an eating disorder right now, I urge you (though it’s easier said than done) to choose recovery. Choose a meal out with your relatives. Choose an extra slice of cake on your birthday. Choose a cocktail with a friend on a chilled November night. Choose chocolate after a taxing day at the office. Choose ice-cream after a break-up. Choose a world without heart palpitations, without hair loss, without brittle bones. Choose a world where an extra ten calories doesn’t define your day, your mood, or your potential to live. And, for anyone who needs a distraction or just a chit-chat, my @sarahmorrishpoetry DMs are always open.