Anorectic (Confessions of a Reformed Dieter)

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confessions of a reformed dieterSo 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?

7 Comments

natalie winter's website is a very coherent, often gruesome depiction of one woman's 30-odd year battle with anorexia. she doesn't shy away from describing in detail the kind of damage she's done to her body, her self-image, and her relationships, which is not usually something you get from the celebrity stories. also, wasted by marya hornbacher is another such account. and appetites by the late, brilliant caroline knapp takes a look at the larger reasons why women loathe themselves as much as they do. i don't know about the larger culture though. i think we have to start with one person at a time, starting with ourselves.

And, yes, w/r/t my request above, this is a really really helpful and good start.

Gosh, yes. I remember reading some warning-cum-celebrity-gossip about someone with an eating disorder, and they were discussing how she has used ipecac to induce vomiting. I had never heard of ipecac until then, and I promptly went out an bought a bottle. In the end, I didn't want it enough - just as I was too squeamish to ever manage to make myself vomit using my finger, I wasn't willing to stomach the taste of ipecac.

I feel absolutely and exactly the same. I am a constant failure at anorexia and I admire the people who have the incredible will power to do it. stories of others in magazines are dangerous ways of learning tricks. I am not advocating anorexia, merely saying that I understand and empathise with that crap feeling of failure! I wouldn't even say i have been anorexic as I haven't lost 15% of my body fat or whatever, but maybe it's the state of mind. I had never heard of laxatives before I read an article about a celebrity using them to diet and I bought them and the celebrity said she had taken 60/70 at a time so that's what I did.

to the previous "anonymous" comment- speaking as a semi-recovered anorexic who tried laxatives in the early days of my disease, I know for a fact that taking 60-70 pills will KILL YOU. The max I would ever take was 6 and that came damn close to liquifying my intestines. I would be sick on the toilet for hours with six pills. Multiply that by 10? you wouldn't be alive today, kiddo

Wow -- Grace, you summed up my feelings on my weight and body image 100% perfectly! I always think to myself that I am a failed anorexic. I too have the same protective mechanisms that stop me from going over the edge, but I obsess over my weight constantly --have my whole life. I don't know where it comes from or how to stop it, and I do look at those celeb stories as a how-to and am amazed by women who can drop 20 lbs in 2 months, even though I know it's sick. I really do want to break the cycle, but nothing I have read has convinced me of why I should be happy with my body (and I am a normal, healthy weight). And that makes me feel guilty because there are people with REAL problems out there....people with no arms or legs or sight...It's pathetic, and a viscious cycle I can't escape! But just reading people's comments who fit into my "not fat/not skinny" category is somehow comforting....

Hrmm that was weird, my comment got eaten. Anyway I wanted to say that it's nice to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the same info elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks.

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