Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

What (media) is continuing to eat at me.


I can’t really come up with a picture for this entry.  Right now, any picture circulating kind of pisses me off.  The whole media response to Portia de Rossi’s memoir.  As I stated in my previous “eating me” entry, I’m all for raising awareness of eating disorders and getting the word out there that eating disorders are serious illnesses that are deadly and that they need to be taken seriously.

However, our media really isn’t taking them seriously.  They are taking advantage of a good headline in order to make money.  If PDR had not gotten to a low weight (hell, if she hadn’t been famous), we would not be reading about her.  But her low weight is now plastered all over all the social magazines’ covers and we have the wonderful (*cough*) opportunity to see pictures of her at her lowest weight.  Then, if we choose to read the article, and people with eating disorders flock to these articles as if the magazines had some type of magnetic force, we get to read about how she reached that weight and her binge-purge cycles, complete with what foods she used as “marker foods.”

And then, in the last page or, most likely, the last two paragraphs, we get to read about how she’s recovered and how she knows she will never ever relapse or diet again.

I’m happy she’s recovered.  Thrilled.  And I know that people have found inspiration in her recovery and in her openness.  I admire that. I admire her.

I do not admire the glorification of her illness and the sensationalism that is occurring.  Yes, these articles show that she was sick. Do they really go in depth into the health consequences or social consequences or, god forbid, the fact that 20% of people with anorexia will die?  No.  They tell the reader two very detrimental things:

A) This is how you, too, can reach this weight.  Really.  The articles I’ve read are basically “how to get sicker/thinner” manuals with a bunch of “how to try to hide it from people” tips.

B) This is how much you need to weigh in order to have a family member finally pull you out of the gym and tell you that you are hurting yourself.

WE HAVE ENOUGH OF THESE ARTICLES AND BOOKS AND TELEVISION SHOWS.

Intervention, What’s Eating You, Obsessed, Hoarders, etc are sensationalist journalistic shows.

Where are the I Got Better, or These are the Steps I Took To Kick Anorexia’s Ass shows?  We don’t have them.  We watch television shows that explicitly show disturbing behaviors and then have the participants go to treatment (sometimes).  Then (very rarely) we get to see the “after” shot: how their lives are better.

Great.  That’s what doctors and therapists tell us all the time: “You can get better.”  But we need examples.  We need public figures willing to tell us how they did it, what steps they took, and to admit that it was a hell of a lot of hard work.  Or else we think we go from “before” to “after” with a nice little stay in some kitschy resort-like rehab that most insurances won’t cover.  Forget the intense individual and group therapy.  Forget the tears.  Forget the ambivalence.  Forget the relapses.  Forget the pain.  Just give us the “after” shot.

Except when we don’t see the middle, when we don’t see how it is, when we are actually going through it, we feel so alone and so scared and think something is wrong with us for not getting better already.

Maybe these shows have some educational purpose for people with no experience with mental illnesses.  But who is looking out for the thousands of people watching these shows or reading these articles and learning how to lose more weight?  Who is countering the message that you don’t need treatment until you weigh a certain amount?

Oh.  That’s right.  There are no shows that will give that message.  They wouldn’t make money that way.

Yes.  I’m bitter on this one.  I have gotten too many messages about how people don’t feel “sick enough” because of these shows and articles.  I’ve gotten too many messages that “Well, if she got to that weight and turned out fine, then I don’t need to worry.”  And I’ve gotten too many messages saying, “No one is going to take me seriously if I try to get help where I am right now.”

I can point them to the memorial wall at Something-Fishy that lists people who have died from eating disorders.  I can tell them of the people I’ve known personally who have died–at healthy weights.  But I can’t negate the media’s message, which is that you are only worthy of attention if you are on your death bed.

You are worthy of attention. You should seek help.  Now.  The longer you wait, the closer you are to death.

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November 22, 2010 - Posted by | Eating Disorders, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Comments »

  1. Damn, just damn. AMEN.
    I know two people personally who were on one of those shows, and it was a horrible experience for them. They were falsely edited and NO, they didn’t get better right away. In fact, one of them is STILL really sick.
    I’m so tired of it. I do like how honest Portia was on Oprah, but if you didn’t see her on that show, how would you know the REALITY of how painful eating disorders are (especially since magazines don’t do anything but glorify it, as you said). Ugh.

    Comment by Lily | November 22, 2010 | Reply

  2. I’m also concerned because when I was at my worst (which was not when I was at my lowest weight) I was not thinking clearly at all. I could barely function. People making these shows and producing these articles are preying upon the fact that people in this state of illness can’t think clearly and are more likely to agree to be on a show. They can’t think about the consequences of their decision because they can hardly think at all.

    Comment by surfacingaftersilence | November 22, 2010 | Reply

  3. How timely a post for me, since I just read Portia’s book over the weekend. I did feel that 99% of the book is “this is how sick I was”, and 1% is “this is how I got better.” I meean, I think that her learning to eat intuively got about 1 paragraph. And yes I am also disappointed that she keeps talking about “82 lbs” and “300 calories”, because it just further obscures from view, from help, from recognition, all of us who weigh more and eat more and yet are still suffering. She also states repeatedly that she “got fat” after anorexia, climbing to a height of 168 lbs. She says this over and over – how I feel for every girl reading that who weighs 168 pounds or more.

    Portia does note at the end that just because an anorexic gains weight, it doesn’t mean she’s “better” – that the anorexia gets even louder as it gets challenged. But I expected a bit more from Portia about the pervasiveness and subtlety of eating disorders and of society’s tact endorsement of them. I also chafed at her crediting her recovery to riding horses and having Ellen fall in love with her. I mean, that’s great for her, but where does it leave the rest of us?

    Comment by Renee | November 22, 2010 | Reply

  4. i want to read portia’s book for myself because i want to see what she has to say. however, i do hate how the media uses these situations as an opportunity to sensationalize things.

    Comment by Coco | November 22, 2010 | Reply

    • If you are someone who gets easily triggered, or even moderately triggered, do no read the book. it goes into more detail about her behaviors than the articles mention

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | November 22, 2010 | Reply

  5. great post.

    Comment by Janie | November 22, 2010 | Reply

  6. I AM IN 100% AGREEMENT WITH YOU. AMAZING POST.

    Comment by Lisa | November 22, 2010 | Reply

  7. I second Renee. I haven’t read the whole book, but I’ve read a few large sections. And, to be honest, I think she could have done a lot better job editing her memoir to be less sensational and more honest about the journey. Particularly the important one: getting well. Does it really matter how you got sick? I don’t really think so.

    I also got frustrated watching a few interviews she’s done. She seems, to me, to still hold parts of her eating disorder in her thoughts an identity, and that made me sad. Like her talking about getting “fat.” She kept saying that, and then at one point later (I’m thinking of her interview with Ellen) pointed out that she’s never even been overweight. So why is she continually calling herself fat?? First, it makes me sad because she obviously still thinks she WAS fat, and that that is a bad thing. And second it makes me angry at how entrenched our culture’s ideas of what is attractive or not, what (subjectively) fat is… it pisses me of. PDR should not be calling herself fat if she was not overweight. She should not be calling herself so if she WAS overweight. FAT is a cultural term. Overweight/obese – those are medical ones. It pissed me off. And PDR kept SAYING things like that. And I don’t know if I read too much into it, but I feel like she gloried in how much weight she lost and how sick she was. When someone asks her to tell the more sensational aspects of being sick, she’ll do it. With no disclaimer for “this could have killed me, I was very sick, etc” Only a few times, as an afterthought, she would say “oh, yeah, that was really dangerous.” Now, I like PDR. I think she’s smart and well-spoken and I’m pleased she’s at least talking about this. But… ugh.

    And then it pisses me off, because (like you said, ED’d folk flock to such articles) in several articles (I only read a few, because by then I was pretty angry – there may be better ones?) – but anyway, a few articles that I read didn’t even address anorexia as a disease. They said that a few stars have been ‘accused’ of having anorexia, and how PDR gave up her ‘lifestye’ of starvation and binging and purging. Are you f-ing KIDDING me? There was no: this is anorexia and bulimia nervosa, serious diseases that effect 10% of young people and cause so-many deaths every year. It was seriously like: this is the lifestyle of the rich and famous, see how they suffer! And oogle them! They are thin! Here: pictures! And this was, like, MSNBC. CBSNews. Supposedly respected news-sources.

    *boils*

    Yeah.

    Comment by Sarah | November 23, 2010 | Reply

  8. Well said! I’m not sure who Portia de Rossi is (I’m not familiar with most celebrities, especially Western ones, and I’m assuming that she is a Western celebrity) and do not know anything about her story, however I do agree with your opinion on the media’s representation of eating disorders –it’s horrible. These idiots are glamorizing a terrible, deadly illness. I wish there was some law that would prevent anyone from glamorizing any illness whatsoever in the media, internet or anywhere else. It’s just so awful.

    I, too, have noticed how in the articles or on television shows that speak about people with eating disorders, they will give every detail on the hazardous behaviors the person engaged in to lose weight, however they will rarely (if even at all) speak about the terrible health consequences that are caused by eating disorders.

    I am terminally ill due to anorexia nervosa and have a huge list of health complications that were caused by this awful illness. I speak out online about eating disorders, and a huge topic I often discuss is how eating disorders affect your health. I often use my own story as an example of just how damaging eating disorders are, because I have so many health issues that were caused by it, and most of them are irreversible and degenerative.

    I’m absolutely disgusted how eating disorders are represented in the media, and how much misinformation is given out about them. This is a huge reason why people judge those with eating disorders so negatively and is also a large part of the reason those horrible pro-ana websites flourish. If not for the media coverage of them, they would not be anywhere NEAR as popular as they are now.

    As well, because of the media’s coverage of those stupid pro-ana sites and the mass spread of misinformation given by those sites, and also spread by the media, so many people believe the those who are pro-ana are the same as those who suffer from eating disorders. (I absolutely can’t stand that we are compared to and/or associated with those idiots.)

    Some 95-98% of all pro-anas do not have eating disorders, nor have they EVER had an eating disorder (nor will they ever have one). They are simply emulating a few of the behaviors of eating disorders for attention, by choice. (That is NOT an eating disorder. The closest illness that the pro-anas fit into would be Münchausen’s syndrome, which is a mental illness where the afflicted will feign mental illnesses for attention and/or pity.) There are so many huge differences between those who are pro-ana and those who have genuine eating disorders. (I won’t go into it here, as this is already getting quite long, but I have articles that I’ve written about this topic floating around online, especially on facebook groups to do with eating disorders.)

    I’m really glad you mentioned in here that you can die at a healthy weight, I have known, personally, some people who’ve died at healthy weights, and have read of many more. When it comes to dangerous weight loss methods, it doesn’t matter what you weight or how long you’ve been doing it (I knew a 19 year old, healthy girl who was at the high end of a normal weight and have only been restricting her intake for two weeks after joining a rotten pro-ana website, her heart stopped in her sleep and she died. Her mother found her in the morning when she came to wake her up for school).

    So it truly DOESN’T matter how long you’ve been using unhealthy weight loss methods, what method you are using (none are safe), whether you have a true eating disorder or are just emulating a couple of the behaviors, or what you weigh === you can STILL die and it can come with no warning at all. Everyone is different –just because someone you’ve heard of got to **insert BMI here** doesn’t mean you can do it, too. It’s more likely you’ll die trying, before you ever get close to it.

    My medical team keep telling me how amazing it is that I’m still alive, and how I should have died many years ago, long before I ever reached this weight, that they have no medical explanation as to how I am still here. Granted, I am terminally ill, live on hospice, need 24 hour care and require life support to keep me alive, but it’s still a miracle that I’m actually alive right now. I honestly don’t understand how or why I’m still here, either.

    I’ve also had too many people say to me that if I can get to this BMI, or that I can have anorexia nervosa for as long as I’ve had it (I’ve been diagnosed with it for over 25 years), that means they can too. It kills me when I hear this, because I’ve seen good friends die long before getting anywhere even close to where I’m at. For goodness sake, can’t these people see that everyone is different!? It drives me mad, how blind they are! Not only this, but let’s just say they actually DID manage to make it to this BMI. They would be in constant misery and pain, they would be critically ill, bedridden and in diapers, hooked up to all sorts of machines and tubes, and so many more undesirable things. It’s not a pleasant life. There’s nothing enjoyable about being like this, not to mention, I still don’t think I’m thin enough. The only way to find happiness is to get treatment and recover from this terrible, deadly illness before it takes your life.

    Anyways, this is getting extremely long, I should stop writing here. My apologies for the length of this comment. Thank you for the lovely post, I’m glad to see someone who shares my view on the media’s horrible representation of eating disorders. I wish there was some way to stop it. *sighs* I’m so tired of all the crap in the media about eating disorders. I wish they would just leave the topic alone and stop causing trouble, negative attention and more suffering to those who have eating disorders.

    Best wishes to you.~

    Comment by BonyPink | November 24, 2010 | Reply

  9. I love this post! I have been in recovery from eating disorders for fourteen years, and I get so frustrated that I STILL flock to eating disorder books and articles. Part of me is looking for exactly what those stupid books and articles offer: numbers, weights, photos. It’s like I’m trying to validate that I was a “good enough” anorectic by seeing how MY low weight compares with THEIR low weight. Often, I’m left wanting, feeling shitty for coming up short . . . again.

    But the other part of me wants just what you mentioned: an example, a public figure willing to tell me how she did recovery, what steps she took, and an admission that it was hell of a lot of hard work. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that that is a very difficult book to write. I tried to write my story of recovery and ended up with my story of sickness. Maybe that is the first step toward figuring out what got us to this place. But seeing the recovery part is absolutely necessary for those in process–to give hope and encouragement and POSITIVE tips and tricks and lessons learned. But sometimes it’s hard to conjure up those everyday stories of what you learned and what encouraged you and what set you back. Frankly, sometimes sickness is more dramatic, more memorable, more interesting than everyday life lived without the crutch of an eating disorder. But I guess if we don’t see the banality of life, day by day, we miss the beauty of weaving together a life story that is worth telling . . . and also one that is worth living!

    Comment by Elaina | November 26, 2010 | Reply


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