NEDIC put out a response for which I’m appreciative (see here). Perhaps my rhetoric was a little over-the-top, but I do feel strongly about these things and believe they must be treated with the utmost care (see the comments section for further discussion). The nature of the internet can sometimes blow things out of proportion, and I hope that hasn’t happened here. To borrow a phrase from one commenter, I’d never want to ‘silence an ally’ and NEDIC does some extremely important work!
The following photo shows an ad that the National Eating Disorder Information Center is currently running on subways to attempt to get people talking about eating disorders and make them aware of local resources. But am I the only one who has a problem with it?
In response to some initial critique, NEDIC (at least, whoever runs NEDIC’s Facebook page) issued the following replies:
“It does say Hunger is my bff- it is meant to shock, leave an impression and encourage dialogue. Thank you for the feedback and engaging with us.”
…Is the image controversial? Polarizing even? Yes, but as long as it makes people think about it, and talk about it, we feel we have made progress in making more people aware of available resources and support- our end goal. This is our first such campaign and we will be doing market research to gauge reaction on-the-street, and how the campaign is being perceived by the general public. All information will be used to deliver more effective campaigns in the future…”
Where to start?
They actually stated that this is their first such campaign and are doing market research to gauge reactions. Did no one think that perhaps that feedback could have been garnered online via activist communities or opinion polls? In other words, they’re beta-testing this idea to the general populous.
Worse, I have a problem with that whole “as long as it makes people think about it… we feel we have made progress.”
In some situations, I agree, but this is not a “no press is bad press” type situation. When dealing with something deadly like an eating disorder, an ad that (not-so-clearly) aims to satirize the behaviors of disordered eating comes off as trivializing the issue for people who are suffering from EDs and confusing passerby who don’t get it. When going for “on-the-street” reactions you have a responsibility to be concerned about the affects of your message on a general population, and this doesn’t meet that criteria.
You know what’s even more attention-getting? Statistics like the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder, upwards of 20% of anorexics WILL DIE as a direct result of their eating disorder.
If you were an advocacy organization that campaigned against self-harm or suicide, would you put a similar “controversial and polarizing” message up to turn heads, like “Cutting is my BFF”? I’d certainly hope not.
This campaign is as vapid and harmful as those Urban Outfitters shirts that say “Eat Less.” There is honestly no difference, and whoever thought this up should reconsider what they put out into the world and whether or not this actually helps more people than it harms.
Eating disorders are deadly disorders, and this ad makes a mockery of the families that I have met doing lobby work who have lost loved ones to these terrible illnesses.
To be clear, I love 99% of the images on their page and it looks like they generally do good and important work. As an outspoken and passionate eating disorder activist, I love to see other people and ‘orgs trying to reach out to others. But this particular campaign doesn’t cut it, and hiding behind statements like “Yes, it’s shocking, let’s talk about that” doesn’t cut it, either.
Seriously. Do your “market research” internally or with the population you hope to reach out to. I can think of many forums and groups that would be happy to assist in providing feedback before you pay money to put up harmful ads on subways.