So last night I'm on the Stair Stepper, listening to an audiobook I just downloaded. It's Confessions Of A Reformed Dieter: How I Dropped Eight Dress Sizes and Took My Life Back (perfect for the Stair Stepper, don't you think?). So I am listening and huffing and puffing along, and then she says it. Something that has been in the back of my mind since Tracey Gold was on the cover of People in 1992. Something that other people have thought and said as well, but never so clearly, at least not within my hearing.
Sad story articles about anorexic celebrities are not meant to be warnings, or just tear-jerkers. They are instruction manuals. The pictures they print of the "deathly skinny" celebrity aren't for shock value, they are something to aspire to.
Whether magazines do this on purpose or not is really neither here nor there, as far as I'm concerned. The fact of the matter is that I remember the Tracey Gold story in People really well. When it came out, I was 13 years old, skinny as a rail, and already worried about being fat. I read with fascination about how she guzzled liters of Diet Coke and only ate one meal a day (pasta with chicken, reheated over and over). I looked at the pictures of her frail arms and collarbones and did not think she looked sick, but thought she looked fabulous. Most of all, I read about her behavior not with sympathy, or with disgust, or even with morbid fascination, but with a sense of awe at her determination and will-power. I didn't pity her, or fear for her--I admired her.
In the first 30 minutes of her book, A.J. Rochester details many of the different diets she has tried, including the "All Egg Diet," the "All Apple Diet," Jenny Craig, South Beach, you name it. Telling the story of her initial attempts to diet, as an aspiring dancer and actress in mid-1980s Syndey, Australia, however, she talks about going on "the diet that was working so well for all of the models:" anorexia. She speaks clearly about seeing anorexia not as a disease, but as a diet plan, something to consciously aspire to. And that is exactly how I saw it reading about Tracey Gold in 1992, and how I am ashamed and horrified to admit I still see it today.
I intellectually know that you can't just be anorexic for long enough to drop your extra 20 lbs and then go back to normal. I know that the physical and emotional side effects of anorexia can be horrific at best, and can even be fatal. I know that the human body cannot survive without food, I know that laxatives give you diarrhea, I know that speed can bring on a heart attack. I know that the right way to lose the weight that is bothering me is to eat healthier and exercise. Still, though, my first thought, the one I don't admit even to myself, when reading about Mary-Kate Olsen or Laura Flynn Boyle or whomever, is still one of awe at the accomplishment of being a successful anorexic.
I've attempted anorexia a few times, and been a raging failure. Maybe my self-protection mechanisms are strong enough to keep it from happening. More likely, I'm just not disciplined enough to do it intentionally and it's never become an obsession for me, so I always fall of it as soon as I get hungry enough. Either way, I'm enormously lucky. If I were able to see these stories for the warnings that they should be, I would be thanking God for whatever has protected me from success in this endeavor. But I don't. Instead, in the back of my mind, in that place I don't like to admit to, I just feel another level of regret, of disgust in my lack of willpower. And there are no words for how fucked up that feeling is.
I'm not saying that the media should stop reporting on anorexia, or even necessarily that the way it's been done has been wrong. I'm just wondering how we got to the point where a description of the symptoms of a disease started to be a manual for how to get it. How did our feelings about our bodies get so fucked up that we intentionally work on wasting away? And Jesus, how can we fix it?