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Anorexia isn't an art

Posted Jan 08 2011 1:22am
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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