Random question. When children deface school textbooks, why do they always have to draw penises? I mean, I get the occasional swastika, (purely for shock value, my school district is low on neo-Nazis, thank God), but for the most part, all dicks.
One of the more interesting aspects of having a blog is seeing the “search engine terms” that lead people here. Today was a new one. “Sucking boobies.” Somehow, Google in all of its wisdom directed this person to my blog and the trials and tribulations of weaning. I mean really, can’t you just picture the giggling nine year-old boys, sitting at the computer? “Dude, type ‘sucking boobies,'” followed by Beavis and Butthead-style guffaws. Ah, kids.
Since the theme here is random today, I recently read Portia de Rossi’s memoir of her anorexia titled, Unbearable Lightness. It was an easy read. I finished it in a day while my sick Toddler V slept either in my arms or in my bed. As a teenager, I was obsessed with eating disorders. This actually continued into my twenties. In junior college, I would go to the eating disorders section of the library, check out a few titles and sit in a study cubicle, devouring every calorie-free word. I worshipped anorexics. Our culture still does. Not the Karen Carpenter ones, but the painfully thin actresses and models that populate our gossip magazines and websites. Angelina Jolie with her ropey blue veins popping out of her arms and hands, for example. In a country of overconsumption and every type of gluttony, self-discipline and self-denial are held up as saintly qualities. This is underscored poignantly in a part of de Rossi’s book where she takes a fourteen hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia and eats nothing. Refuses the nuts, turns down the lunch, rejects the free first class cookies, pretends to sleep through dinner. You know what the flight attendant says to her? “You’re being so good!” Toward the end of the book, de Rossi finally includes some photographs of herself taken during the time she writes about where her weight fluctuated between 130 and 82 pounds. We’re supposed to be horrified by that latter number, but I cannot help detecting a tone of pride and accomplishment in the writer. As I was reading, I thought, “Good for her not including photographs to make this anorexia porn.” But then she does. You just have to wait until the end. This is the ideal of American society: to starve oneself to razor thinness in the midst of plenty. To exercise vigorously while most people can barely get in a twenty-minute walk every day. We admire these people, even as we scoff and say “they’re too thin.”
Somewhere in the world, it’s bikini season right now, and rich people are on beaches. Star Magazine publishes a best and worst bikini body issue several times a year, reminding all of us that there is a very slim margin where celebrities are allowed to exist. You dare not be TOO thin (or, God help you, too OLD) or they will call you out for that. But there is no bigger sin than being too fat. They will print a picture of the offending person’s giant lumpy behind with a circle covering her identity over which is written something like, “You’ll never guess who this porker is!” Public shaming is alive and well in post-Puritan America.
In this climate, de Rossi’s book reads like a success story. She details her 300 calorie-a-day diet and her obsessive exercise regime that had her pulling over her car on her way to work in order to run around the block. Even though she includes all of the unhappiness she felt and the “You’re killing yourself!” tears of her family, she cannot avoid the truth that her career soared while she was starving herself. It made her famous. It got her a book deal. She’s careful to include an Epilogue where her wife Ellen assures her that her book will help people. I don’t agree. As a former diet-obsessed person, if I had gotten my hands on this book at age 19, it would have become my Bible. It beats the hell out of The Golden Cage or The Best Little Girl in the World for pure, instructive how-to-be-anorexic reading. Not to mention the clear rewards: fame, wealth, THINNESS!
I don’t know if de Rossi’s weight was never an issue on the set of Ally McBeal, or if she just didn’t bring that up in her book. Her only mention of it is in the context of her costume fittings. She is passive-aggressively criticised for being a size 8 at the beginning of her tenure on the show, and praised for losing weight. She is careful to mention that the costume director is overweight. Anorexics are always very careful to notice the flaws of others. My point is, in the world of Hollywood, losing tons of weight is probably never going to be a negative for the producers and directors unless the insurance becomes an issue. If magazines write about it, free publicity for the show. When I worked on a television show in the nineties, part of my job was ordering the catered lunch for the table reading every week. This was the meeting where the actors sat around a table with the writers, producers, and director to read aloud the new script for the following week’s show. After the read-through, the writers went back to their offices to change what didn’t work, happily munching on sandwiches and freshly baked cookies, and the actors went back to work on the current show they were filming. The production assistants and I would then take the sandwiches, fresh fruit, and cookies I’d had catered for the event (barely touched by the actors who don’t eat) to the stage where the platters would be devoured by the crew. Every week without fail, one of the actresses would eat her two or three slices of melon with a can of tuna mixed with mustard. She was the one who got to be in People Magazine for “recovering” from her eating disorder. So, Portia de Rossi is just the industry standard for a television series actress.
Not that I think her book will do anyone any harm either. Actresses and “the media” don’t cause eating disorders, no matter what you hear on television or read in, well, the media. An eating disorder is like any other addiction, caused by a genetic predisposition coupled with childhood trauma. It isn’t caused by reading Portia de Rossi’s book any more than alcoholism is caused by the pure irresistible deliciousness of alcohol. I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic of celebrity anorexia.
Just don’t draw dicks in it.