Thursday, July 8, 2010

Monkey see, monkey do

CRYSTAL RENN, AGE 16

198 pounds
I just started reading Hungry by model Crystal Renn, and to be honest, so far I find the whole thing pretty terrifying. I'm about one hundred pages in, and I cannot believe the things Renn did herself to be a model. I'll write a full review of the book when I finish it, but for now, I want to talk about the effect that reading the book is having on me.

As I confessed here last year, I went through an incredibly brief period of starving myself when I was fourteen. My attempt to become anorexic only lasted two and a half days, but I ate next to nothing that entire time. So much so that I almost passed out on the third day, and then, thankfully, gave up my "dream" of becoming anorexic.

Why did I do it?

Many, many reasons, but most of all because of a desire to be more thin and more attractive. But another big reason I did it was because I was reading about it all the time—in countless magazine articles and in dozens of young adult novels.

In fact, there was one specific book that outlined in full detail how the narrator learned to starve herself without detection, and, for a brief time, this book was my bible. I didn't really think about not eating until I read it, and while I did, I got caught up in the protagonist's obsession with losing weight. I was supposed to be disgusted by her choices, but instead I found myself rooting for her. And, eventually, hoping I could become her. I guess in some way it all seemed very glamorous to my foolish and naive adolescent self.

Scary, I know, but what's even more frightening is that as I'm reading Hungry, I find myself thinking the same things. I find myself wondering if I could lose weight if I tried some of Crystal's tricks—like working eight hours a day or eating lettuce every meal—and then I think to myself, What the hell is wrong with you??? You have a blog called "I Will Not Diet," and you're sitting here fantasizing about dieting in incredibly unhealthy ways!!! You are really messed up!!!

I also, just as disturbingly, find myself rooting for the sixteen-year-old Crystal to lose enough weight to have a "gap" between her legs, and then I say to myself yet again, What the hell???? Why do you want her to be that thin???

I think the reason I find myself rooting for the young Crystal to become thinner is because I want her to become the model she dreams of being, and that is almost just as messed up. Shouldn't I want her to be something more healthy like a lawyer . . . or a college professor????

As it turns out, there is a still a part of me—at the age of forty, no less—that can relate to the adolescent desire to be thin and beautiful and . . . wait for it . . . famous. I'm disgusted with that part of me and also incredibly ashamed to admit it to you.

But I am admitting it because I think we can learn from it.

If someone who thinks dieting is so unhealthy that she blogs about it twice a week can start rooting for an adolescent model to be anorexic and even consider trying some of her f***ed up weight-loss techniques, what chance do young girls have of not parroting her choices?

The answer is almost none.

That is, without our help.

While I was walking today, I was thinking about this frightening epiphany I've had while reading Hungry, and I realized that the only thing we can do is talk to the young girls in our life about these issues. We can't stop them from reading these books and articles—first of all, they're ubiquitous and, second of all, the last thing we want to do is tell people what to read. But we can talk to them about what they read.

And once I'd figured this out, I also had to admit to myself something else that's pretty scary, and it's this: I would have NEVER felt comfortable discussing those YA books about anorexia with my own mother.

I'm not sure why—maybe it was because my mother always struggled with her weight, making me nervous about broaching the topic with her and hurting her feelings. More likely, though, it was because we never talked about body issues. I was always fit. (I hesitate to say "thin" only because I've been trained all my life not to think of myself as thin, though in truth, I was thin until I was twenty-six years old.) Because of this, there was no obvious reason to talk about my body. But my brief foray into anorexia proves that there really was a reason to talk about it. I should have been talking to my mom about my body issues all the time, but I wasn't.

Instead I was reading a novel about a young woman who almost killed herself trying to be thin, and I was trying, rather desperately, to be like her.

4 comments:

  1. This is a wonderful blog, Molly. Thanks for writing about body issues. I use videos about the subject to help teach a unit about beauty in my 9th grade lit/writing course...curiously, the makers of Dove Beauty Bar have been doing some image management of their own, and have produced these fantastic ads critiquing their own industry...it's a crummy corporation using a message that contradicts many of its products, but the videos are so powerful despite who's behind it:

    http://www.campaignforrealbeauty.com/

    Videos are here: my favorite is "Face," which directly connects to your post above.
    http://www.dove.us/#/features/videos/videogallery.aspx

    Love, Brian

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