Friday, September 3, 2010

Anorexia jokes and celebrity diets

***Before reading this post, if you are a person who is triggered by discussions about eating disorders, you might not want to continue. I talk about my personal experience with body image, and unhealthy thoughts that I have had about my appearance, and I want to make sure that writing this does not normalize unhealthy thoughts, but instead informs people who do not have these thoughts where they might come from and how it can feel to be really uncomfortable with your body. I have also deliberately left out things like measurement numbers, actual weight, and comments specific to my body or appearance when it was not integral to my point, because I believe that such comments can encourage the type of thinking that leads to unhealthy body image.***

My brother, in search of a good profile picture, sent me this link that he thought I would find interesting... it is called "11 secrets to taking amazing nude photos"... for the record, he would probably like me to note that he insists all of his photos will be clothed, he was just looking for tips on things like flattering lights and camera angles. The site is a joke site, often in good humor... I used to read it regularly and found some of the columns quite funny, but I stopped reading it a while ago because there is often sexist, misogynist, heteronormative and occasionally even racist humor. This one got me thinking about my own relationship with diet and exercise.

For the purpose of this post, I would like to show tip number 3... and at this point I feel I should include a trigger warning for eating disorders.
Don't eat on shoot day. Have you ever gone a day without eating anything? It completely changes the way you feel. When you look in the mirror, you'll just feel like you look great. It doesn't matter if you weigh 95 pounds or 295... if you go without eating for the day, when you look in the mirror, you'll think you look better.

So don't eat on shoot day. (If you're anorexic, on shoot day, skip the can of Diet Coke for breakfast and lettuce leaf for lunch to avoid third worlding out your belly.)

By not eating, you'll (1) look better without a meal sitting in your belly and (2) more importantly, feel like you look better. It comes back to that confidence thing.

I could understand, maybe, if it said don't eat a heavy meal before the shoot... but this is definitely crossing the line. I, for one, do not feel like I look great if I haven't eaten all day... I feel like I'm going to pass out. If I think I look better when I look in the mirror, it is only because the image is probably getting blurry. Without food, I do not feel confident, I feel sick. It upsets me that women might feel more confident when they are starving. Just look at these quotes from models/actresses...

I don't think there is ever an appropriate time for anorexia humor... it just isn't funny. It is a very serious medical condition that kills women (and men, but mostly women). With websites purposefully encouraging anorexia, it needs to be clear that none of this is funny.

My own struggle with my weight has been quite unhealthy. In grade 4, our teacher had us each go up to the front of the class and weighed us in front of the entire class. We had to write down everybody's weight and make a chart out of the data. To this day, I can tell you how much I weighed when I was 10 years old. There were 4 girls in the class who weighed less than me, and I was jealous of them because, even at that age, I knew that weighing less was a good thing, but only for girls. So my best friend and I would talk about dieting and exercising to lose weight. We would spend our allowances on teens magazines and used them as step by step instructions on how to diet, exercise, and aspired to look like the models from the fashion pages.

This was the same year that a girl in the class started telling me that my butt was so big that I wouldn't fit through a door sideways (I was a gymnast, so I was very muscular). I can remember spending long stretches of time standing on the ledge of the bathtub so that I could see my body in the bathroom mirror and thinking that I looked like a freak... and I was 10 years old. I also remember wishing that I had the willpower to become anorexic, because I thought that would help me. At night, I would resolve to stop eating the next day, then I wouldn't make it past lunch. But I would exercise instead to make up for it; it was about body image, but it was also about control. Did I mention that I was 10 years old?

By the time I was 13, my best friend and I would exercise together and discuss food, weight, boys, fashion, makeup... all of the things that this magazine told us to that we were supposed to think about. We even began counting calories and measuring ourselves regularly to make sure puberty was not making us get bigger.

By grade 8 I was a competitive figure skater. I was really healthy and fit and in great shape, but I hated my legs because they were so thick... it didn't matter that I could press more weight than any of the boys in my class using the leg press, or that I could beat them at the 1500 meter race (the longest in my age category). I was a girl, and girls leg muscles were supposed to be long and lean, and mine weren't lean enough, so I would do a lot of ballet-style stretching and exercising to try and lengthen my muscles.

My first pregnancy was terrifying for me as well. Women are actually supposed to gain weight... but I heard so many horror stories about trying to lose that weight that I was scared to gain it. From the day I found out I was pregnant until the day I gave birth, I gained a total of 12lbs... The doctor had me coming in for weekly visits at 5 months because I was losing weight instead of gaining. I started exercising 5 days postpartum (most doctors recommend waiting 4-6 weeks). I would go for long walks (10+ km per day at 2 weeks postpartum) with the stroller and work out in my livingroom 2-3 times a day. And people kept complimenting me on getting my pre-baby body back, so I kept at it. And the less control I had over my life (the more abusive my partner became), the more I would exercise.

I am currently the heaviest I have ever been in my life, with the exception of my second pregnancy... which means only that I no longer have to purchase any specific clothing items from the children's section at most stores. I eat... I always have... that is not my issue. I struggle with exercising. I need to figure out how to find a healthy balance. I tend to begin exercising, go all out for a week or two, get scared, and stop altogether. Maybe the healthiest way to do this would be to pick 2 or 3 days a week and only exercise those days. Or to only choose fun ways to exercise, then it is entertaining and not compulsive. I'm not sure... I haven't thought about it much yet. But I can guarantee you that it does not help when I see jokes about how great I will feel if I don't eat for the day. Or quotes from celebrities normalizing unhealthy dieting behaviors. Or ads depicting which standards of beauty I am supposed to conform to.... this list could go on...


  1. This is a great post, and very honest though I do disagree that anorexia humor can never be funny. Eating disorders themselves? no laughing matter, and the joke in this post is of the incredibly unfunny variety even to me because it's (presumably) not being made between sufferers. I mean, I could just be in denial / even more messed up in the head than I realise. My family, while not the abusive variety so many psychs are obsessed with, IS incredibly dysfunctional. Perhaps our tendencies towards morbid jokes on both sides of the tree are unhealthy defence mechanisms? I've come at anorexia from a very different side of the "stereotype" (morbid attention-seeking goth rather than gymnast/dancer/etc) but it's great to see someone else into feminism and Marxism, I'm behind on the latter because of eating disorder research and pontification lately.

    ...long comment is long D: sorry.

  2. I agree with you. I think a joke being made between sufferers is different than a joke being made by someone who has never had to experience it, as in this link... although even that would depend on the people making the comment and the intention behind it. Around a select few like-minded people I do tend to make joking or sarcastic remarks about many topics (body image and eating disorders included) that would be inappropriate online or with people who didn't understand these issues in the same way.

    And I'm not sure we are so different... in highschool I was goth- spiked black and red hair, black clothes, dark makeup, fishnets, and even the studded dog collar (although I prefer not to think about how tacky I must have looked).

  3. Teenage goths unite! I even wore black lipstick to school, despite the fact that stuff inevitably gets all over your teeth. I got distracted by the gymnast thing, apparently I still haven't quite gotten over my jealousy of those with co-ordination ;)

    Yeah, it's a whole different spectrum with injokes. The ones I've experienced have varied from the kind of cute (the way so many anorexics seem to name their pets after foodstuffs), the middle-of-the-road ("hey, sis! Remember that time you fainted head-first into a trash can!") and much darker ones.

  4. I too wore black lipstick (and blue, and white... the white, in retrospect, only served to make my teeth look yellow, but oh well). As for coordination- on a balance beam or on skates, I am great... on stairs or a bicycle, not so much.

    And I think that jokes can do different things. I like to think that my dark sarcastic humor exposes dominant social relations as ridiculous... or at least I hope it does. Not all humor upholds the status quo, there are even some comedians that I have found used humor in really meaningful ways, especially around heterosexism. Anything that gets people thinking critically is probably a good thing. Humor is tricky though, with these topics, and must be used carefully.