kitchen table

people’s power: anorexics & the merits of tabloid coverage
October 3, 2006, 11:15 pm
Filed under: America, Feminism, friends, Gender

This whole skinny model, Hollywood’s skeleton chic thing has been all over the blogs, tabloids, and mainstream press lately. Still, I feel inclined to comment.

As I said to Brynn this weekend, if I was 16 and had an eating disorder, I would see the most recent cover of People magazine and buy it not as a resource for getting help, for a mine of inspiration. I know this because at 16 I did exactly that. The more photographs I saw of disgustingly skinny women, the more determined I was to get there myself. “It shows you that someone else is doing it so therefore it’s possible,” Brynn said.

One of the sidebar stories-within-a-story to the cover article featured a then & now of actress Portia de Rossi. I actually didn’t know she suffered from anorexia–must’ve been during college when I disappeared from the land of television–and wow, she was really sick. Included in the text next to her photos are quotes from de Rossi about how she did it and how she recovered.

“See,” I said to Brynn, “I would’ve read the ‘I ate 300 calories–a lot of jello’ part and told myself that from now on 300 calories and jello is my goal.” I would have copied her method to improve my own. Fucked up, I know, but probably not that uncommon among women with eating disorders.

In fact, the National Eating Disorders Association suggests on their website that recovering anorexics or bulimics censor the details of their own stories when talking with a person suffering from an ED:

Don’t provide ‘tips’ or play the numbers game. “I ate only XXX calories a day” or “He took as many as XX laxatives at a time” can turn a well-intentioned story into ‘how-to instructions’ for someone to follow.

All of this makes People‘s attempt at a responsible cover depicting the pressure young women feel to be emaciated–let’s not say “thin” here, it’s beyond that at this point–seem insincere at best. One would think that if People were truly interested in addressing the problem of eating disorders, they’d consider not running photographs of these sick women at all. Wait until they’re healthy. Tell their publicists that until the weight comes back on, only photographs showing them above 105 pounds will be published. I doubt that would jive with People‘s advertisers but if they’re serious about being a semi-serious gossip rag–hey, they write stories about “normal” people too–then they should consider taking on some of the responsibility. That cover doesn’t get them off the hook, it just sinks ’em in deeper.


3 Comments so far
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Have you read Wasted by Marya Hornbacher? I haven’t read it myself but I thought I remembered hearing that it can be triggering as it detailed Hornbacher’s ways of maintaining her eating disorder and the ways she fooled the hospital when she was supposed to be recovering. I’m not absolutely certain, but I did hear that. I know many young and older women are very inspired by her candid and emotional telling of how sick she was and how she overcame it but I wonder how many of them are inspired for different reasons.

That’s not to say that I think the book should be censored or anything like that, your entry just brought that to my mind. Not that I think it should be censored or anything–I’m very impressed with how many women suffering from EDs found help because of it and find the inspiration to stay healthy because of it.

The situation with People is different because, as you said it is insincere and definitely misguided.

I think it would be awesome if People said they’d only show photographs above 105 pounds. I thought it was a great move when the fashion show in [agh, I forget where it was…] refused to allow models with unhealthy BMIs on the catwalk.

Comment by Courtney

You know, I haven’t read Wasted. I think I may have picked it up once or twice but after I came out of the eating disorder, I actually didn’t have much patience for the self-indulgence inherent in any anorexic’s account. It embarassed me.

I did read this book by a mother who had two daughters with EDs and I recall trying to glean tips from that volume as well.

Do you remember the “pro-ana” websites? I believe I first stumbled upon them in 2000 or 2001. They were mostly shut down. Sometimes I wonder if our whole growing up on livejournal/ listservs–complete with self portraiture, accounts of depression, etc–were their own kind of triggers.

Comment by whitney

hey whitney!
I live your blog… a lot.
There is no way to contact you!!
I’d really like it if you sent me an e-mail! i have a question for you katiekish [at] gmail [dot] com

Comment by kian

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