Anorexia is bad. It ruins your teeth, destroys your heart muscle, makes you forgetful, anxious, tired, paranoid, angry and depressed. It gives you chronically low blood pressure which leads to fainting and hypoglycemia which can lead to seizures. It leads to osteoporosis, fertility problems, hair loss on your head and hair gained on your body. You are cold all the time. Not to mention hungry.
Plus you could die.
And yet… the thing is the vast majority of anorexics live. Some of them recover completely. Some of them make a sort of devil’s pact with their illness that mostly keeps them on an even keel. And then there are a whole host of women who fall in the subclinical category. I call them functional anorexics – those who maintain an unrealistically low body weight, unhealthy by WHO & CDC standards, but still function at a relatively high level.
They don’t end up in the hospital. They don’t do inpatient treatment. They bear and raise children. They hold down jobs and have relationships and go to college. Which isn’t to say they don’t suffer severe physical and emotional consequences. They just don’t die from them.
I believe that a lot of the Hollywood women and models fall into this category. Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss are both reputed to have a BMI of 14 or lower (18.5 is officially underweight according to the WHO). The former is world renown for her restrictive eating habits of which she makes no effort to hide. The latter is world renown for her unapologetic use of cocaine, meth & heroin to keep her weight down to her pre-pubescent trend-setting Waif level. But they have both managed to bear and raise children. They have successful careers and families and homes. And a good measure of their success can be attributed to that which we most denigrate them for: their unhealthy weight.
“Auschwitz chic” is the name given by one industry insider to these kinds of images, eerily reminiscent of the genocide people are too horrified to remember and too terrified to forget. Why idealize this? Is it because the last two generations of Americans haven’t experienced a holocaust on a personal level in their lifetimes and so they glorify this emaciation in the way that teenagers watch horror movies in an effort to use their fantasy violence, which they can control, to mute the real world violence, which they cannot? Do they truly mean to say that it is more beautiful to look like a concentration camp victim than a headless McFatty plastered on CNN?
All of this would be an academic discussion left to the genetic superiors and their handlers to sort out if it weren’t filtering down to the fundamental levels of society. Functional anorexia has gone beyond models and actresses to become a way of life. We see it in a Weight Watchers meeting where the average woman attending is a size 6. We see it not only in high schoolers but in their carpool-driving mothers and concert-attending grandmothers.
And we see it in our friends.
Take a birthday party for a girlfriend a couple of years ago. It was supposed to be fun – just a girl’s night out at a restaurant where we ordered a bunch of desserts and appetizers and talked and/or harassed the waiter until the early hours of the morning. And it was a lot of fun. Until the food got there. Not a single girl among us was overweight and yet we were all “eating healthy” (because nobody says “diet” anymore).
A feast of delicious, fragrant food in front of us and every last one of us with our napkin over our plates. We picked and poked and rearranged and even joked about who was going to end up with all the takeout boxes but we didn’t eat it. Not more than a few bites anyways. Then it came time for cake. Songs were sung, wishes were wished and cake was dished up. We all waited expectantly for the birthday girl to taste hers first. She ate the whole thing with us staring at her.
And then she went to the bathroom. I’d bet a plate of buffalo wings she threw it up.
All of which makes me wonder what the long-term consequences of functional anorexia are. What does it do to one’s body to hold it right at the edge of unhealth? What does it do to your mind to maintain that precarious balance between the physical desire of hunger and the psychological desire for admiration? On one hand, you might actually live longer on calorie restriction. On the other hand, there is the whole quality of life to consider. But on the other hand (I apparently have 3), one’s quality of life does suffer in our society if you don’t conform to the norm of thinness.
Oh the vanity. I can’t help but think that some day we are all going to be sorry for this.