Spectacle-Making

I’m going to continue to talk about the binge eating stuff that Big Fat Deal and Fatgrrlhave been expounding on for the last few days and weeks, since the Fat-O-Sphere has gotten tons of press.

I wrote a post about my own struggles with eating disorders recently, and I want to talk a bit more about the concept of how we see people in the world.

I haven’t had the chance to see the clips of Fatgrrl on the Mike and Juliet show, because I am at work. I am curious to see the binge eating segment; on all of these shows, they troll out the disordered person engaging in disordered behavior. I have mixed feelings on this, but what I want to say is this: If this was relevant and healing for Fatgrrl, then good for her, and more power to her.

I have been a binge eater turned bulimic. I would likely still be a binge eater, except I am on Topamax for something completely unrelated, and it totally controls my appetite, and makes me feel hunger and satiety like a normal person. To tell the truth, I am so thankful for this drug, because I don’t know how I would have overcome the eating bullshit without it. I lost about 15-20 pounds on it, and yes, I am still fat, thank you very much. This is how powerful this drug is for me: It causes me to lose my hair, may cause me kidney stones in the future, might be damaging my liver, and is really expensive. It works for the mood disorder, kind of works for the migraines, but I am mostly so indebted to it because I can eat like a fucking normal human being again. The thought of not being able to take this medication actually sends me into a near Red Alert on my Very Own Personal Terror Alert Scale, because I am frightened I will end up spiraling into binge eating again because my body has no concept of hungry and full thanks to beginning diets in early childhood.

Yep. That’s sad. And I recognize I am buying into the lame-o pharmaceutical company traps that half of America has fallen into, and you know what? I don’t care. Because being able to eat normally has given me back my life.

There are still trigger foods. No drugs will stop the triggers. Cookies are one of them. I currently owe N a box of Nilla Wafers for just this reason. If there are cookies in the house, I simply cannot stop at one. I cannot stop at a row. I will eat the entire container. If I choose to buy cookies, I recognize that I have bought a binge-in-a-container. Even if I have thrown the uneaten ones in the trash, I will actually get them out of the trash and eat them from there. It is a compulsion, people. It’s a form of addiction. I’m not even ashamed of it. It just is. Like the blue sky or the fact that it is apparently going to snow every other goddamned day this winter here in Madison, Wisconsin.

This is what I have to live with. That’s fine. I have to live with an addiction to cookies and cigarettes. I can’t eat cookies, and I can’t smoke. If I do either of these things, it’s a one way ticket to compulsive behavior. And truthfully, even smoking is easier to kick than cookies. That’s a true story.

What I am tired of is people’s eating habits, in general, being made a spectacle of. We all have our things. Mine apparently is a lifelong need to stay away from cookies, lest one cookie set me off into a grand binge of intense caloric proportions. But everyone has something. I also don’t eat vegetables. So I guess I have two things. No, I don’t even eat carrots. Or tomatoes, even though they are a fruit.

We have such an obsession with people’s darknesses in this country. I’ll admit it, I do too. I watch A&E’s Intervention whenever I can catch it, intrigued by people’s behavior, and the lengths to which their addictions extend. I watch talk shows about people’s negative behaviors, about serial killers, about the things that are “wrong with people,” whenever I can. I am fascinated, as is the rest of America.

And why?

Because all of us have a little bit wrong with us, too.

The fat people are shamed because we are what other people are afraid of becoming.

The binge eaters are shamed because the regular eaters are afraid of eating one cookie too many and stepping just over the line into an all-out binge.

The addicts are shamed because the social drinkers and light drug users are just a few drinks, a few smokes, a few lines away from destitution.

The anorexics are shamed because they are the good dieters gone too far.

The bulimics are shamed because they are the good dieters gone out of control.

All of the dark habits, behaviors and people: We make a spectacle of them because they are us, and we are afraid of our own nature. By exposing them, we can differentiate that behavior, draw a nice line in the sand and say: Nope, not me. I am not one of them. I may engage in that behavior, but I stay right over here, safe and safely far away from the pathology that makes what THEY do gross and disgusting and wrong. I am still a healthy, functioning member of society.

But are we? Is it still healthy and functioning to make spectacles of people for the dark behaviors that all of us possess?

I’m really not so sure.

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8 Comments

  1. Morgan said,

    February 8, 2008 at 11:01 am

    I would argue that No, making spectacles of people’s dark behaviors is rarely healthy or helpful. I was mortified by the way the TV segment portrayed binge eating in the set-up piece for the woman that appeared with me. I believe it was Rachel over at The F Word that asked, “If the piece was about bulimia, would they ask the guest to re-enact a purge?” Hell, no.

    Making a spectacle of people just encourages the cycle of guilt to continue. It helps no one.

    Thank you for a very thoughtful post.

    .Morgan.

    FatGrrl.com

  2. February 8, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    I think the hardest thing about getting over Binge Eating is that, unlike booze or drugs or cigarettes, you can’t just avoid food. When I quit drinking, I threw out all my booze, I didn’t go to bars and I didn’t hang out with people who drank.

    I can’t do that with food. I have to eat something.

  3. Phledge said,

    February 8, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    We make a spectacle of them because they are us, and we are afraid of our own nature. By exposing them, we can differentiate that behavior, draw a nice line in the sand and say: Nope, not me. I am not one of them. I may engage in that behavior, but I stay right over here, safe and safely far away from the pathology that makes what THEY do gross and disgusting and wrong. I am still a healthy, functioning member of society.

    This really hits home for me. My husband is an EMT working in a 911 system, and at least once a week would come home and feed me a diatribe about how this patient was SO disgusting and huge, probably like 400 POUNDS, and stinky and didn’t care about themselves and ugh. (I should clarify at this point that he has never outwardly treated any of his patients with anything but respect. He saves his despair for me.) I asked him one day, finally, after learning about fat acceptance (yay!), what he thought differentiated those people from his wife of 260 pounds. He did a double take and said, “No, honey, you’re not fat like them. You haven’t lost control like that.” To which I replied, “But it’s all about degrees, isn’t it? Are you afraid that I might lose control, that I might get bigger and sick and maybe not have the mobility and independence that I do now?” He was very silent on the subject after that point. Occasionally he mentions a large patient, and on those occasions I’m quick to point out his prejudice, but I think he approaches the fat patient with much more insight now.

  4. Meowser said,

    February 8, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Oh, yes, Phledge, the “how dare they” response to a binge-eating disorder, I know it well. Assuming that’s even what they have, of course. Unless he’s seen them binge, he doesn’t even know that. And even if they do, very few people get to be 400 pounds on binge-eating alone. There has to be something else systemic going on also. (I guarantee you most people in OA don’t approach that weight — many of them don’t even approach my weight, which is less than half that — and plenty of them eat just as much as Mr. or Ms. ZOMG 400 Pounds.)

  5. Patsy Nevins said,

    February 8, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    There are plenty of people who weigh 400 pounds who do not eat abnormally & never have. You have no idea about anyone’s eating habits or exercise habits or whatever just by the weight. And most people of that size whom I have known are also not immobilized or ‘stinky’. I know people half my size (I weigh about the same that Meowser does) who eat much more than I do & people twice my size who eat less. I could mention one of my favorite authors, Daniel Pinkwater, who is a pretty normal, healthy, active, well-ajdusted 66-year-old who has been fat all his life & to the best of my knowledge never had an eating disorder & weighs around 400 pounds. One of my best friends in the world is also around 400 pounds & she is a pretty normal human being who perhaps eats less than I on a regular basis. All you know from her weight is that she weighs 400 pounds. And, yes, I have been there, done that, & had to overcome the belief that the very fat were someho different from me, less healthy, out of control in some way, & that I would never “let” that happen to me. I can virtually guarantee that I will never weigh 400 pounds; however, it is not because I will not ‘let’ it happen, it is because it is not in my genetic makeup to be that heavy.

    Not only, I am sure, Meowswer, do many average-sized people in OA eat as much or more than Mr. or MS. ZOMG 400 pounds, they often have a much more disordered relationship with their bodies & food than Mr. or Ms. ZOMG 400 pounds. Years ago, when I was attending Al-Anon meetings, I was pestered by a woman who assumed that, since I was an abuse survivor going to a 12-step program, I MUST have food issues & she constantly badgered me to go to OA with her, which I did not. OA may be fine for some people, but to me it sounds like just another diet. And I was torn between amusement & aggravation that someone would automatically assume that a woman who was 5’6″, 175-180 pounds needed OA & had an abnormal relationship with food. It took me some years & some reading of books such as the ones by Munter & Hirschmann to realize that my relationship with food is perfectly normal, I have just needed to work on developing a healthier body image.

    That is a good point, though, Meowser, the majority of people with eating disorders are closer to thin or average-sized &, as Sandy blogged about recently, we of all people need to remember that being fat has damn all to do with “overeating”.

  6. littlem said,

    February 8, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Why don’t therapists and counselors just listen to their clients prior to just prescribing the norm-de-jour? Never mind, dammit. I know.

    I’m frustrated because I think the “dark sides” are, in a way, built into our society; that there’s almost a natural reaction to the inherent dysfunction of “daily life how it’s supposed to go”.

    I mean, are we being asked to accept that 18 and 20-hour workdays and a trillion dollar war we’re not done paying for are normal, regular and proper? The current rates of domestic violence? Alcoholism? Starving at one’s desk and bingeing later b/c you didn’t get time to eat ALL DAY? Virtually 50% of the population (that can afford it) on antidepressant medication? And those that are not, deemed to be “overreacting” to everything??

    All that stuff on “Intervention” is just what they could get on TV, the outer-edge manifestation of mainstream cocaine and crack use by Fortune 500 executives and their white-shoe lawyers and Big Six accounting firms. It’s just that the SVPs and equity partners in those places still just get up and go to work every day, and then go home and beat their wives (because there’s only one woman partner) after taking out their hostilities on all their visible minority associates.

    I continue to search for a therapist with a clue; I think some form of talk therapy (for those of us verbally inclined) is almost mandatory in the face of the daily atrocities we’re supposed to pretend are normal.

    My acid test though? I ask, “So we all know that the optimal sign of being mentally ‘functional’ is to be optimally integrated into the society’s behavioral status quo, right?” They nod happily. “So what if it’s the society’s behavioral status quo itself that’s f*cked up?”

    I’ve seen them turn pale, stammer, aggressively insist that my entire line of inquiry is prima facie dysfunctional. (Love that.) If the sheeple can’t handle the question, I get up and walk out.

    So sorry long post. It just feels all rolled into one big ball for me, like The Force.

  7. Phledge said,

    February 8, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Patsy–I just want to be sure you understand that in no way do I subscribe to my husband’s current conceptualization of ZOMG400POUNDS. I am doing my best to challenge him without alienating him. So, yeah, I’m very well aware that 400 pounds is a random number with zeroes at the end designed to scare the shit out of people. When I was a sixth-grader the number my mom used was 200. Different number, same concept. I know better now, but I was petrified then–like my husband is now.

  8. wriggles said,

    February 10, 2008 at 7:32 am

    I personally don’t think that compulsive eating is an addiction. It’s more like obessive compulsive disorder. It is also often set off by dieting, in order to fight off your attempts to deprive it of food, your brain keeps the appetite and hunger signals switched on, if people keep trying to diet, in some people it doesn’t adjust itself back and can develop a momentum of it’s own. This is what I think happened to me, except I didn’t realise until after I stopped trying to reduce my weight.

    It’s funny that you mention bulimics because in a sense, a similar thing is happening in response to their purging, the body tends to raise their desire to eat to compensate for lost intake. It’s possible that these defenses are there in part to defend you against any potential for anorexia to occur.


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