It seems like body image week here at For Those About To Shop. I didn’t intend it to be, it’s just the topics coming up lately seem to be centred around that issue. We started the week with a wonderful guest post by blogger Cynthia Cheng on the challenges of being petite (shorter than 5’4″). Then yesterday, I presented a counterpoint to a beautiful post by Ashe Mischief on why Christina Hendricks has helped improve her body confidence. While appreciating the positive point of view, a voluptuous figure held up as an ideal actually lowers my body confidence and the comments section shows I”m not alone.
“Women should NOT be made to feel as though we are less than ideal simply because our dimensions don’t match up to the current favorite body type of the moment.” –Chrissy
Portia de Rossi has been all over the celebrity news this past week with her confessional memoir “Unbearable Lightness” which describes the details of her anorexia, an eating disorder which she battled since she was 12. I was a big fan of Arrested Development and it was fairly obvious to me then that she had an eating disorder, but I didn’t think too much of it. When I thought about women who starved themselves to attain thinness part of me felt it was vanity gone wild. Another part felt like it’s nobody else’s business if someone seeks to attain a certain body weight–if they want to be thin, let them. Who are they harming?
De Rossi’s story reminds me of another anorexia memoir I read recently by model Crystal Renn, Hungry. My review of the book is still one of my most widely-read posts and it truly opened my eyes to the madness of this disease. Yes, anorexia is a disease and it is a disease of the mind. It is hard to contemplate, but these girls (and some boys) just don’t see themselves as the rest of us do. They never feel they are skinny enough and that is why they starve themselves until they die. If they are lucky enough to recognize that they will die if they continue on their path, as did Crystal Renn when she decided to re-discover her natural weight and reinvent herself as a plus model, only then is there hope for them.
“It’s really dangerous to think that what you look like is who you are.”–Portia de Rossi
In de Rossi’s case, her brother’s tearful intervention in 1999 was not enough to stop her weight obsession. It took many more years for her to finally come to terms with the sickness herself. I see shocking similarities between Crystal’s and Portia’s ordeals, the details of which overwhelm me with sadness and bewiderment. It brings up many questions for me about the sickness of a society that has its young women believing that the way they appear to others is more important than their own health, happiness, well-being, and sense of self. In situations like these, the desires of the self are completely pushed away and ignored in favour of what the victim perceives as desirable by others.
The L’Oreal employee who criticized de Rossi for being too big for the size 4 suits must take some responsibility as should the stylist who once praised her for being so thin. However, those women are also victims of a society that says what women look like is more important than anything else they have to offer. These eating disorders do not arrive out of nowhere. From what I can see, it would take a very strong person NOT to have an eating disorder in the modelling and mainstream acting industries in the U.S. Both Crystal and Portia said their thinness was encouraged, praised and whenever they gained a little bit of weight (still rendering them very thin by anyone’s standards) they were chastized.
If you grow up with a need to be accepted and loved, it would be easy to fall into the trap of an eating disorder. These women were addicted to exercise as well as food deprivation. I know how awful it feels to work out on an empty stomach. I did it once and I’ll never do it again. I’ve made my trainer wait ten minutes while I ate a power bar or downed a smoothie before our workout so I wouldn’t feel that fatigued during a session again. These women worked out for hours at a time with little more than sugar free gum in their stomachs for years. To me that kind of self-deprivation and punishment must be the product of a sick mind rather than notions of vanity.
After hearing these stories, I believe anorexia is indeed a product of a sick society, one which judges women so harshly on their appearance and which through an inundation of unrealistic media images, convinces them that they need to look a certain way to be beautiful or even accepted. It makes them objectify their own bodies to the point where they are ignoring all its signals in the pursuit of thinness until they eventually starve themselves to death unless they get help. I admire de Rossi for her honesty in bringing forth this memoir and hope her story helps other women suffering from this terrible affliction.
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