Adult Onset Anorexia (June 8, 2010)

Tori Spelling

While contemplating issues such as the immolation of the Gulf of New Mexico and the anemic American economy, the prolonged churning of my insides often leads to hunger. And when it does, I immediately become distracted with the question of what to eat. In 2010, the decision is more complicated than it might sound.

Time was when I would have cracked open that old blue box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, before I was aware of the evils of processed carbohydrates, and have been done with it. Kraft has moved with the times and developed a whole grain variety of the good stuff, yet there is no discernible protein, or fruit and vegetable boost, so I still experience considerable guilt and anxiety when indulging. When exactly did eating become so complicated?

The topic of food led me down a stream of conscious path that somehow ended with Tori Spelling. To my mind, she represents a visual of the problem as I see it. In the 1990s, when Spelling played the role of Donna Martin on the old Beverly Hills, 90210, she had what I considered, then and now, to be a pretty banging body. Though she may not have possessed the pulchritude of a Shannen Doherty or Jennie Garth, Tori was able to work it on location at the Beverly Hills Beach Club like nobody’s business.

The image on the right, of Spelling, now in her late 30s and a mother of two, represents the actress as she appears today. Does anyone envy her physique now? Sadly, the answer appears to be yes. Because I can compile an endless list of actresses (and a few actors) who looked simply swell a decade or two ago, but who have since virtually disappeared into their collar bones: Courtney Love, Kristen Johnston, Jennifer Aniston. To go a bit younger, and though she swears otherwise, I believe there is world of difference between Keira Knightley’s healthy, youthful glow in Bend it Like Beckham and the bag of bones she became by the time she filmed Atonement.

I am calling the condition “Adult Onset Anorexia,” and the reason I believe we need a new label is to draw some attention to a very real problem. Consider the following conventional wisdom of the medical establishment:

“The average age of [anorexia’s] onset is 17. Older woman can have it as well, although it is usually diagnosed in the teens or twenties.”

I wonder when was the last time, if ever, that a research body took a look at modern women: mothers, career people, gym enthusiasts. Because though I can’t be certain, the examples provided above, and countless others, seem to suggest that the tendency to develop a distorted body image knows no age. It is no longer the paradigm to assume that if you emerge from your teens and early 20s unscathed, you’ll be just fine.

It is not only members of the Hollywood glitterati who are prone to this developing trend. Last week, I published a post-Memorial Day weekend FaceBook status update, regretting the sheer amount of gluttony I had indulged in while away on vacation. This concerned verbal smackdown was the response I received from my sister Jen:

“Please stop acting like you can’t afford to eat real food. Ridiculous. Like when you didn’t eat lunch becuase you were going to order a tall soy frappachino. Gimme a break. You’are a size 2. Stop the madness! People who work out like you do NEED extra calories. There, I’ll step off my soapbox now…”

Brusque? Certainly. More than a hint of truth? Most definitely.

Because as I identify Tori Spelling’s transition from healthy looking teen hottie, I am also aware that I weighed 5 pounds more in high school than I do today, wore a bigger clothing size, but at the time, saw nothing wrong with myself. Oh sure I wished for a flatter stomach, – who doesn’t? But I sure wasn’t going to skip dessert worrying about it. I read the fashion magazines all the time, but never once held myself to the standards of the models I viewed on the pages. When and why did that change? More importantly, why did I let it?

The origin of my neuroses, and that of the other women I reference may lie in the need for control. As any good therapist will tell you, individuals grappling with self-image in this manner are almost, without fail, trying to grab onto something they can manage – a circumstance where the perceived failure or success stems from their own agency, rather than external forces. In a bleary-eyed world full of constant chaos, pulling the strings on your image might be the one action with no surprises. If you overeat and sit on the couch, you’ll gain weight. If you run like crazy and limit your calorie intake, you will lose. However, this generation of women seems to know exactly how far to push it without ending up like Karen Carpenter. It’s like we are getting better at torturing ourselves.

Logically, I abhor this, and yet somewhere deep in the recesses of my culturally brainwashed soul, when I see a tiny, toned woman walking down the street, I am aware that I envy her discipline and size-0 figure. What is it about intelligent women of this generation, ladies that have achieved so much and are so successful, trapped in a hell of their own making?

Jen was right. Stop the madness.

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