From Kelsey Osgood's How To Disappear Completely. Chapter Six, Blurry Lines:
1. Isabel, my middle school friend who spent most of eighth grade pouting at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. “If I had to describe myself using one adjective, it
would be sultry,” she cooed. She asked me to buy her laxatives one day and the next chastised me for complaining when people made a “big deal” out of my eating habits. After my first hospitalization, she peppered me with questions. How much weight had I lost?
“You know what I thought of when I first heard you had gone there? I thought that maybe if I did that, people would stop expecting so much of me.”
At the time I found this horribly offensive. How could she imply that I would have put myself and my family through so much just to coast for a while? But I also knew that there was some truth to it. I was sick partially because I wanted out of school and field hockey and other activities I didn’t care much for, and terribly guilty for having that manipulative agenda. I wouldn’t have been the first to use anorexia as a way to call in sick from life. Cherry Boone O’Neill, the daughter of folksinger Pat Boone, recalls in her memoir Starving for Attention that she began purging as a teenager to convince her parents she was actually sick so she could avoid attending high school. Malingering, essentially, led her to severe bulimia and anorexia.
When Isabel and I encountered each other years later, both sophomores at the same prestigious university, her clenched teeth and bag of powdery party favors mirrored that thing in me, a desire for an out that made my manifested anorexia not really any different from her wannarexia.
2. Molly, from an article about anorexia and issues of control and blame in Britain’s The Independent on April 1, 2007.
“Francesca and her daughter, Molly, understand better than most. Molly developed anorexia at the age of thirteen, almost deliberately, she says. ‘I wanted to get out of this controlling relationship I had with my mother,’ she says. ‘I almost thought, “I know, I’ll develop anorexia.” Then it spiraled into a serious illness.’”
Operative word: develop.
The following group was about “eating behaviors.” The therapist handed us a worksheet. The first section was titled: “Eating Behaviors I Have.” It listed a number of typical anorexic/bulimic behaviors done to prolong the process of eating, examples being: shaking your feet, cutting food into small pieces, counting to certain numbers before swallowing, and so on. The second section listed tactics to improve these behaviors. The therapists assumed that because it was all in front of us, we would give equal weight to the entire sheet. It took our undivided attention and faith for granted, which you should never do with (a) children or (b) people who are mentally ill.
When we were finished, we shared. Jennifer had checked every box in the first section. At dinner that night, she took her fork and knife, drew her elbows back quite far, and dramatically sliced at the spaghetti. She was told repeatedly to stop, but she only stared blankly at the supervisor. Instead of eating, she made a big show of pushing the clumps of cut-up spaghetti around her plate. It was her first and last day in the eating disorders program.
An early reader once asked me why I disapproved of Jennifer so much: “Her biggest crime, after all, is spaghetti.” As I considered this, I realized that there wasn’t much I could point to to distinguish Jennifer from the rest of us, the “real” ones, save a few extra pounds and a more apparent exhibitionism. I recall throwing nasty comments her way as she performed her noodle massacre, but it wasn’t just me. The whole group had pounced on her and decried her actions, especially after she left. Recently, I emailed Laura to ask if she remembered Jennifer.
“Ah, yes,” she wrote back, “I do remember Jennifer!
Still, how does this make Jennifer any different? Was it the transparency of her desire? The clumsiness of it? The immediate and seemingly prideful openness? And are these things that she could have, with time and practice, learned to eradicate?
“This is Ashley,” he said.
She was wearing flannel pajama pants, sneakers, and a fleece pullover, and had obviously been crying a good deal: her eyes were red and puffy, and snot wetted the bottom of her nose like dew. Her hair was ruler straight and piss blond, and the rest of us did the requisite up-and-down and breathed a sigh of relief. Solid limbs, small paunch. Nothing by which to be intimidated.
The first night Ashley was there, I heard her ask another patient if she thought the staff would let her bring in her thinspiration journals.
“Your what?” the patient asked, clearly unaware of what thinspiration was.
“My thinspiration journals. My notebooks where I paste pictures of models and skinny people so I can be motivated to lose weight.”
“You’re in a hospital. So no. I don’t think they will,”
she said, deadpan.
Ashley embraced her superficial-teenager persona with gusto.
“I like things because they’re popular!” she announced sincerely during a group. “I like guys who are buff!”
When her favorite pop song came on the radio (“1985” by Bowling for Soup), she would blare the volume and dance maniacally around the living room until the nurses told her to turn it down and sit.
“But it’s my soooooong,” she whined.
“Maybe I should take away your stickers before you come home,” Ashley’s mother said meekly.
Ashley stood up, stomped her foot, and began to yell. “That is not fair! Don’t you take away my Barbie stickers! I am Barbie!”
Jodi was . . . special. She was desperately attention seeking, and none of us truly believed she had an eating disorder. Everything she said or did was an exaggerated mimic of something that one of us did. If someone didn’t finish her meal, Jodi would refuse to touch a bite of her next one. If someone was caught exercising, Jodi would undoubtedly be jogging in circles around her room. It got to the point where she had to have one-on-one supervision — meaning that a staff member had to be within arm’s reach of her at all times. She had to sleep on the sofa in the living room so she could be watched. She loved it. She relished telling everyone who visited that she was so sick she wasn’t able to be trusted. She eventually stopped eating enough that the staff gave her a feeding tube, although I honestly think they did it to teach her a lesson.
We couldn’t stand her.
[The therapist] was clever, though. She allowed Jodi to cast her psychodrama and tell her sob story (which changed every time she told it), but then she began calling her out on some of her behaviors.
“Why do you think you spend so much time breaking the rules?”
After we had completed the writing program, the author contacted me and asked me if I wanted to swap manuscripts. I obliged, and when I came to the portion about Jodi, I expressed concern that I was just like that loathed patient: attention seeking, clingy, juvenile. The author responded quickly, “You are nothing like Jodi. At all.”
But how does she know what lurks in my heart?
Big News! I got tickets to The Nutcracker performed by the Moscow Ballet!!!!! I am SSOOO excited. I have to lose weight! I will feel so fat around all those skinny ballerinas but I have about 6 weeks to get ready. If I can’t do it by then, then I just suck and don’t deserve to be called anorexic and I’ll have to delete this site. Which would be a horrific chain of events that I won’t let happen lol :)
9. Michael Krasnow, one of the most famous male anorexics in the world. In his memoir, My Life as a Male Anorexic, which is terrifyingly spare and blunt, he describes how his anorexia developed from a suggestion. Krasnow, who was engaging in seriously obsessive behaviors such as relentless studying, was taken out of school by his psychia- trist. During a session one day, his doctor voiced concern that Krasnow might replace his obsession with studying with a new fixation.
“This possibility had never occurred to me until he mentioned it. Dr. C put the idea of a new obsession into my mind. As a result, when I left school, I found myself think- ing, ‘Okay, Dr. C said I might end up with a new obsession; now, what can I do to replace the studying?’ In other words, I made a conscious effort to find a new obsession.”
“Is that a special drink?” she asked.
Did you just say that out loud? What an attention whore.
12. Brittany, an enthusiastic recruit, aged fifteen, profiled in the book Thin. Brittany writes:
"Then I went on the Internet for a checklist of what symptoms occur when you’re anorexic or bulimic, and I went through them to make sure I had every single one so I could."