The “starving kids in Africa” argument

If I had a nickle for every time I heard someone say “think of the starving kids in Africa” in order to justify an argument, I would be rich.

For example, I just heard about a video by this guy (who isn’t even worth naming because I refuse to support anyone who is so blatantly disrespectful) who claims that cutters are selfish because there are children in Africa who are living in much worse conditions. According to this guy, people with eating disorders who refuse to eat are selfish when compared with children in Africa who would kill for food. Similarly, he claims that cutters are selfish for inflicting harm upon themselves and then “expecting” people to pity them. Furthermore, he goes on to state that this is a “white people problem” because everyone knows that only white people cut, right? Wrong. *face palm*.

Where do I even begin? This is just way too much ignorance for one 4 minute video to contain.

For starters, you cannot justify an argument by comparing it to a completely unrelated situation. Don’t get me wrong, I feel empathy and compassion for the children in Africa who are starving, but their suffering by no means acts as a justification for the belittlement of my own struggles. While it is true that self-harm is a self-inflicted problem, the causes of self-harm are not. Self-injury is caused by deep seated grief and emotional turmoil that becomes too much to bear. Self-harm is a coping mechanism that is a result of a mental illness. As such, people who self-harm are not stupid self-absorbed individuals; they are people who are suffering from a serious illness. In fact, mental illness can just as serious as the malnutrition that the starving children in Africa are facing and can be just as deadly. So if you’re going to make a comparison between two unrelated phenomenons, at least make it a solid argument. Just because there is someone in the world who is suffering more than you does not mean that you do not have a right to be upset about it. That’s like saying you don’t have the right to be happy because somebody else has a better life than you; it just doesn’t make any sense. So lets not compare apples to oranges okay? okay.

Next, lets tackle the whole “people with eating disorders are selfish” thing. As someone who has suffered with an eating disorder for years, I can honestly tell you that people who point out that there are children in the world who will kill for the food I refuse to eat is not going to make me want the food. In fact, I would honestly rather them have it. But again, since we cannot compare two completely unrelated situations to one another in order to justify why one is right or wrong, this argument falls flat on its face before it really even begins. I would, however, like to point out that just as cutting is a mental illness, eating disorders are a mental illness. Eating disorder are a compulsion to avoid food as a result of emotional trauma, pain, stress, etc. For example, in my own case, my psychologist has made the connection between my eating disorder and the sexual abuse that I endured as a child. Based on the trauma that I experienced and the timing of when I developed my eating disorder, it is extremely likely that my eating disorder was brought on by the trauma that I experienced. So, is it really selfish of me to have an eating disorder? Is it my fault? Am I just wallowing in self-pity while the starving children in Africa are dying for the food I won’t eat? OR, are these accusations a form of victim-blaming and mental illness stigmatization disguised as a wake up call to cutters?

Furthermore, the youtuber insinuates that cutting is a problem specific to white people. After all, white people are the only people stupid enough to cut themselves, right? (those damn white supremacist) WRONG AGAIN. Cutting has absolutely nothing to do with race. Shocker, I know. Now, I could bombard you with statistics that prove this claim is absolute bulls**t, but in the interest of not boring you with numbers, I’ll just leave it at that. This argument is absolutely inaccurate, unsupported, and relies heavily of stereotypes.

I would also like to draw attention to the one thing that he got right in the video: if you are experiencing mental health problems, you should seek out help. This is absolutely true. If you suffer from an eating disorder, self-harm, or any other mental illness, you should definitely get help. That said, even this part of the video is presented in a pessimistic, obnoxious, self-obsessed way. For example, he asserts that he is somehow better than people who cut themselves because he sought out help for his depression instead of resorting to hurting himself. While its great that he didn’t self-harm, this is another ignorant point. People can go to therapy and still cut themselves. Cutting is an addiction so chances are that even if you seek out professional help, the problem is not going to just stop over night. One cannot assume that just because someone hurts themselves that they are not getting help. I have been in therapy for 7 months now and I still slip up sometimes. It doesn’t mean I don’t want help,it means that recovery is a process.

Lastly, the archaic claim that people who cut themselves are looking for attention is recycled in this video. While there are some people who are using cutting as a cry for help, the majority of people who self-harm are not doing it to get attention. Self-harm is a coping mechanism, not a fashion statement. People do not inflict harm upon themselves because they want people to pay attention to them. In fact, a lot of people (such as myself) will cut themselves on parts of their body where people cannot see the wounds such as their thigh, stomach, hip, etc. So, if self-harm is really just for attention, why do people go to such great lengths to hide their problem?

The video I am referring to is just one more example of the stigmatization of mental illness in society. Seeing as how it’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, lets break down these stigmas! Ignorance is not an excuse for stigmatizing and marginalizing people who need help. Lets end the stigma!

Ayla

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