Saturday, July 19, 2008

Accused of anorexia

This morning I read yet another news story that described yet another celebrity "accused" of anorexia. That's the word the news story used: accused.

And it made me wonder. It's not the first time I've read this and it won't be the last. We accuse people of crimes, of transgressions, of doing wrong. Is having anorexia a crime?

I think the word choice speaks worlds about how we see eating disorders: as choices made to get attention, to punish others, to--fill in the blanks. For all our talk about eating disorders as diseases, we still--and by we I mean the culture at large--see them as manipulative choices people make.

When I read a story like this, I wonder what those who make such "accusations" are thinking. Is it something like "Aha, I caught you!" Do they feel superior to celebrities who might be ill with eating disorders?

The same magazines and newspapers that trumpet such accusations, of course, also report obsessively on every pound that celebrities, especially women, gain and lose. They write headlines about women who lose their baby fat 2 weeks after giving birth--as if this was not only a natural but a desirable state of affairs.

So the message is what? Be very thin, but not too thin? Where is the invisible line separating good-thin from bad-thin? If being thin is such a necessary condition, why is being too thin a crime?

Food for thought on a how summer's day.


Anonymous said...

Here's how I think it works:

I think poorly about myself. I feel envy. I find something I think is wrong with who I envy, and demonize that trait, so I can feel better about myself, thinking, at least I'm not (fill in the blank).

I don't watch TV these days, but when I go to the grocery store, it's like the part of me that needs to reinforce, to feed, those thoughts that maintain the status quo thinks, "ah, mealtime!"

My local food co-op doesn't have "mainstream" magazines and tabloids. Trader Joe's doesn't have any magazines at all. If I could shop only there, I would be in better mental shape.

Maybe I need some stickers that say simply "wrong" or "fail" that I could stick on the magazine or tabloid covers (of course, I could get arrested or have to actually pay for what I've defaced). But that would make a great digital photo project, especially if the magazines were still on the rack.

Anonymous said...

wrt2: POST-ITS!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course, you'd have to sit there and fill them all out yourself, but they wouldn't actually DAMAGE anything, so you wouldn't have that hanging over your head.

You could cause all the mischief you want! Bwahahahahaha!

maddie said...

I think it's "accused", at least in part, because when celebrities get hyper-slim, there are those in the media and in society who will blame them for all teenage girls everywhere with eating disorders - that's pretty much exactly what happened to Keira Knightley a year or two back. Someone decided that paparazzi shots of Keira in a bikini were the source of all evil, and wrote a whole big article about how she was causing anorexia and obviously had it herself. She sued; quite rightly, in my opinion, because apparently whoever wrote the article never considered the possibility that if Keira WAS suffering from anorexia, the keyword is "suffering", and if she was suffering, she was as much a victim as anyone else. So it is an accusation because it's also about blame, as though if Keira Knightley gained twenty pounds, every teenager in the world would suddenly be cured.

I think you're right about the superiority as well, though. The public like to feel like stars are flawed, and there's about a pound's difference each way between "perfect" and "too skinny".

The message is exactly "be very thin but not too thin". It's "be so thin they don't have to photoshop out any creases, but not so thin they have to tone down your collarbones", and that, of course, is physically impossible. But it's a crime to be "too" thin, because society wants to have someone to blame for the increase in eating disorders and the ill health associated with being too thin, and it's a lot easier to fixate on Keira Knightley than to address the way the whole of our culture views our bodies.

Ari J. Brattkus said...

I think it is because EDs are generally seen as a weakness -- either on the part of the sufferer or on the part of her parents (or both).

So to have an ED is to have a weakness, which in our culture IS a crime.

Naomi Miller said...

Is it something, too, about how thinness is "supposed to" be an indicator of strength of will and moral character?

Getting sick is cheating. In that worldview, anorexia is a transgression.

Mrs. B said...

this is too true. I was driving to work last Thursday and the dj made the comment "you know its too hot when Mary Kate has another spoon of ice cream". I wrote an e-mail letting him know how the remark was inappropriate and this is the response I got and I quote"Good point. It was a lame attempt at humor. I apologize. " needless to say I won't be listening to him on my way to work anymore.

Susan B said...

I think mrs. millur hit the nail on the head. I know a lot of people who think that anorexia is sort of a cheating way to lose weight. Like once you have anorexia, you lose weight without really trying.

Jensy said...

Society as a whole doesn't understand how serious eating disorders are. People understand that its bad, but they don't always understand that its not a choice. So when they accuse someone of anorexia, they think its like accusing someone of stealing or drunk driving - something bad that you choose to do, but you shouldn't have. It's sad, really.

Harriet said...