People Don't Care About Anorexics

There has been a lot of coverage of the outcry over the "Anna Rexia" Hallowe'en costume manufactured by Dreamgirl. The costume, below, consists of a skintight black dress featuring a glittery white skeleton, a measuring tape belt and measuring tape choker, and a little bone hat. Gross.

At what point Hallowe'en turned into a contest to see which woman can dress in the most revealing outfit, I'm not sure. If you scan the racks at your local costume shop you'll find the majority of costumes manufactured today for women are named "Sexy ____" or even "Slutty ____". This alone is a bit disturbing, if for no other reason than it reveals a pretty limited array of interests and embarrassing lack of culture. Not to mention the fact that it tickles my feminist nerve. And I don't even have a very big feminist nerve.

What does the Eating Disorder community have to say about Anna Rexia and the people who are buying it? From CNN:

Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, about the controversy surrounding Anna Rexia. Grefe was disturbed to hear that some retailers had actually sold out of the costume, but she's relieved that some stores are not selling it anymore.

"I find it just appalling," said Grefe. "Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and to think that someone that understood an eating disorder would actually buy this costume is an outrage."

Eating disorders are some of the most common mental illnesses in North America, where this costume is being bought and sold. They are illnesses that affect, by and large, women over men. They are illnesses that destroy the bodies and minds of their victims. They are illnesses that tear families apart. They are illnesses that kill.

Those of us who don't suffer from a clinical eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia still often feel pressure to eat a certain way. We cut out entire food groups. We pick at our meals on a first date like we've got the flu. We eat secretly. We count, measure, restrict and track. Sometimes out of a desire to be healthier. Often out of a desire to be perfect. The US National Eating Disorders Association reports that 80% of women interviewed report they are dissatisfied with their appearance. In a lot of ways, 80% of us are disordered. Just not clinically.

So why is it okay to poke fun at anorexics? Why is this any different from manufacturing a "down's syndrome" costume? Or maybe an "AIDS patient" costume?

Because people don't care about anorexics. People believe anorexia is a disease of vanity. People believe anorexia is self-imposed. Anorexics face a lot of the same denigration that drug addicts face. They are subject to a mixture of pity, revulsion and condemnation.

You are anorexic because you want to be. You are vain. You have no respect for the human body.

Why the revulsion? Why the fear? Why do we love to pore over pictures of anorexic models and actresses? Why do we publish spreads in glossy magazines about eating disorders, followed by spreads about the latest diet fad?

You are disgusting. You are terrifying.

Because the truth is, I believe... we fear what we cannot have. What we want. I believe the attitude with which we treat anorexics comes from a feeling, deep within us... as deep as the feeling that makes a person believe she will never be thin enough. A feeling that weaves its way, insidiously, throughout our culture and throughout our beliefs about the female body and female beauty.

You are formidable. You are awe-inspiring.

That anorexic model is doing what we wish we could. She is controlling her eating. She is controlling her body. She is terrible. She is wonderful. We pity her. We want to be her.

If we need proof, a host of "pro-ana" blogs, websites, and communities exist to support members in achieving their anorexic aspirations. There are girls everywhere obsessing, publicly, about their weight, their bodies and their hatred for themselves. Girls and women coach each other online, encouraging one another to advance in their anorexia, to lose more weight, and following one another's progress in pounds lost and visibility of one's skeleton. And it's a very direct line from all of that to the self-denigration and obsessiveness many "normal" women display in their weight-loss blogs, beauty blogs and social networking pages and posts. I've heard women wish, jokingly (maybe), that they could be anorexic so they could lose weight. The fashion industry continues to employ anorexic models. We continue to buy our daughters Barbie Dolls. There is an overall buzz. And it says, "You are only valuable if you look like this."

It has nothing much to do with a Halloween costume, really. It is not even just about anorexia or any of the clinical eating disorders. It has everything to do with our collective illness, as a culture, and as women. And I have no idea what we are going to do to stop it. If you do, fill me in. I think, for now, I am starting with a moratorium on Barbie dolls this Christmas.

If you are suffering from an eating disorder, please visit:

National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada)

National Eating Disorder Association (US)