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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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29 Responses

  1. Dianne
    Dianne April 3, 2006 at 3:14 pm |

    My goodness. What an idiot. Not much else to say, except to note that recent studies suggest that being overweight, even moderately obese, isn’t as threatening to health as was previously believed. And this is no doubt a tragedy: If the “weight is unhealthy” claim goes under how are men who harrass women about their weight going to feel good about themselves? They’ll have to admit that they’re just being sadistic Arshloch. As is anyone who would encourage anorexia.

    I also have an anecdote on the issue of death from anorexia. I met a young woman once who suffered from stomach cancer that was not discovered until very late, after the disease had spread throughout her body, because everyone assumed that when she lost weight and started vomiting it was due to anorexia/bulemia and never investigated further. Even after an x-ray obtained almost accidently showed a mass in her stomach. She died not of anorexia nervosa (though she did have physicallly based anorexia), but died partly because of the assumption that people make that any problem experienced by a young woman must be psychological. This is related to the assumption the idiot writing this article makes that a psychological problem must not be serious.

  2. Hugo
    Hugo April 3, 2006 at 3:31 pm |

    Great takedown, Jill — well done. And your last paragraph haunts me a bit. I’m realizing how much work I still have to do on reconciling my feminism with my fascination with self-denial (witness my own recent post on masturbation). The connection between sexuality and food is a deep and visceral one, and we need to be consistent in how we see them. I worry that at times, some of my fellow Christians tend to find greater joy in self-denial (or its cousin, secretive, frantic excess) than in healthy enjoyment.

  3. Raging Moderate
    Raging Moderate April 3, 2006 at 4:11 pm |

    While I agree that anorexia is a very serious problem to those who suffer from it “And it’s not an either-or proposition”, I also agree with the idea that obesity is a far greater problem than anorexia (in number). Just walk down the street and count how many people have the appearance or symptoms of anorexia. Then count the obese. I’ve never been to a North American city where the obese didn’t outnumber the (possibly) anorexic by a large margin. The statistics regarding deaths linked to anorexia vs deaths linked to obesity seem to show this also.

    “Anorexia is a behavior, and a way of interacting with food. Obesity is a physical state”

    Yes, but obesity is a physical state brought on by a behavior, and a way of interacting with food.

    I agree with you that the author of this article trivializes anorexia by trying to equate it with someone trying to lose a few pounds to fit into that bikini. But I also think that he/she makes a valid point about over-indulgence.

  4. Julian
    Julian April 3, 2006 at 4:16 pm |

    PS: Boys get anorexia too.

    Though this is not the point of your post…a little pet peeve of mine, as I can personally attest to “500-calorie-a-day diets” being deadly. Sure, I’m not dead yet, but I did manage to put myself into cardiac arrest at the age of 16.

    I’m waiting for a post (or maybe I’ve just missed it?) about the fashion industry beginning to portray uber-skinny male models as well. About “Is that what a real man looks like?” and what kind of social subliminal messages make me starve myself. Or maybe it’s just that I like men, therefore am no better than a woman and am treated culturally as such.

    I don’t really think I have enough live brain cells to make an intelligent comment.

  5. The Happy Feminist
    The Happy Feminist April 3, 2006 at 4:31 pm |

    The other issue too is not just anorexia– although that’s certainly bad enough — but the widespread suffering even non-anorexic women have in relation to their body image and relationship to food. I certainly remember that among my peers in college, there may not have been that many actual anorexics and bulimics, but virtually everyone suffered to one degree or another with regard to food. And I mean suffered as in self-torment and misery. So I think this cult of female self-sacrifice has a much more widespread negative effect than just the numbers of people who have actually been diagnosed with an eating disorder or who are in the most severe danger. Even young women who are physically healthy are suffering.

  6. Shannon W.
    Shannon W. April 3, 2006 at 4:52 pm |

    Yea, and the obsession around weight loss in how food is marketed seems outragous to me. In Starbucks, I have been warned away from a drink, because it wasn’t diet, my parmesan cheese container talks about what phases on the South Beach diet it can be used in, the pasta package has stuff about good carbs, etc,etc, ad naseum. Of course, I was the kid who was like to my 12 year old class mates- you’re not fat, shut up. Ok, not out loud. but come on- that’s way too young to worry about it. Even the people that you look at on the streets and think are fat may be restricting calories too much for their health’s sake.

  7. Sally
    Sally April 3, 2006 at 4:58 pm |

    Even young women who are physically healthy are suffering.

    Well, yeah. But he thinks that’s a good thing. In his ideal world, all women suffer. Anorexics suffer because they have anorexia, which is a seriously miserable way to live. In-between women suffer because they feel inferior to the anorexics. And fat women suffer because they live with the stigma of being seen to be so awful that all the other suffering is justified to prevent other women from being like them. For people who think women should hate themselves, that’s like batting a thousand.

    I didn’t die of anorexia. I did, however, stunt my physical and emotional growth, lose my parents’ trust in ways that I still haven’t fully rectified, nearly bankrupt my family, and do permanent damage to my body. I’m not entirely sure why one has to die before something becomes a problem.

    I have trouble talking rationally about this crap. I really resent having my misery both trivialized and used as a stick with which to beat fat people.

  8. piny
    piny April 3, 2006 at 5:24 pm |

    I have trouble talking rationally about this crap. I really resent having my misery both trivialized and used as a stick with which to beat fat people.

    Yes! “If she can get down to eighty pounds, surely you can drop down to two hundred!”

  9. Carrie
    Carrie April 3, 2006 at 5:30 pm |

    Yes, but obesity is a physical state brought on by a behavior, and a way of interacting with food.

    I don’t know that you can say this. Most fat people don’t eat any more or any worse than non-fat people. And there are some of us that are just fat, not because we eat terribly but that is just how our bodies are.

    Besdies, fat people that exercise regularly are healthier than skinny, sedentary people.

    See: http://www.bigfatfacts.com

  10. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz April 3, 2006 at 6:14 pm |

    I have trouble talking rationally about this crap. I really resent having my misery both trivialized and used as a stick with which to beat fat people.

    *applause* Sally, thank you for putting it so elegantly.

  11. Anthony Citrano
    Anthony Citrano April 3, 2006 at 11:09 pm |

    Jill,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and passionate dissection of my piece.

    We disagree with some of the social forces at work here, clearly – and (while convenient) I don’t think it’s fair to say I don’t know what I’m talking about. I know this subject area pretty well.

    Deaths from anorexia are about the same as those from lightning strikes and pit viper bites. Those are the facts, whether you want them to be or not.

    To the pro-anorexia groups – I view glorification of overeating and overindulgence in alcohol as far more dangerous than pro-anorexia groups, especially when you consider that most participants in a pro-anorexia group are not engaging in dangerous behavior.

    I never said anorexia was not a problem. My point is that it we glorify overconsumption and we demonize symbols of restraint. And don’t trick yourself into thinking that the *average* American does not see anorexic behaviors as behaviors of self-restraint, because they DO. They have zero idea of the nuanced psychology of a true anorexia nervosa sufferer – and thus, that cannot be why they are shocked and offended. They’re shocked and offended because anorexics “don’t eat much” and that’s about as deep as the analysis of the average reader of (even) The New York Times is going to go.

    Anorexia, while a problem for few, is a miniscule social problem relative to our number one health epidemic: obesity. We are eating ourselves to death, literally. Millions of Americans are dying of heart disease, arterial decay, strokes, diabetes, and so on.

    And finally, it’d take you a very, very, very long time to die on a nutritious 500 calories a day.

    P.S. – Airport security? Don’t get me started… ;)

  12. Frumious B.
    Frumious B. April 3, 2006 at 11:13 pm |

    http://www.bigfatfacts.com is *NOT* a good source of medically accurate information about weight. I’m going to cheat and retype some comments I have made about it elsewhere:

    One of my hobbies is keeping up with healthfraud. Everyone should try it. It really hones your critical thinking skills. This website is a good place to start.

    First, it lists a lot facts but many lack cites to studies to back them up. There are some references at the bottom, but no footnotes in the text to tell you if the facts stated actually come from those references or not. Example:

    One oft-cited study has found 95% of people who diet to lose weight put it back on within two to three years.

    and which study would that be?

    Some of the facts cited are misleading. Example:

    Of the ten types of cancer commonly associated with obesity, deaths from nine — pancreatic, ovarian, gall bladder, stomach, prostate, kidney, colo-rectal, cervical-uterine, and breast — have decreased since 1992. Only one — pancreatic cancer — has shown an increase in mortality.

    Death is not the only statistic. They say nothing about morbidity (ie, illness). Mortality may be down (although there is no reference, so the authors may have made this up), but that implies nothing about rates of diagnosis. The reason for the decrease in mortality, if there is, in fact, such a decrease, may be improved screening and treatment.

    There is conflation of issues.

    An estimated 25,000 people die from obesity. Moderately overweight people live longer than those at normal weight. (Flegal, et. al.)

    Moderately overweight != obese. Note the only text reference in the entire page.

    And finally, the conspiracy theory:

    Nearly all the warnings about obesity are based on statistical conjecture made by those with the most to gain from the claims.

    Yeah, those medical researchers at the NIH and the Mayo Clinic really stand a lot to gain. Me, I’m a paid shill for big pharma myself. That’s why I’m responding.

    In summary, while this page is a fine exercise for people looking to hone their bs detection skills, it fails as a source of accurate health information. I recommend this study and its references as an alternative.

  13. piny
    piny April 4, 2006 at 1:47 am |

    Frumious, not that this contradicts your issues, but I believe the unnamed study is the one Amp’s talking about here. And its conclusions are pretty pathetic:

    Let’s closely examine a study cited as proof that weight loss diets work (I examined this study in a previous post): “Behavioural correlates of successful weight reduction over 3y,” from The International Journal of Obesity (2004, volume 28, pages 334-335).

  14. Raging Moderate
    Raging Moderate April 4, 2006 at 3:35 am |

    While many of you have beat up on this author for his insensitivity and incorrect assumptions, nobody here has said whether or not they agree with the main point of the article; that obesity is a far more widespread problem than anorexia, but anorexia is often brought up as a reason against encouraging people to maintain a stable weight. That’s what I thought his point was, anyway.

    “I certainly remember that among my peers in college, there may not have been that many actual anorexics and bulimics, but virtually everyone suffered to one degree or another with regard to food.”

    Why is consuming the same amount of calories that you burn suffering? I’ve worn the same size clothes since I was 20 (I’m now 38). There were many times that my clothes started to become a little snug. Rather than buy a new wardrobe, I exercised a bit more, and I ate a little less. Within a month or two, my clothes fit again. You call this suffering? Unless you have a mental condition such as anorexia or bulimia, I call it self-control.

    That being said, I’m gonna finish off my handful of oreos and go to bed.

  15. Nancy Lebovitz
    Nancy Lebovitz April 4, 2006 at 5:39 am |

    Raging Moderate, people get other people’s lives wrong all the time. You seem to assume that because you’ve had a pretty easy time maintaining a steady weight, other people would, too. Naturally thin people get harassed for having anorexia. Seriously ill people get praised for virtuous dieting. Fat people who eat moderately get savaged for wild binging.

    Maybe we need enough self-control to refrain from jumping to conclusions.

  16. Ledasmom
    Ledasmom April 4, 2006 at 6:53 am |

    The most disturbing bit in that piece, to me, was the use of the word “delicately”: “the girl who delicately refuses. . .” In an essay on anorexia, it seems to imply an attraction to an ideal of womanhood that doesn’t permit gross earthly appetites to intrude upon the feminine body.
    Deep-fried cheesecake sounds pretty good. Steak au poivre with red wine sounds better. Can I come over next Friday?

  17. Blitzgal
    Blitzgal April 4, 2006 at 8:39 am |

    It’s a touchy subject for everyone. I was at my “healthiest” weight when I was obsessively counting calories (consuming no more than 600-800 per day), exercising, and weighing myself at least ten times a day. Even then, I never got below 155 pounds (I’m 5’8″ tall), so there was never an alert by anyone around me that I might have an eating disorder. Now, I still count calories, consume a much more moderate 1500-1800 per day, still exercise daily, and weigh 185 pounds. So now I’m considered obese. I know it’s genetics, as male and female members of my family struggle with their weight. But it’s still frustrating that apparently my only chance at being “healthy” is if I consistently starve myself.

  18. Dianne
    Dianne April 4, 2006 at 8:47 am |

    RM: Two points. First, anorexics don’t maintain their body weights. An anorexic always believes that she/he is overweight. A 100 pound anorexic wants to weigh 80 pounds, an 80 pound wants to weigh 70 pounds, etc. The author of this article is conflating people such as yourself who try to maintain a stable weight with anorexics. This is what people are criticizing the author for. A person who wants to lose 10 pounds in a week is not exercizing self control, they are exercising self abuse.

    Second, be careful with the dieting. Some of the Farmingham study data suggests that “yo-yo dieting” (gaining and loosing weight) is worse for your health than simply slowly gaining weight. I think they mean drastic gains/losses not the mild increases and decreases that you describe, but you should still be a little cautious. The natural pattern over people’s lifetimes is to slowly gain weight and fighting that too vigorously may be dangerous. The behavior you’re describing now sounds healthy, but use common sense. If you find you can’t loose that extra 5 pounds you may gain in your 40s, don’t worry about it too much.

  19. Dianne
    Dianne April 4, 2006 at 8:49 am |

    Another random thought: “Beautiful” in any culture at any time, tends to mean “that which is hard for a poor person to acheive”. Currently thin is beautiful and obese is ugly. So is this criticism that people feel the need to express against anyone who weighs more than a model a politically correct way to express disgust at poor people?

  20. Sally
    Sally April 4, 2006 at 8:56 am |

    While many of you have beat up on this author for his insensitivity and incorrect assumptions, nobody here has said whether or not they agree with the main point of the article; that obesity is a far more widespread problem than anorexia, but anorexia is often brought up as a reason against encouraging people to maintain a stable weight. That’s what I thought his point was, anyway.

    I think it’s irrelevent, because I don’t believe our culture’s weight obsession in any way prevents obesity. I don’t think it encourages healthy habits, either. It makes people across the weight spectrum loathe themselves, and self-loathing is not conducive to healthy eating and exercise. So the entire argument is based on a false premise.

    There were many times that my clothes started to become a little snug. Rather than buy a new wardrobe, I exercised a bit more, and I ate a little less. Within a month or two, my clothes fit again. You call this suffering? Unless you have a mental condition such as anorexia or bulimia, I call it self-control.

    That’s great. Do you want a gold star? A certificate of personal superiority? I’m glad that you have a good relationship with food and aren’t suffering. But it’s clear to me that many, many women, including many who don’t have a diagnosable eating disorder, do suffer because of their totally dysfunctional relationship with food. The fact that you’re not among them does not render their suffering insignificant. And I suspect that you would still be adverse to buying a new wardrobe and would still exercise the same self-restraint even if we weren’t constantly bombarded with messages about the evils of fatness and the need for women to police their every encounter with food. You’d still have your same clothes, and as an extra bonus, healthy little girls wouldn’t be on diets before they left elementary school.

    Of course, if our culture wasn’t obsessed with fat, you wouldn’t get to feel superior to fat people.

  21. Laurie
    Laurie April 4, 2006 at 9:01 am |

    Raging Moderate asks (in regards to):
    “I certainly remember that among my peers in college, there may not have been that many actual anorexics and bulimics, but virtually everyone suffered to one degree or another with regard to food.”

    - Why is consuming the same amount of calories that you burn suffering?

    I don’t think that was what the author was referring to. I believe the author was referring to the fact that a LOT of young (and not so young) women not only obsessively keep track of every calorie that goes in their mouths, but also mentally beat themselves up for totally natural things like being hungry or wanting to have a treat on occasion. Some women refer to having something other than a salad or actually eating dessert as “being bad”. These girls literally cannot give themselves permission to have so much as a cookie or a few extra bites of something without feeling horribly guilty over it, but they are not clinically suffering from anorexia nervosa, either. This is NOT uncommon, especially amongst the younger women or those who have exterior “reasons” to maintain a very slender body (i.e., husbands or boyfriends who like their women “lean”).

    THAT is what is meant by “suffering in regards to food”. Not that they were complaining bout eating well balanced meals of appropriate sizes, but that they cannot stop thinking that eating is a bad thing, that food is the “enemy”, even though they can’t live without it. RM, you seem to have a more or less healthy relationship with food; but there are a LOT of women out there who don’t, in one way or another.

  22. Dianne
    Dianne April 4, 2006 at 10:23 am |

    Some of the facts cited are misleading. Example:

    Of the ten types of cancer commonly associated with obesity, deaths from nine — pancreatic, ovarian, gall bladder, stomach, prostate, kidney, colo-rectal, cervical-uterine, and breast — have decreased since 1992. Only one — pancreatic cancer — has shown an increase in mortality.

    Death is not the only statistic. They say nothing about morbidity (ie, illness). Mortality may be down (although there is no reference, so the authors may have made this up), but that implies nothing about rates of diagnosis. The reason for the decrease in mortality, if there is, in fact, such a decrease, may be improved screening and treatment.

    Try the CDC if you want to confirm or disprove this sort of statistic. There’s a lot of information here if you’re willing to wade through it.

    In general, the cure rate for cancer is going up (slowly, very slowly), so your criticism has some validity. As far as specifics go, it’s mixed. For example, breast cancer mortality has improved over the years while the incidence of breast cancer has increased despite screening. This is usually ascribed more to aging than to obesity: breast cancer rates increase with age and the population is aging even faster than it is gaining weight. On the other hand, the stomach cancer rate has been going down for some time now. Why is entirely a mystery. It’s not better treatment or earlier detection: we stink at treating stomach cancer and there are no reliable screening tests for it. It may be the decrease in canned food in the diet. Or not. Maybe it’s something else.

  23. Nymphalidae
    Nymphalidae April 4, 2006 at 3:51 pm |

    What is it with these weirdos (usually religious weirdos) who are obsessed with making sure that we have as little fun as possible? Sometimes, there is a reason for denial. If I want a nice car, I’m going to have to save money, which entails denying myself new shoes (for example). And yes, being healthy might mean that you can’t have ice cream with every meal. But there is also pointless denial, which is what these people engage in. They deny themselves things because pleasure is sinful. Once again, religion emerges as the root of all craziness.

  24. c.
    c. April 4, 2006 at 3:51 pm |

    I am so angry at the author of that article that I want to scream. Maybe he should starve himself to control all the aspects of his out of control life for a few years and see how it feels. Sure you can live a long time on a “nutritious” diet of 500 calories a day. You might be alive but you won’t be living, and you’ll permenantly damage your body. But at least you can fit into those size 1 jeans. Oh – I’m sorry – I’m just jealous of those girls.

    I didn’t die from my anorexia so it wasn’t really anorexia? Do you know how many times I’ve said that to myself as a way of hurting myself even more? I was just trying to avoid getting fat? Damn straight I was. I was avoiding it to the point of running miles each day and not eating anything but carrots. But maybe I was just being “healthy” because I could run a mile.

    He doesn’t deserve my attention or outrage but I’m too connected to the issue to ignore it. From a purely feminist perspective, why are all the women in his post referred to as “girls”? Why the use of “delicately” and the explanation that he prefers “girls” who refuse food? I may have issues with food but he has issues with women.

  25. Feministe » Nervosa Revisited
    Feministe » Nervosa Revisited April 5, 2006 at 12:09 pm |

    [...] n of “severely disordered” with “living skeleton.” Did you read Jill’s original post? The article she and I were responding to [...]

  26. Creative Destruction » Anorexia Nervosa, Obesity, Moral Panic and Christina Hoff Sommers

    [...] off Sommers
    Friday, Apr 7 2006 

    Uncategorized
    Ampersand
    4:00 am

    Jill and Piny both have good posts at Feministe regarding Anorexia Ne [...]

  27. Alas, a blog  » Blog Archive   » Anorexia Nervosa, Obesity, Moral Panic and Christina Hoff Sommers

    [...] c and Christina Hoff Sommers
    Posted by Ampersand | April 7th, 2006

    Jill and Piny both have good posts at Feministe regarding Anorexia Ne [...]

  28. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth April 7, 2006 at 3:14 pm |

    Xanga’s chief executive, John Hiler, is quoted in the Times article saying it is their corporate policy to delete any “pro anorexia” groups from the system.

    This is a bit off topic, but I couldn’t resist. John Hiler isn’t doing a very good job:

    Starving 2B Thin
    Starving for Perfection

    Click on almost any of these Xanga blogrings and they’re chock full of pro-anorexia diaries.

  29. belledame222
    belledame222 April 8, 2006 at 3:19 pm |

    I could’ve sworn that Xanga was where I found a link to the breatharians not too long ago. huh, oh well.

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