A few weeks ago someone found a good friend of mine passed out on their dorm room floor. We’ll call her Jamie. Apparently she’d overdosed on painkillers. Life had become a little too much for Jamie. Thankfully she survived, and now she’s in the psyche ward of some rural state hospital.
Anorexia and depression were the culprits. She’s a size 0, but that wasn’t good enough. She counted every last calorie she consumed, from half a rice cake, to a stick of Trident. She had all the excuses in the book, like “I had a big lunch,” and “I’m going out with friends later.” Everyone guessed she was anorexic, but nobody really did anything. She was seeing a counselor, and that was supposed to make everything okay. I wonder how the counselor feels now?
So Jamie spends her days under restriction in a far-flung wing of a hospital. When it’s time to eat she stubbornly refuses, picking at her food with disdain, mentally adding the fat content and calories until it makes her sick. If she doesn’t eat, they cram a tube down her throat and force feed her a can of Ensure. She figures the 200 calories in the Ensure is less than the meatless chicken nuggets she’d have to eat, so she wins this way. “And I don’t have to chew,” she points out. She’s also a Vegan, an extreme habit she hasn’t had before. A few years ago she became a vegetarian, but we all thought it was okay. She’d still eat dinner. She’d still come home from school and have a bowl of cereal. She ate strangely, but she ate. Maybe it was just practice.
On top of all the eating troubles, Jamie’s still suicidal. She says she swallowed the bottle of pain killers and any other drugs she could find because she was so sick of dealing with it. She knew what anorexia was doing to her body, how eventually her body would consume itself, how her skin and hair would become unhealthy. She knew all the facts, but it didn’t matter. She still wouldn’t eat. Somehow she decided killing herself could be a way out.
She still sees it that way. She refuses to eat, and if it kills her, so be it. She basically has no hope. Which makes my role pretty difficult in all of this. There’s no sense in reasoning with her. She’s so emaciated logic doesn’t mean anything. So I can’t convince her to eat. And how do you tell someone who sees no value in life that life is actually worth living? I guess I try with the small things. A phone call, a letter, a visit. Maybe these simple acts will show her that someone loves her. That’s really all I can hope for.
Now as I walk through the mall, stop at the bookstore, and ride the bus, I think about Jamie. Who told her she was fat? I see the magazine covers that adorned the floor of her room. I scan those covers in the line at the grocery store, the tag lines about looking sexy, losing weight, being thin, and snagging your man. It’s all one mental image. Thin=beauty. I see thin girls walking by and I wonder if they have an eating disorder. I wonder if they hate food, if they count the calorie of every morsel they chew. I wonder if they think they’re sexy because they can buy their clothes at Gap Kids.
I’ve always thought that the movers and shakers in society were to blame for this. It was a vast conspiracy between the magazine publishers, the makers of beauty products, and anyone else who could get in on the scam that if they make women think they’re fat and thin is beautiful, they’ll do anything to be thin and money can be made. That always seemed to be the case, but I really hoped it wasn’t true. I really hoped their was a better explanation. Yesterday I was reading an article that described how pop singer Jessica Simpson’s record label forced her to get an image makeover before the release of her latest album. Although Jessica has never worn clothes larger than a size 6, the image makeover required her to lose 15 pounds. Lose 15 pounds to sell a CD. You’re already skinny, but it’s not enough. The average size in America is a 12, but half of that isn’t thin enough, isn’t beautiful enough.
And I wonder who told Jamie she was fat.
Jamie, you’re not fat. You’re beautiful. And you’re beautiful at 90 pounds, you’re beautiful at 100 pounds, you’re beautiful at 120 pounds, you’re beautiful at 180 pounds. You’d even be beautiful at 250 pounds. Your weight does not determine your beauty–unless of course you weigh 80 pounds and you’re dead. Death is not beautiful.