Friday, December 28, 2007

"She was healthy twenty pounds ago"

I find it ironic that I hardly ever watch television, but the few times I've turned it on lately I've always managed to catch something meaningful to FA. Are the concepts really trickling in to popular media/entertainment, or is it good old fashioned Jungian synchronicity?

At any rate, I took a break from my mid-winter deep-cleaning of the house blitz and flipped on the TV at random. I was just in time to catch Grey's Anatomy. It was one of my favorite shows for the first couple of seasons, but I'm thinking it got a little soap-opera lately. Anyway, in the midst of all the "who slept with who" drama, a patient comes in with a broken ankle.

She said she fell off her stair stepper and thought she'd sprained it. When they did x-rays, they found that it wasn't just sprained, it was crushed. Her bones had become so frail and brittle that they had started to crumble. The twist? This wasn't some elderly but health-conscious woman. This was a 23 year old girl on a diet.

Wait, it gets better!

It comes out that she's on her low-calorie diet and extreme exercise routine because she and her boyfriend "agreed" that she'd lose 40 pounds before they moved in together. The doctors' eyes pin the boyfriend to the wall, and he tries to defend himself by trotting out the usual:

"She wanted to lose weight, I was just helping her stay motivated."

The girl agrees, and seems proud, even though she's facing six months with her leg bones bolted together and has to take ibuprofen every day to overcome the pain of brittle bones and wasting muscle because her body isn't getting adequate nutrition. The really interesting part is that the reaction from the other characters makes it clear that this girl will get no praise or accolades for her actions. They clearly think it's stupid, unhealthy, and dangerous. She's thin, but she doesn't look healthy, she looks pale and wasted.

And, of course, the cynic in me raises it's ugly head and wonders if they would portray it the same way if the girl was really fat, instead of just going from a healthy average to nearly underweight?

At any rate, the girl's ulcers from her ibuprofen habit hemorrhage and she starts coughing up blood. Because her low-calorie diet and over-training has caused her body to burn up muscle mass, her heart is not strong enough to survive the surgery and she dies.

The boyfriend is out in front smoking a cigarette when he's confronted by a Doctor Torres in a full snorting fire kind of rage, and the dialogue at that point really stuck in my mind like few things on television do:

Boyfriend: She wanted to lose the weight, I was just helping her. I just wanted her to be healthy!
Dr. Torres: Bullshit! She was healthy twenty pounds ago, you just wanted her to be hot! You wanted your ego stroked by being seen with her and couldn't face moving in unless she could make you look good!

She very nearly swings at his sorry, lying, self-justifying face.

Ok, for those of you who really don't care about television, my apologies for the recap. But I have a point. We've heard a lot about dieting lately in the FA blogosphere (and TV, and ads-nauseum). Maybe this episode was aired specifically because of the post-holiday dieting spike, or maybe it was just coincidence, but I've never seen the dieting issue treated in such an anti-mainstream way. Never once did they mention eating disorders, they just presented dieting as something unhealthy entirely on it's own, even if it wasn't pointedly related to or symptomatic of an ED in this particular case. This should speak to the millions of dieters who don't know that you don't have to be anorexic to damage your health with a diet.

Also, it speaks to the often unstated correlation between the body image/weight loss issue and feminism. After we debunk the noble motivation of health, we are left only with the motivation of being told that we are not attractive as fat people. Rather than call them on this bullshit, many people simply choose to change their bodies to please others, without objecting.

This is evidence of the greatest soft-sell advertising in the history of production. The fact that the diet industry can take people who would be outraged if their partner asked them to change their lifestyle (i.e. be a stay-at-home mom or dad, only wear clothing the person likes, only talk to friends their partner chooses, etc.) simply because it pleases the partner rather than themselves, and convince them that it's appropriate to radically change their body and destroy their health for the same reason, is incredible. It's brilliant, from the sleazy political marketing point of view. Decades of struggle for equality and independence, and yet even people who claim to be feminists (like those at majikthise) can fool themselves into supporting dieting simply for the purpose of fitting an unrealistic ideal of their gender as dictated by popular culture.

It's that insidious kind of bigotry and sexism (both male and female) that represents the last stand of any kind of equal rights. Fighting it is fighting a target that cloaks itself in respectability.

We don't like fat because it's unhealthy, it has nothing to do with appearance. I'm not a fat bigot.

We don't want to live in that neighborhood because it looks dangerous, not because black/hispanic people live there. I'm not racist!

We didn't hire her because we didn't think she'd fit in with other employees. It's for her own good, not because she doesn't share my religion!

We don't want to rent to him because we think he'll be disruptive and upset the other tenants. We're not homophobic!

We don't want to hire her because she will cost us more money for health insurance, not because we don't want to work with a fat person!

and on, and on, and on. Yeah, I know the racism/homophobia/fat hatred comparison is a button issue for people, and I'm not making a judgement call as to which one is or isn't more serious, institutionalized and damaging. That's a whole other debate, and one that tends to divide the FA community. There are those of every race and sexuality on both sides of the issue, so it really comes down to personal experience. I personally see similarities in the treatment, legislation and expression of racism, homophobia, and fat hatred. I also see the differences. I'll save details for another blog.

The point is the fear of what's different, and hiding the fear reaction behind respectability to justify hate. Whatever the target of that hate. It is also the fact that so often the targets of the hate actually accept it as truth and believe they are deserving of it. That is what I fight.


Rachel said...

We don't watch primetime television so I'm glad you posted about this. My 20-year-old sister and many of her friends are avid fans of the show, so seeing a message like this on the show is even more uplifting, given the show's demographic.

Meowser said...

Man, I really haven't watched any prime-time network shows in a while. They're allowed to say "bullshit" on ABC now?

Anyway, drilling the boyfriend a new asshole for making her "stick to a diet" sounds like a pretty good message to me. Good for them.

JoGeek said...

Update: The episode is called "Heart of the Matter" and can still be watched here:

It's the one that aired on 12/27/07, although they don't mention the dieting part of the story line in the summary.

I also found transcripts, and, well, I was a bit off in my quotes! I guess I remembered the "bullshit" part because it was so conveyed in her tone that I forgot she hadn't actually said it! Anyway, here's the real story:

George: Your blood tests show low electrolyte levels, low calcium and low vitamin D. Have you been dieting?

Will: She just lost 40 pounds.

Ruthie: Will told me if I ever got back down to a size 4,we'd move in together.

Bailey (sarcastic): How romantic.

Ruthie: We both just needed motivation. I told him I wouldn't live with a smoker, so he quit smoking.

Bailey: The problem is, even if Dr. Torres is able to repair your fracture, it won't do any good unless you're eating more and working out less. Am I right, Dr. Torres? Dr. Torres...hey, are you all right?

Callie: Uh, uh...Bailey's right.

Will: So what, you're saying that you won't operate unless she puts on a bunch of weight?

Callie: No, but, um...

Will: Then why are we still talking about this? We came here to get her leg fixed. So fix her leg.


Ruthie: How long will the recovery time be?

Bailey: It's hard to say. You'll be in a cast 8 to 12 weeks.

Will: Three months?

Bailey: Right, Dr. Torres?

Callie: Longer if she doesn't eat.

Will: She eats.

Callie: Not enough to keep her bones from snapping, but you don't seem too concerned about that.

Will: What is your problem, lady?

Callie: I don't have problem. I'm not the one who has to live with you.

Will: You know what? have a problem...Ruthie!

(Ruthie is vomiting blood)

Bailey: In here go ahead. In here.

(George enters the OR where Ruthie's surgery has already started)

George: I thought Ruthie wasn't going into surgery till tomorrow.

Bailey: That's before she started vomiting blood. She's got a bleeding duodenal ulcer.

Callie: How did we not see this?

Bailey: She came in with a broken ankle. Her malnutrition and the amount of ibuprofen she's been taking, she's lucky to be alive.

George: Why did she do this to herself?

Bailey: 'Cause people are stupid and just want to be loved. That's the only reason anybody does anything.


(Callie walks up to Will who is outside)

Callie: I thought you quit smoking. Wasn't that the deal? Ruthie loses 40 pounds, you quit smoking?

Will: My girlfriend's in emergency surgery. I think she'll forgive me for smoking.

Callie: No, no, she won't, because she's dead. Ruthie's dead. Dr. Bailey tried to stop the bleeding, but because she was starving herself and over training, her heart couldn't take the strain.

Will: You think this is my fault? She wanted to lose the weight. I just wanted her to be healthy.

Callie: She was healthy 20 pounds ago. You just wanted her to be hot, especially if you we gonna move in with her, right?

Will: No, that...I loved her.

Callie: You didn't love her. You just didn't want to be alone or maybe, maybe she was good for your ego or...or maybe she made you feel better about your miserable life, but you didn't love her because you don't destroy the person that you love!

(George steps between them)

George: Callie!

Will: Get her away from me, man. Get her away from me.

Callie: You gonna hit me? You gonna hit me? Give me any excuse to kick somebody's ass today because I am dying to!

nuckingfutz said...

Living in the UK, we won't get the season of Grey's Anatomy that you're watching for another few months. So I'm secretly letting out a cry of glee for what I'll be looking forward to.

But back to the point. You're right - it's nice to see something like that, something that's not necessarily directly FA-related, but so far off the mainstream that it gives the rest of us a little bit of hope for society.

Just a little, mind you.

Tari said...

Oddly enough, I caught this episode, too (and the Boston Legal episode about fat) - despite not being much of a TV watcher. I think I might be on the same synchronicity cycle as you!

Seriously, I think I gave my TV a "hell, yeah." Even though I don't know that this show is particularly fat friendly otherwise...this was definitely a really nice thing to see.

erin said...

I saw this episode when it first aired (last night's was a repeat due to the writer's strike) and I was all "hell yeah!!" I thought the way that they portrayed the unhealthiness was awesome ... but you're right - I'm not sure it would have been done the same way had the girl not already been at a "healthy" weight.

Anonymous said...

I know how you feel when you say your cynical nature says, would they really care if she was fat vs going from a "average" weight to underweight.

I look at it this way, it at least gets people starting to talk about the concept, that there is too much emphasis placed on weight in this country. Is it perfect? No.

It's something though, it's something that there's a show where they're attacking the jerk boyfriend who told her girlfriend she needs to loose x pounds to be with him. It's also something that they're dealing with the psychology behind eating disorders.

Perhaps in the future people will be willing to see that loosing weight is a bad thing in general. However, shows like this are a good start to getting there.

If you think I'm overly-optimistic, I also happen to be taking Zoloft, the anti-depressant. LoL

Thorn said...

Wow, I'm totally going to have to catch the streaming version of this, because it sounds awesome.

I've really liked Grey's, despite the increasing soapiness, just because they will put women of a bunch of different sizes out there and give them all real(ish, it /is/ a soap, after all) personalities, and nobody is stuck being the "fat girl pining away for her best friend" or any of the usual claptrap.