Anorexia isn't an art

I read many news stories about eating disorders every week--most of them are okay.  I don't feel that they've turned the world upside down with great knowledge, but they also aren't heinous.

Then there are the heinous stories, about which I need to splutter in verbose dismay because I can't think of anything else to do.

Let's start with the title, shall we?

Addictions & Answers: Behind the insideous 'art' of anorexia

Okay, just to clear up any misconceptions here: ANOREXIA ISN'T ART.  It's not pretty.  It's not insightful.  It doesn't bring value to the world.  Watching your hair fall out in chunks, watching your skin turn yellow and gray, watching your kidneys stop working--this has nothing to do with art.

Being so afraid of eating, or the consequences of eating, isn't art.  It's an illness.  We don't call cancer or diabetes or mesothelioma an "art."  We seem to reserve that concept for eating disorders.  Stop making eating disorders into something they're not.  This so-called "art" kills thousands of people, and precious few people take it seriously.  We need a lot less art concepts and a lot more illness concepts.

I love metaphors, and I have used metaphors a lot to try and explain my own experience of having anorexia.  But there's a difference between using a metaphor to describe something ("It was like being trapped in a burning building") and actually using that something as a metaphor ("The burning building is like our society").  Frankly, I find it insulting and demeaning.  Anorexia-as-art smacks of vanity, of something less than serious, that maybe I huffed a few too many turpentine fumes on my way out the door.  Nuh-uh.

Onto the actual article...An excerpt is below:

BILL: Can't these people just look in the mirror and see something is radically wrong?


DR. DAVE: That's like saying to a meth addict, 'Can't you see you're killing yourself, why don't just stop?'


BILL: Dave, not the same. The meth addict is out-of-his-mind high. The alcoholic who dies in a one car crash or even the gambler who suicides in a deep depression rather than face his creditors—these are things our readers can understand. The closest I can come to understanding anorexia was when someone called it "the art of starvation."


DR. DAVE: Exactly: People like Isabelle Caro and Jeremy Gillitzer are addicted to view starvation as a kind of body image art.


BILL: An art they can totally control.


DR. DAVE: When the 87-pound anorexic loved one is genuinely horrified about how a stick-thin arm is "too fat," and pushes away the plate, barely touched, their families are baffled.


BILL: I can see how easy it is for parents to miss anorexic behavior. Aren't they in the midst of their own post-Christmas diet rituals --Jenny Craig "personal counselors," the new Weight Watchers "Points Plus" programs, and the rest? OK, Doc -- how does a parent or lover intervene to end this addiction?

"Body image art?"  So having anorexia is like getting a tattoo?  My only response to that is WTF, buddy?

The drunk, the meth addict, the gambler are all out of their minds, but someone with anorexia--a diagnosable mental illness--is somehow perfectly sane?  It's not just a bad choice.  The chaotic eating patterns in any eating disorder mean that the brain is painfully, thoroughly affected.  Someone with an eating disorder is exactly like a meth addict or someone as drunk as a skunk.  Their brain isn't working properly.  They need to detox before they can start behaving rationally.  Most starving people aren't completely rational--the men in Keys' Minnesota Starvation Study showed that rather well.

The last thing that really irked me is the comparison of anorexia and dieting.  An eating disorder is not an "extreme" diet or a diet gone overboard.  It's not uncommon for an eating disorder to start as a diet, but that doesn't mean that an eating disorder is a diet.  A suicidal person is often depressed and in a bad mood (trust me on this one).  Suicide isn't just a really rotten mood.  It isn't something you deal with by watching a funny movie and hoping it will go away.

One of the best things about the Internet is that everyone has a voice.  One of the most frustrating things about the Internet is that everyone has a voice.  Some people--especially these two--shouldn't have microphones.  It's one thing to peddle your whackjob theories on your own personal blog, but to have an official "stamp of approval" from a news organization is ridiculous.

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19 comments:

Cathy (UK) said...

Thank you so much for this post Carrie... I found myself getting very hot and quite angry when reading the excerpt between Bill and Dave.

Although I don't view myself as anorexic any more, when I was stuck in the illness I was well and truly stuck. I didn't see my body or my behaviours as 'art'. I could see very clearly that I was emaciated, but I still couldn't bring myself to eat more. I still felt that I 'had' to try to exercise in a particular way each day. It was awful, because I knew that I was killing myself - and there was medical evidence to prove that my organs were shutting down.

I can see how people can misconstrue Isabelle Caro's behaviour in the context of flaunting her thinness, but I think it's more likely that she was quite confused as to why she was doing what she was doing, and also quite desperate. The media exploited her.

Even so, I once made a video on YouTube asking why some people seem to find 'thinspiration' images appealing. The video is no longer there (I took down all my videos relating to AN), but I was quite surprised that I received a number of comments from people with AN which stated that aesthetically they found their emaciation pleasing bceause "to be the thinnest anorexic is to be the 'best' anorexic". I don't get that either...

As far as I'm concerned there is no beauty or art in anorexia nervosa.

hm said...

There are some sick fucks who will make "art" out of anything- if anyone was the f'ed up artist w/Caro it was the photographer(s)- and maybe the magazine publishers. Just b/c some sicko takes and publishes a picture of a person on fire and burning to death and makes money off of it doesn't mean the person in the photo was thinking "I am SO artistic" as they burned. How stupid is that. Maybe these 2 men need to check out THEIR idea of "art"- perhaps they indulge in pictures of people self-mutilating, suffering, and dying in the off hours to get their jollies. Idiots.

Katie said...

I have known one person with anorexia who said that they viewed their body a bit like a work of art - but it wasn't JUST that, it was also a slow suicide attempt, self punishment, fear of food/weight gain, a way to control her depression/anxiety. Other than that I don't know many people who were even aware of what they looked like when they were very underweight. I was completely detached from my body and from reality by the time I got near to my lowest weight. The body wasn't mine and what I was doing wasn't real, my brain had just quit working by that point! I would have said exactly what you did in reponse to this - the brain IS affected by malnutrition, and that is a huge factor in the perpetuation of the illness. It is comparable to any other illness/addiction in that way. As someone who was not in the slightest trying to achieve some sort of aesthetic ideal, I found the original article pretty insulting. I'm sure even your average deeply entrenched pro-anorexic would tell those guys that there is much more to eating disorders than that.

Cathy (UK) said...

I agree with your comment above Katie. I think that when people are well and truly 'gone' in AN (due to starvation) they lose insight and the mind becomes disconnected from the body.

Sarah said...

UGH. That is all I can say. My first thought was the same as yours--how would these guys feel if we called lung cancer or brain tumors an art?

Thank you for the work you do here on your blog to dispel rumors like these. I wish so badly that you DIDN'T have your work cut out for you...

Anonymous said...

That article is the most misinformed rubbish I've ever read. To be fair, I remember saying something like 'I'm making myself into a monster because that's what I really am inside' but I said that when I was really ill and even then, I knew there was absolutely nothing attractive about looking yellow and sick. It was for me, getting rid of every flaw in myself with the 'fat', it was killing myself, hurting myself. It wasn't because I gave a **** what I looked like and thought it was beautiful and artistic. I just needed the number to go down so I could feel clean and good and pure and generally better about myself.

For those two men to act like an ED is basically like art, is making me feel sick with rage. Oh yeah, people with AN really starve themselves close to (or sadly, to) death because they think it's art! What idiocy. Nobody's that stupid and if they were, then those men are even more stupid for not realising someone would HAVE to be ill to starve themselves for some misguided sense of art.

By the time I was near emaciated, I didn't really have a clue what I looked like so it didn't matter whether I looked beautiful or monstrous. I just wanted to die.

I was too scared to eat more so I tried to justify it by saying whatever nonsensical thing I could. That's all it boils down to; fear. Anorexia isn't art, it's not romantic and it's not beautiful. It's terrifying but it's less terrifying than living in the real world, sometimes.

I can't believe people come out with **** like that article. I take it they haven't even heard of basic research?

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

This is one of the biggest problems with journalism today — any idiot can get a forum and spout off things without following journalism ethics such as doing your homework. As a former journalist and current freelance writer, it breaks my heart to see what constitutes "news" and "information" today. Some day people will realize when they killed off newspapers and news stations, they opened the door to this kind of crap.

(Ahem - There's my rant for the day!)

No, anorexia is not an art. I looked and felt like the walking dead at my worst. My brain simply didn't function well enough. And I didn't develop anorexia after starting a diet - it snuck into my life after a lot of very stressful events and an unrelated illness. Basically it hit me like a semi-truck.

And I still feel Isabelle Caro was exploited by the media and everyone around her. She was so starved she was not capable of thinking clearly, and they made anorexia more glamorous for her with the ads and the television appearances. It makes me so very angry that not one person didn't try to get her the help she needed so badly, but wasn't capable of doing on her own. I hope Jessica Simpson, Oprah, and the rest feel guilty and ashamed.

And I hope these two idiots realize what harm they have done to eating disorders awareness. Again, it's the sad state of journalism where anything goes and people are too lazy to look into the facts. There is a saying - "It's better to remain silent and be though a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." (Abraham Lincoln - smart guy.)

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

P.S. The quote should say "thought." (I tend to make typos when I am passionate about a subject!)

The only good thing about this article is that they did point out that men are not immune to eating disorders. I will *grudgingly* give them that.

Just one other thing - I had no clue how sick and emaciated I was when I first got sick with AN. I thought everyone was just exaggerating. I now can see it sometimes after almost three years of therapy; it's like my eyes have been open a bit. But not often.

Cassidy said...

Wow, I clicked on a link for this article but when I saw another picture of Isabelle Caro's billboard I just sighed and clicked out of it.

It's disgusting to see that not only would these reporters be so shallow and ignorant but that they would use Caro as a 'cover girl' for their b.s.; I never really understood how those stark images posted mile high would 'prevent' someone from having an eating disorder, but I know that they weren't evidence of anyone's addiction to "body image art".

Anonymous said...

I wasn't anorexic, I was bulimic. I was also bulimic for about 6 months BEFORE I started thinking about being thin/weight loss. I just started doing it to deal with things. Desire to be thin came later. It wasn't the goal, just the yardstick I measured my success by.
It's a horrible time. These people bother me "An art they can control"? Right there shows that he knows nothing about eating disorders. Forget that "art" is offensive here, but the fact that he thinks the ED person can *control* it, betrays his true ignorance.
I am "better" now, but I still remember crying myself to sleep because I couldn't get below triple digits.
Yeah, I was doing it for "art", sure.

Ally said...

I'm doing so well at the moment I'm not even going to read that article. It saddens me that people seem to take such delight in completely misrepresenting the biological nature of AN. But I'm not going to be drawn in - perhaps when I'm further along my recovery I'll come back and read this...

And in response to Cathy(UK): ""to be the thinnest anorexic is to be the 'best' anorexic". I don't get that either..."
I'm guilty of that one - but it's just an extension of feeling useless at everything and wanting so much to find a purpose in life. Again (as you know) it's not about vanity.

hm said...

I think for me it is about not taking up space- w/the people I love, w/my intense emotions, w/my intense thoughts- it kind of seems like making myself less and less helps to forgive me for the space I take up- or, at least, alleviate some of the shame of it. It is indeed a slow suicide- not an art.

cheryl said...

You are so right..Anorexia isn't an art or a lifestyle. It's a deadly disease with horrific consequences. I know this first hand, having anorexia's death grip around my neck. I never wanted to be beautiful ot "artful" I just wanted to disappear. The medical consequences will never be found in an art book or art class..only in a medical journal or death certificate. Your blog was the honest truth and I hope those who find Eating disorders artful will take a second thought.

Charlotte UK said...

Usually I am one of those ranting commenters on articles like this. However, I couldn't bring myself to give these two the satisfaction of knowing that someone had read and understood (but totally disagreed with) what they had said.

Hopping mad doesn't come anywhere close to how I feel.

EvilGenius said...

ack that article is pretty uninformed. don't shoot me though, it did get me thinking - I think the level of inaccuracy of their comments is heavily influenced by the definition of 'art' which is by no means clear cut.
for e.g., I could 'define' art as a means to convey a sentiment, argument or emotion through visual or aesthetic means. as I can take my own body as a canvas, I *personally* wouldn't object to that as a fair parallel to my AN. (obviously trying to 'say' something through emaciation isn't universal but it is common in my experience)
I guess the point of contention is whether art has to be beautiful or indeed 'special', and whether it implies commodification. THAT insinuation is deeply insulting to AN sufferers and as I think it's probably what the writers meant, I agree with your condemnation of them. I'm just having my own little mental runaround with the concept, too ;)

malpaz said...

i didnt get irked by this, but i can see where some people would. i am recovered now from anorexia that last 6 years in the prime of my life. any and everyone will never ever understand mental illness. the best psych in the world could come up with a definition for anorexia, but i wold still hate it and siagree with it.

its one of those things you just have to let be. "it is what it is" because i could never describe how unartly my anorexia was just like a diabetic can never tell your how much insulin their pancreas is going to screte at any time.

a big part of getting over anorexia and on with life was to just stop trying to diagnose others who just wont ever understand. just like i will never ever understand YOUR recovery, you will never understand mine

Anonymous said...

I really do not like the tone of Bill that comes out in this article. I'm not sure what word would describe the tone properly, but the sense I get from reading the article is that this is almost a joke to Bill - to him, it seems that anorexia is something not serious at all, that it is ridiculous the things people do with anorexia and something that apparently those suffering with it can control.

The comment he makes at the end regarding the model seems to make light of the issue.

Dr. Dave tries to interject some information about anorexia...but he certainly could have done a better job. And calling it "body image art"?? That's a first for me, hearing anorexia described that way (and hopefully the last I'll hear it described that way).

With articles like these with supposed 'experts,' it is no wonder a lot of people lack empathy or understanding of anorexia and eating disorders.

I struggle with anorexia; to me, it is no joking matter. To have someone make light of it in a poor article does everyone a disservice who is living with this deadly illness every day. And I most certainly don't think my illness is "body image art."

Cleo Pascal said...

Anorexia is a real threat. It's so sad that there are worse cases of this disorder among women.

Depression is common and it can affect our decision-making skills, confidence, and the way we socialize with people. That's why support from our family and friends are very important in order to surpass this situation.

Clive Graham Smale said...

I feel sorry for all the peole out there with Anorexia. We should all come together and help them, unlike all the other selfish pigs out there who can only just laugh and make fun of them. I for one, want to help. If i may, i advise that if ever you need help with anorexia or bulimia, visit my blog, http://verwoodsolutions.blogspot.com
because i have some stuff that could possibly help you. :)

God Bless! xxx

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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