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.