The eating season is upon us.
Deck the halls with lots of calories. My favorite blogs, usually so rich
with information about writing or politics or sex, have suddenly started
posting recipes. Fa la lala – feh.
hate that part of this season.
makes me uncomfortable. Oh,
I’ve dined in some of the world’s best restaurants, I can appreciate a
five-star meal, I know the difference between great food and merely tolerable. A well-crafted piece of sushi can
give me just as many orgasms as the next person.
honestly, when it comes to eating, I’d really just rather – not.
this is a combination of things.
You grow up in California and chances are, if you’re a girl, a typical meal is
a steamed artichoke, a cube of tofu, and a six-hour workout afterward. You grow up in California as a
dancer, and you can lose the tofu in the above equation. There’s a highly-sought after
acting coach in L.A. who starts all his classes with the admonition: “Wanna be a professional actor? Then you can’t eat.”
a perfectly healthy eater now, and I guarantee I know more about food combining, amino acids, and
getting the optimal protein out of a meal than anyone here. I’m also just healthy in general,
thank God. But when I was
younger I spiraled through every eating disorder on the books.
I wasn’t alone. When I was at
Berkeley, you couldn’t go into a women’s restroom without smelling vomit.
TMI for some of you? But I
thought we were writers, here.
There’s no such thing as TMI for a writer, right? TMI is pretty much our job
description. And eating disorders
are a serious problem for far too many girls in our culture, and increasingly,
boys as well. If you’ve
written, say, a couple dozen characters in your writing career so far, and you
haven’t written a character who has a problem with food, or weight, you’re
probably not being very realistic.
Think about it.
never write a female character without considering what her relationship is
with food and weight and body image. It may never come to the fore in a
particular story, but it’s as much a part of building a character for me as
family dynamics, birth order, all those things we routinely factor into
mean, please, have you ever met a woman for whom food and weight WASN’T an
issue? Think about THAT.
I’m here to tell you what I know.
I was at Berkeley girls in the dance department taught each other how to puke;
it was part of the curriculum. If
you were overweight, you were warned, and if you didn’t lose the weight, you
were bounced from the program.
Period. That’s the
job. And I doubt all that
vomit was coming just from the dance department. There were a few sororities at Berkeley, too,
marginalized and mocked though they were. And a lot of women, in general.
throwing up is just hard, and after a bout with it I just learned not to eat
much. Dieting starts as a
chore, it grows into an obsession, and then it just starts to feel like life. It feels GOOD.
That's something I don't often hear discussed. We hear about anorexia being a control issue, and a self-esteem issue, but I think it's more of an addiction issue.
never been so anorexic that I’ve threatened my health or lifestyle. But I've been a dancer for a long
time and also have taught dance, and in case you haven’t picked up the National
Enquirer lately, for dancers, and actresses, and maybe every celebrity, anorexia is a pervasive problem. I've had
to pull students aside and have THE TALK with them, and I've been pulled aside
by my teachers, myself, because of my occasional flirtations with
"Ana". The thing people don't talk about is that anorexia FEELS good. You're constantly high as a kite
from endorphins produced by starving yourself and you don't want that feeling
to go away. You feel light and happy and in control. Then it starts to mess
with your mind and you get convinced you're LOOKING as good as you feel, even though your
bones are starting to show.
fact, I think it's useless to try to treat the issue without acknowledging the
pleasure aspect of it. (And
there’s a whole book about the addictive spiritual aspect of anorexia – Holy
Anorexia. It’s a rush of endorphins probably
not unlike heroin.)
a great article on the issue here, Addiction and the Eating Disorders, that also says that
food restriction reduces anxiety – and I myself can attest to that.
anorexia affects more than just dancers and actresses. Girls binge and purge, they
starve themselves, they work out compulsively, or they overeat themselves into
obesity and social oblivion.
alarming rise in the use of steroids by teenage and younger boys has been
linked to a male version of body dysmorphia too.
disorders are often linked to sexual abuse traumas. It’s not necessarily a cause, but often so related that if
you’re building a character, that’s something to look at.
I’m just being perverse, the devil’s advocate, with this compulsion to shine a
light on the darker side of what for so many people is a holiday pleasure, the
what pleasure really is there in being so obese you have to book two airline
seats if you want to travel?
pleasure is there in eating if you’re compelled to throw it all up afterward,
or starve yourself for weeks, or work out to the point of injury?
I’d rather be able to button my pants the day after Thanksgiving, and I don’t
think that’s because of any mental condition. It just FEELS better.
There's a little more to all this eating than comfort and joy, is what I'm saying.
lest you think I’m overlooking the obvious irony – I’m very well aware that
this is what people call a problem of success. Our culture is so abundant that instead of being worried
about starvation and malnutrition, we are burdened with the increasing health
problems caused by obesity and eating disorders.
what about you all – honestly? Do
you ever think about your characters’ relationships to food and weight and
appearance when you’re writing?
Do you yourself take unmitigated pleasure in your food, or do you have
“issues”? Have you never given a
second’s thought to weight or appearance?
is there maybe a flip side to the holiday eating orgy for you as well?