Archive for November, 2010

eating disorder reality TV show gripping, enlightening

Posted in eating disorders, firsthand stories, television | 2 Comments »

“People think you can just stop this, because it’s not an actual drug, like crack. But you can’t survive without food. So how do you get better, when your drug you can’t eliminate totally?” — Andrew, 23, Brooklyn, N.Y.

I wasn’t sure how much value I would find in What’s Eating You, the E! network’s reality show about people with severe eating disorders. I was worried the series — eight one-hour episodes profiling two people per episode — would portray individuals with eating disorders as hopelessly mentally ill, or, perhaps worse, as perfectly fine people who are simply vain and willful.

But the openness of participants like Andrew, a floppy-haired 23-year-old New Yorker with a shy smile, gentle disposition and rampant bulimia, gave the show a heartstrings-tugging sincerity that not only disarmed my preconceptions, but had me emotionally hooked.

I liked that What’s Eating You didn’t focus solely on young, white anorexic women — the stereotypical eating disorder sufferer — but spotlighted binge eaters, men, mothers, people of different races, people in their 30s and 40s. This diversity showed the gamut of life circumstances in which eating disorders can arise, and thus just how widespread and insidious they are.

I also liked that not all of the people featured were sympathetic. I at times found several of them to be frustrating, irrational, dramatic, whiny — likely how anyone who is close to someone with an eating disorder feels about the person on a daily basis.

Some commentators were concerned that What’s Eating You would negatively represent people with eating disorders by showing only extreme cases, exaggerating the illness for the sake of viewers’ entertainment.

The most extreme examples typically have the strongest impact, however, and when you have only an hour, minus commercial time, to give a face and a voice to a disease as complex and befuddling as any, intense, more-dire-than-the-norm examples are not only warranted, but are necessary, in my opinion.

Some other standout stories:

Amanda, a 21-year-old with extreme bulimia whose binge eating was physically uncomfortable to watch. In a session with her therapist, Amanda declares bluntly, “I’d rather die than be fat.”

Claudine, who suffers from an eating disorder known as pica, subsists almost entirely on white chalk, an eating habit that was triggered by severe trauma in her childhood.

Mona, a former chart-topping singer who went from binge eater to bulimic following gastric bypass surgery. Her resolve is inspiring, her story triumphant.

Adrienne, a terrifyingly skinny professional dancer whose laments that she is “fat” are so obviously ludicrous that they become infuriating to listen to. But, as the episode unfolds, viewers can see Adrienne’s mind is so diseased that she honestly doesn’t see her body as thin, let alone deathly so.

Check out the What’s Eating You YouTube page for more clips from the show.

lady gaga: does she have an eating disorder?

Posted in celebrities, eating disorders, popular culture | 1 Comment »

Since her arrival on pop culture’s radar in 2008, Lady Gaga has sold more than 15 million albums, dazzled with her bizarre fashion and over-the-top performances, been praised as an avant-garde entertainer, drawn criticism as being just a Madonna rip-off, and done it all shadowed by suspicions of an eating disorder.

Lady Gaga

The claims aren’t surprising, given the outlandish songstress’s get-ups leave little of her body to the imagination, and what isn’t shrouded in lace, sequins and the occasional cuts of meat is undeniably very thin.

The rumors have never gained much steam, however — perhaps because they’re untrue, but perhaps also because, with her unabashed eccentricity and larger-than-life fame, the individualistic, otherworldly Gaga seems invulnerable to such a human toil. How could Lady Gaga fall victim to something we mere mortals struggle with?

In a new biography of the pop sensation, Poker Face: The Rise and Rise of Lady Gaga by Maureen Callahan, Gaga’s former tour manager, David Ciemny, says the star has an eating disorder and was hospitalized at least six times throughout 2009. Ciemny describes Gaga as “physically and mentally” sick, saying she would binge on unhealthy foods and then starve herself for weeks to fit into her outfits.

A costumer who worked with the singer in 2009 told ABC News in September: “From the first time we met her and measured her and checked her for the final [ensembles], she’d lost 20 pounds. She self-proclaimed that she didn’t eat for weeks to fit into the clothes.”

A compelling facet of the Lady Gaga/body image saga is the singer’s outspokenness about gay rights, and about acceptance, self-empowerment and self-confidence in general. Her mantra of “be who you are and be proud” is inconsistent with her own actions, as she is notoriously secretive about her life pre-Gaga — pre-fame and pre-glam — and music industry insiders have said the singer, born Stefani Germanotta in New York in 1986, created her kooky image after record label bigwigs told her she wasn’t attractive enough to be successful in the biz.

“To me, she’s one of the biggest contradictions, ever,” Poker Face author Maureen Callahan told ABC News.

None of us on the outside of Lady Gaga’s world looking in can say for sure whether she has an eating disorder — what goes on in her head, what motivates her, what she fears. I think Lady Gaga publicly discussing the pressures and struggles she has faced regarding her appearance would give a new depth to the oft-exhausted and thus easily overlooked celebrities-with-eating-disorders story line. But that’s the thing: Discussing it would mean Lady Gaga would be a little more ordinary, a little bit more like the rest of us. Would we like her as much then? Would we be empathetic? Would she wield us so fascinated then, if the same insecurities and obsessions that bedraggle us were to bedraggle her too?

Tell me what you think about Lady Gaga in terms of body image. Would her admitting to struggling with an eating disorder change your opinion of her? In what way?