November 24, 2006

"I found myself saying 'these girls don't look all that thin...'"

A Television Without Pity comment on the HBO documentary "Thin," about a treatment center for anorexics:
[O]ne of the most disturbing things was when I found myself saying "these girls don't look all that thin..." and I realized it is because everyone woman on television is so skinny now that I didn't see anything out of the ordinary about the women on the show. (until they undressed anyway) This is such a rampant problem it's boggling.
Absolutely right! I tuned in expecting to see some lurid images of scarily emaciated women, but they all just looked like the usual actresses we see all the time and think of as pretty. What's going on out there? Are all the actresses we're so fond of these days actually -- like the women we see in the documentary -- spending their private moments leaning over the toilet vomiting out their last meal?

37 comments:

Dave said...

Interesting. I happened to see this documentary on HBO and thought much the same thing.

David said...

Keep in mind that television makes then appear heavier than they are!

Pogo said...

1. It's curious that, while women battle obesity like never before, the ideal becomes the cachexic undernourished nearly sexless female. Like some sacrifical expiation for our sins.

2. Marilyn Monroe would be called obese today. By doctors.

3. Since we've established that one can be too thin, can one also be too rich?

4. Black women remain, for the most part, far more buxom (see rap videos), but even Beyonce was pushed to be thinner.

Cedarford said...

I believe a lot of the so-called "anorexia victims" on that show were merely neurotic young women eager to claim some coveted mantle of victimhood and bask in the glow of sympathy of others. They weren't that skinny.

For all the anorexia and bulimia "victim's advocates" in the "burly bear" feminist camp, a competing view is that medical evidence is showing calorie restriction leads to longer lives. Proven in lab studies on other animals, and in stats of people with low calorie diets vs. peer immigrants in lands where they really could pig out.

The Hollywood example actually shows that "starved, painfully thin" former actresses and models like Hepburn, Nancy Reagan, Tandy, Fay Wray who never topped 110 pounds - had pretty good physical health all their lives, vigor, and live a long, long time.

Dave said...

There's a difference between a 110 pound woman and a 84 pound woman.

Calorie restriction doesn't imply starvation; some of these girls claimed to subsist on 200 calories a day. Here's an article about people living on so-called calorie-restricted diets; their eating habits are far more nutritious than what these anorexics subsist on.

Comparing the two isn't very enlightening.

As for Beyonce being "forced" to become thinner: all evidence from her body suggests she has been working out a lot to become thin. She doesn't look emaciated but rather toned. One cannot become toned by starving one's self because the body consumes muscle when it is denied the calories it needs to survive.

Pogo said...

But we should note that there is no evidence at all that thin people live any longer once they pass the age of 50. Undernutrition is then a risk factor for osteoporosis, debility (due to weak muscles), and early death.

Dirty little secret: slightly chubby old people (but not the very obese) live longer than very thin people. One possible reason is that the very thin have no functional fat reserves for times of illness.

From Excess Deaths Associated With Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity

"Our results show increased mortality associated with underweight (BMI <18.5), and with obesity, particularly with higher levels of obesity, relative to the normal weight category.
Weight loss because of underlying illness, or confounding by smoking status did not have a major impact on our estimates of excess deaths.
In our analysis, we did not find overweight (BMI 25 to <30) to be associated with increased mortality in any of the 3 surveys. Our results are similar to those of a previous analysis of NHANES I and II data that found little effect of overweight on life expectancy."

Ron said...

That's why I'm a Scarlett Johannson fan -- she's a bit more zaftig than these glorified pipe cleaners they call actresses these days! (insert Old Man Harumph here)

Pogo said...

Re; "As for Beyonce being "forced" to become thinner"

Pushed, not forced. Before her workout-o-mania body, she was in pretty damn good shape. She'll have to exercise many hours a day to maintain the new standard.

Tain't normal.

Dave said...

Seems to me that Beyonce becoming thinner by working out is not a health concern, whether she was pushed, forced, induced, or manipulated.

Besides, who's to say she isn't one of these people who thrive on the endorphin rush of intense workouts? Seems better than the alternative which, apparently, involves bending over either a toilet and puking, or else over a mirror and snorting.

Bruce Hayden said...

One partial answer to anorexia is mandatory MS and HS athletics. There are just not that many sports that ultra-thin girls can play well. All you have to do is watch some 100 lb 5'8" girl bounce off of a 140 lb one of about the same height playing basketball to see the absurdity of this. (ok, in girls' sports, basketball is one of the most physical that they play).

But it doesn't end there. In mandatory HS athletics, the norm is athletic over thin, with anorexics sticking out as sore thumbs. With the guys going for the more fit over the very skinny, girls have little reason to starve themselves (esp. when they know that they will have a strenuous practice after school).

Of course, you mostly find this in private schools. But that is again one of the problems with public education - money is better spent on more coaches (and they can probably get volunteers for the JV, C, D, etc. teams anyway) than on more administrators to impose discipline. And, yes, it works for boys too - it is just more noticable for girls because they are much less likely, absent a requirement for this, to participate.

Pogo said...

Re: "Besides, who's to say she isn't one of these people who thrive on the endorphin rush of intense workouts?"

Compulsive exercising is a common behavior among anorexic patients to control their weight. But my comment was not that Beyonce is anorexic, rather that an already beautiful and curvaceous black woman in the public eye seemed to respond to pervasive peer pressure and got thinner.

Just an observation; I might be wrong.

P.S. 'mandatory athletics'
Very, very thin girls are great at track and cross country.

Bruce Hayden said...

One of the things that I used at this time of year to combat anorexia is the tie between Karen Carpenter's ubiquitous voice at this time of year and her untimely death through anorexia. Born the same year as I, I think that her voice was one of the best of my generation. And every time I hear it, which is quite often right now, I think about how it was stilled.

So, walking through the grocery store, I ask whose beautiful voice is that singing, and my answer, by now, is Karen Carpenter's, and that I am asking that question because she died from anorexia. You know that when the recipient knows the punch line, that the message is getting through.

Bruce Hayden said...

Pogo,

Thin, yes, anorexic, no. And you are most likely talking about the longer running events, as the shortest, at least at the international level seem dominated by muscle.

In other words, I think that it would be quite hard to maintain an anorexic diet when expending the number of calories required to run the distances required to train for these events.

Let me also add that the girls playing lacrosse seem a bit thinner than those playing soccer (two of the major spring sports here for them), because of all the running and a lack of contact. Fall, the thinnest probably run cross country, and then play volleyball after that. Field Hockey would probably be next, followed by Rugby, last.

k said...

To answer Prof A's question, are they all going home and vomiting? Yes, they are. I have a daughter struggling with bulimia. You would see and just think, Oh, what good shape she is in. She is so young and thin.

Bruce: She doesn't play sports particularly well. In fact, part of her obsessive behavior pattern is excessive exercise. These girls don't benefit from sports or anything that puts them on show. (Full disclosure: I hated PE and am good at NO sports, and am neither obese nor twiggy. I don't see what doing sports has to do with anything.)

These girls simply obsess over having a "perfect" skinny frame. They forgo eating (anorexia nervosa), purge their last meal if they think it was too large (bulimia), and exercise continually to lose any additional calories they fear they have consumed.

I can't watch these documentaries. As Pee Wee Herman said, "I lived it."

Mortimer Brezny said...

Yeah, most of the actresses we see just have personal trainers and don't eat crap. It keeps their skin clear, too. They also have lots of free time to pursue whatever interests they want; it's not like they eat comfort food on the subway on the way to their 9 to 5. It is actually easier for them to be disciplined with their diets and in shape.

Joe Baby said...

1. I don't understand these freakish girls, and I especially don't understand the dopey boyfriends who are obviously intimate with these adolescent corpses.

2. Kinda related point: Lauren Bacall on Martha Stewart this morning. In a question from an audience member about the state of acting in Hollywood she said, "most of the stars today in Hollywood aren't actresses."

Simon said...
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Simon said...

Bruce Hayden said...
"One of the things that I used at this time of year to combat anorexia is the tie between Karen Carpenter's ubiquitous voice at this time of year and her untimely death through anorexia. Born the same year as I, I think that her voice was one of the best of my generation. And every time I hear it, which is quite often right now, I think about how it was stilled."

I suppose we'd have to put Carpenter in the same category as people like Oliver Reed, Robert Downey Jr. and Kevin Gilbert. The artists who could have been the brightest stars of their generation, but who gave us but the briefest glimpses of what they were capable of because of crippling conflicts with personal failings and demons.

Speaking of shining lights that were taken from us prematurely - has no one else noticed that it was fifteen years today that we lost Freddie?

Jennifer said...

Celebrities aren't anorexic and neither are models. They starve themselves for success/attention, not because of textbook anorexia. Cases in point: Nicole Richie, Kate Bosworth, Victoria Beckham, etc...all of whom get significantly more tabloid coverage and media exposure as they shrink.

Madrid Fashion Week banned models under a certain weight to make a statement about beauty and health. Actresses, etc...will continue to shrink if we clamor for it. The more we appreciate real women like Scarlett Johansson, Kate Winslet, etc...the more we will see of women like them.

P.S. Marilyn Monroe would under no circumstances be considered obese today. The woman had a 22 to 23 inch waist for god sakes. Dress sizes have changed over the years so whatever you've heard about her dress size 40 years ago has no bearing on what you're familiar with in terms of modern sizing.

AJ Lynch said...

1- Way too many Amercians are draging gigantic saddlebags around.I have not witnessed the waif problem too often (but have avoided NYC for 29 years) though almost all women no matter how hot they are will bemoan their own weight. So why can't Americans return to an era of apparent moderation like in the 1950's and 1960's when people seemed to be of less extreme weights.

2- Re actors, Ann, they say the camera adds 10-20 lbs and I have met several local TV personalities and that is very true.

3- How about podcasts, Ann, do they add 10-20 lbs too?

Bruce Hayden said...

I agree that many anorexics do over-exercise, but I am still struck by the fact that the girls I have seen in this sort of mandatory athletics regime don't seem to obsess about their weight nearly as much as those who aren't in this sort of environment.

I am not sure if this is accurate overall, or in just the small sampling that I have. But if it be generalized, I suspect that it is partly because of an environment that rewards athletic achievement in the girls, and partly that that is what the guys in schools like that expect.

The dynamic with girls' athletics seems a bit different from the boys. There seems to be a lot more bonding, with each team each season invariably acquiring a shirt, pants, sweatshirt, etc. together identifying their team. there are also periodic theme dress days at school on some game days identifying them. So, everyone pretty much knows who is playing what sport, and how good they are (with the varsity players being worse about all this). So, even for the less adept players, it becomes part of their identities.

One other dynamic is that in team sports, peer pressure tends to be against starvation, due to lower performance. If a girl is starving herself during season to lose weight, her teammates are known to ride her for that if her performance starts lagging, as it often will. (Of course, if she is actually overweight, and losing weight will help her performance, she is encouraged instead - but overweight is even more rare than anorexic).

I think that another dynamic at work is that the girls involved in sports seem to have a much better view of their bodies. And, I think that a girl's negative view of her body is one of the major factors in anorexia.

Bruce Hayden said...

I agree with Pogo about the advantages of a little extra weight after 55 or so. I know one guy in his mid-80s who caught something in the hospital (for something else), and lost about 40 lbs. fighting it. He was skeletal for a couple years after that, but I am convinced that if he hadn't had that extra (which never looked bad - you didn't notice it until he no longer had it), he would have died. As is, he is alive a decade later.

I have seen that in others in my parents' generation - having a life threatening illness, etc., and as a result, losing the reserve that they had built up in their fifties and sixties. But they are alive, when they might not have been otherwise.

Simon said...

Jennifer,
"Appreciate" is probably the wrong word to use in connection with Scarlett Johansson. And in any case, I think it also overstates the case to suggest that Johansson (or Winslet, for that matter, in view of the last five years or so) are ideals to aspire to. Even if I was willing to concede the premise that there should be one, single, aspirational standard, divorced from the real diversity of women, or that it's healthy to merely exchange one unrealistic one-size-fits-all ideal for another, Johansson is hardly Rubenesque.

What is really needed is a root and branch change in the way society approaches beauty (the "young, thin and blond" ideal has never sat well with me), and although you can't just prescribe what people think, the situation could be attacked by dealing with the principle forces of distortion, viz., the media.

Simon said...
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Pogo said...

You’re right. Monroe wasn’t “obese” by any medical measure at all; I was exaggerating for effect. She was just 5′ 5½″ tall and weighed between 118 and 140 pounds. At her peak weight, Marilyn’s BMI was 23.3 (normal range 18.5-24.9).

In Hollywood, high-normal is fat.

But according to the autopsy report by coroner Thomas Noguchi, Marilyn weighed 117 lb. after her suicide. So, when she died she was perfect; her lowest weight ever!

Dave said...

"One other dynamic is that in team sports, peer pressure tends to be against starvation, due to lower performance. "

Clearly you never wrestled in high school.

reader_iam said...

dave: I was thinking the same thing! I remember firsthand the horrendous starge, binge and purge cycles the wrestlers engaged in during the season, the sweating out, the working out, and the literal spitting into towels sometimes to make weight.

(Obviously, I wasn't a wrestler. But I was a wrestling manager in high school, and, improbably enough, even lettered. Part of the duties involved hanging in the sweatroom during making-weight sessions.)

Gymnastics strikes me as another exception.

Dave said...

reader: I wrestled in high school, and, to the eternal ire of my coach refused to engage in those behaviors, and so wrestled in a higher weight class than he would have liked me to.

I said to him: "You have two choices: fuck off, or have me off the team."

Most kids, I presume, would have neither the presence of mind nor the thick skin to deal with that as I dealt with it.

reader_iam said...

They sure didn't back in the '70s, anyway.

You must have been good!

Dave said...

Nah, I wasn't that good. The high school I went to had mandatory sports and kicking me off the team simply wasn't an option for the coach.

This is what's known as leverage: I had some and he had none.

dick said...

I remember reading a quote from Liz Hurley where she said that if she were as fat as Marilyn Monroe she would kill herself. My thoughts on that were that if she could be lauded as a model of beauty over 40 years after her death, then go right ahead, but to my taste Marilyn Monroe looks fantastic in her photos while these skinny ones look like sticks. I much prefer to see women who at least have curves.

Mortimer Brezny said...

The more we appreciate real women like Scarlett Johansson, Kate Winslet, etc...the more we will see of women like them.

You are crazy if you think Scarlett Johanssen is not "thin".

The average woman in this country is a sedentary elephant next to her.

Revenant said...

The average woman in this country is a sedentary elephant next to her

The average woman in this country is overweight.

Johansson is "thin" in the sense of "not fat", but she has a perfectly healthy amount of body fat on her. This is not an abnormally skinny woman!

Anonymous said...

Jennifer wrote: "Celebrities aren't anorexic and neither are models. They starve themselves for success/attention, not because of textbook anorexia."

Sorry, nothing about motivation in the DSM. Anorexia is about abusive caloric restriction etc., body dysmorphia, and physical problems from self starvation. The motivation don't enter into it.

As for judging the weight, check out the jaw. If you can see the jaw bone way up near their ear, they are seriously and perhpas dangerously thin.

Trey

Rowena Hullfire said...

Dr Phil (yes, I admit to being a regular watcher) had a couple of really SICK anorexic chicks on lately. One was 58, ate 1/4 cup of dry cereal per day, walks 20 miles per day in spite of a disabled leg and pain, and she admits she is waiting to die. The other was a teenage girl who hated to eat or drink anything because it made her feel bloated. Both are about 60 lbs and on the brink of death (objectively, medically speaking). They look like barely animated corpses or cancer patients. They may be body dysmorphic but how could they miss how their faces look like terminal cancer patients? Even after TV makeup was applied?

Of course Dr. Phil offered help that he could arrange, if they wanted it. (Standard close.)

I don't have HBO so I can't compare to what was shown there.

(You gotta check out the Heroin Twins on Dr. Phil!)

Jennifer said...

Sorry, nothing about motivation in the DSM. Anorexia is about abusive caloric restriction etc., body dysmorphia, and physical problems from self starvation. The motivation don't enter into it.

Starving yourself because of a delusional perception of your body's size - i.e. body dysmorphia - is what I meant by textbook anorexia.

Starving yourself to make more money doesn't fall into the same category, in my mind. These celebrities aren't delusional. They're coldly calculating.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer Wrote: "These celebrities aren't delusional. They're coldly calculating." Ahhhh, good and intersting point. Perhaps they are both. Delusionally calculating. I think Tori Spelling's pic is by that definition.

Trey