It’s good to find out I’m not the only woman who can go on a diet well below 1,000 calories a day and fail to lose a pound.
Yes, on a purely selfish note, that’s what I got out of the documentary “Super Skinny Me“, which aired on BBCAmerica (not for the first time, and probably not for the last). The rest of the documentary didn’t surprise me because I already knew all of this, but it should be required watching for – well, every human being who’s never had serious difficulty getting enough food to eat.
Two female journalists embark on a journey to get to size zero in five weeks. That’s what, say, an actress with an event coming up would do. Between the two of them, they follow various actress’ secret diets, such as:
- The Lemonade diet. You mix lemons with maple syrup, cayenne pepper and spring water, and that’s all you eat. It’s about 250 calories a day. Unable to function at her job on this amount of food, Kate adds ten nuts and ten raisins to her daily diet, bringing her calorie total to 500. She can sort of concentrate on her work now. Does not lose any weight that week. (The lemonade only diet is recommended for 10 to 40 days.)
- The watercress soup diet. Ugh – it’s olive oil, watercress and a couple of other nothing ingredients. Louise actually gets ill on this diet.
- The protein shake diet. Louise gets three protein shakes a day, plus some meat – 800 calories a day. Working out two hours every day, she begins to lose weight.
- One trainer who works with some high profile models says that models live on a diet of “diet Pepsi and fags.” So Patsy Stone isn’t as much of an exaggeration as I’d prefer to think – jeez, at least Patsy gets some sugar from some of her alcohol.
Louise actually gets down to a very tight size double zero. Kate gets pulled out of the experiment by a psychiatrist before it’s over.
Read that again. She gets pulled out by a psychiatrist.
Being malnourished makes you dull-witted, listless, boring, weak and depressed. Or in Kate’s case, somewhat manic. Kate begins to kind of like the starving – she finds it “weirdly energizing” and notes that it saves a lot of bother not having to think about food. On the other hand, she’s going mad and she knows it. Every time she gets on the scales and hasn’t lost any weight, she just deflates. All she can think about is getting thinner. By the way, she’s never dieted before. Thought she was “a tad porky” but had never felt bothered about it before doing this diet for research purposes.
Louise finds it a chore to blow dry her hair – her muscles are that fatigued. Kate has fainting spells. Both women’s social lives go to hell because they can’t think and have nothing to talk about but the diet efforts. They’re always cold. Kate feels guilty for eating what little she does eat. The more weight Kate loses, the fatter she feels. Again: she didn’t feel fat before she started dieting.
Kate interviews a 15-year-old girl at a clinic for people with eating disorders. The young girl admits that maybe Nicole Richie looks too thin, but she feels like it’s “unfair” that she (the girl) has to gain weight while Richie is allowed to stay that thin because she’s famous. And what part of that doesn’t make sense? It’s perfectly logical. Imagine if someone told you it’s okay for Richie to try to increase her income because she’s famous, but you mustn’t aspire to that – you need to become poorer than you are. You need to give up this great advantage (skinniness) that Richie has because you’re not special like her. WTF, people? Why is there any question as to whether the media’s obsession with literally belittling women is harmful to young women?
In the end, when Kate’s started binging but not yet purging (though she has “played around with laxatives”), the doctor overseeing the experiment sends her to a psychiatrist specializing in weight issues. He susses out that she was a chubby girl in a mostly male boarding school as a child. While she apparently muddled through that situation without developing an eating disorder, the diet has triggered all the feelings she stored from that period in her life, hence the bulimic behavior. But being pulled out of the project isn’t enough: she’s in the grips of the obsession, where the mind is obsessed with starving and the body is obsessed with eating.
And at her thinnest point, that’s where Kate’s friends think she looks fantastic. They say she shouldn’t go any lower (she wants to lose another 8 kilos), but if Kate thinks at all like I do (and I’m beginning to think I have eating disorder psychology even though I have never been underweight in my life), she probably thinks they’re only being kind. After all, when Kate says she’s not skinny – that one of the other women at the gathering is skinny – the woman mentioned says, “No, I’m not! I’m fat!” Good lord.
In the end, one of the doctors involved remarks that this project provided useful research in showing that the malnourishment triggered bulimic psychology, and not the other way around, as has been presumed. Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. You needed a study to figure that not feeding your brain makes your brain not work right? I mean, I’m sure it could happen either way – damaged psychology triggering the obsession with body size – but why do researchers assume girls and women must be mentally disturbed first in order to want to become the only thing that seems to get women anything verging on respect? How can you not see that we’ve created a world in which it is a totally rational response for a young woman to channel all her ambition and desire for a better life into gaining the one trait that separates the rich, famous women from the rest of us slobs?
Kate’s article – which I linked above, and highly recommend reading (or at least looking at the before and after photos – I swear, she looks great in the before picture) – contains one insight in particular that highlights the futility of thinking that thin will solve your problems: “Not to worry that meeting men is harder without a drink in your hand, because if I keep this up I’ll be a trophy-wife weight, I’ll be the sort of thin that a certain type of man likes to buy into as he would a flash car. And with the obsessive shopping and debilitated mental capacities for intellectual combat, I’ll fit the brief perfectly.” It’s not just men, though: it’s everything. With your brain dulled from malnutrition, you’re malleable. Do you think super skinny actresses are able to think critically about their career choices, the scripts they’re given? Do you think they’re able to bring as much life to their roles as are actresses who are at their healthy weight (which in rare cases may be a size zero, but usually isn’t) or male actors, who are always allowed to be at a normal weight (and often above, if they’re at all successful)? No, they become the ultimate stick figure for the male artist to use in realizing his vision, which does not include women who think or speak or live except as he imagines.
After watching the documentary, I ordered in pizza.