With this in mind, I've drawn a handy table with some notes in it about how anorexia and obesity are different, and how they have some similarities. I have no deep knowledge of eating disorders, so what I say about anorexia is a lay understanding, and there will probably be things that I've said clumsily and need clarifying or addressing. But my aim with this table is to encourage people, particularly journalists, to be careful when they throw these concepts about.
I'm using 'obesity' here to mean a medicalised discourse of fat.
|Is a kind of mental illness that affects people of all sizes, though is commonly associated with very thin people, especially young women.||Is a means of classifying and stratifying certain kinds of bodies.|
|Is primarily assumed to be associated with not eating.||The etymology of the word is rooted in the concept 'to have eaten' but fat body size does not tell you much about people's eating behaviour.|
|Is typified by particular behaviours.||Is assumed to be the result of particular behaviours, particularly 'compulsive eating'.|
|The behaviours typified by anorexia are associated with mental illness.||Some fat people have mental illness, it's hard not to when you are a highly stigmatised social group, but fat itself is not an automatic signifier of mental illness or pathology, even though Susie Orbach and many others have popularised this view.|
|Is a series of behaviours associated with a faulty relationship to food.||Is assumed to be the result of a faulty relationship with food.|
|Treatment for anorexia may or may not be helpful.||Treatment for eating disorders is unlikely to be helpful for fat people who don't have an eating disorder.|
|Lack of political organisation, unless you count pro-ana as activism.||Fat people have critiqued 'obesity' and are politically organised, to some extent.|
|The extremes of very thin (anorexic) and very fat (obese) people are often used as mirrors of each other. Fat and thin are not opposites, but part of a vast diversity of human body shapes.|
|Anorexia and obesity are both subject to a lot of social anxiety and cultural mythology, supported by medicalisation.|
|Anorexia and obesity are both subject to a muddled discourse, often rooted in Second Wave feminism, which often raises the spectre of the 'bombarded by media images' origin story cliché.|
|Anorexia and obesity are both associated with untimely death, even though people with eating disorders and fat people can live long and productive lives.|
|Both anorexia and obesity really upset the normals.|
|'The anorexic' and 'the obese' are groups of people who are commonly abstracted, made anonymous, voiceless and abject, and are rarely offered space by 'the experts' to speak for themselves.|
|Are reduced to an assumed anxiety about the body and food, but people with eating disorders and fat people have interests elsewhere, for example in the struggle to be autonomous people, a struggle against medicalised control, a struggle against social restrictions.|