Experiencing the majority of my teen years during the ’90s meant a lot of things. First there was Grunge. Not only was it by far the best clothing trend ever – can’t beat dumpster diving for economy and you never had to do laundry, hey, hey! Although I could do without the snap-in-the-crotch Adult Onesies a.k.a. bodysuits – who can argue with the genius of Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder? Okay, you can argue but you’ll end up either shooting yourself or killed in a tragic 1940’s car accident where you sigh, “hold me darlin’ just a little while” right before you expire, virgin kiss still warm on your lips. Nothing says romance like those two men.
Second to music, the phenomenon most responsible for warping my developing mind was the After School Special. Don’t even pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Over the years I’ve discovered that each person has a personal fave that encouraged them to have random nightmares for years afterwards. For me, that one was Little Miss Perfect, a show about a girl who copes with her parents’ expectations and her own perfectionism by becoming bulimic. At least, I’m pretty sure it was this one – there were so many ASS’s (wow – was that intentional?) about eating disorders that I sometimes get them confused.
That Was Then
Anyhow, I first saw it in Middle School Health Class and was left with two lasting images: a) the girl hiding her vomit in glass jars in her closet (for reals? Wouldn’t you run out of room/jars pretty darn quick? Weren’t toilets invented for the very purpose of NOT having to put one’s bodily fluids into jars?) and b) how her esophagus literally exploded and she died at the end. SHE DIED, people, of a an esophagus that was so enraged at its mistreatment that it ripped through her throat like so many aliens and disgorged a stomachfull of ho-hos and twinkies and Big Macs all over the hospital stretcher while two handsome EMTs clucked disapprovingly (at her banana clip, I imagine now). My friends hid their eyes. I was mesmerized. You should have seen us in the cafeteria that next lunch hour.
Never before had I really paid attention to how my friends ate but suddenly we were all hyperaware that there were rules to eating and “signs” we should be watching for and honestly didn’t the show make it seem so disgusting it was almost glamorous in a canning-jar kind of way? Some of my friends went on to take that Special as a do-it-yourself guide to all things eating disordered. Others would just go on to hide their ding-dong wrappers under tissue paper in the waste basket for years and never really realize it was weird until a significant other asked them why they were burying their refuse and if they had a squirrel fetish they wanted to talk about.
This Is Now
So you will understand how I was taken right back to that place by Brian’s comment on my Functional Anorexia post:
I was at a Youth Conference last week with 25 kids 14-18yrs old. We had spaghetti/salad/rolls one night and many of the girls did not even touch it. The woman in charge over the girls grew up on a ranch in a small Colorado town and commented to me that she doesn’t understand why the girls don’t eat. She said when she was their age, when she was hungry, she ate. She then told me the next day that the girls ate every scrap of junk food/snacks we brought up for the nighttime. On the other 4th hand, the guys ate heartily, and did not even touch the nighttime snacks. But then again I hope the girls didn’t pass gas all night long either.
It’s like my scrawny 11-yr old daughter. She picks at her dinner and eats maybe 3 “mandatory” bites. And then raids the pantry all-night for chocolate chips, and potato chips, and cereal. And then complains that she’s fat.
I see it in my current and former female students. This strange dance of abstaining righteously from food when it is served and then later binging in private when it is hoarded. As every grown woman (hopefully) knows, this sets up a terrible dynamic, both in regards to your mental state and your blood sugar. You starve in a fit of self-hate or self-righteousness and then pig out later on even worse foods because you are so hungry. It’s a terrible cycle.
How many times have I watched the teenage girls in the cafeteria pick half-heartedly at salads and then down a family-size bag of Starbursts at the late night study group? How many times have we as adults, ate perfectly pea-sized portions at a cocktail party (one nibble of eclair, two bites of broccoli and a lick of cheese quiche) and then gone home to eat an entire half gallon of freezer burned ice cream because we felt deprived?