What would you be willing to sacrifice to have a model's body?
A few weeks ago, in a fantastic piece in The Sunday Times (U.K.), journalist Kate Spicer wrote about her experience undergoing an extreme diet for a documentary on what it takes to "achieve" the size 0 bodies of models, actresses and celebrities. An already fairly thin woman at "just over 10 stone" (140 lbs), she committed to 6 weeks of near-starvation in order to reach her goal size. Here's a summary of what happened:
Week One: She goes on the "Master Cleanse Diet" (a favorite of celebrities like Beyonce) and immediately begins to feel the effects, becoming weak and woozy, to the point where she can't concentrate on work and even faints after a trip to the steam room. She then increases her calorie intake to 500 calories a day, has terrible diarrhea and smokes far more than usual. She finds her social life suffering, since she can't be around food, and barely has the energy to socialize with friends.
Week Two: She avoids family so she's not forced to eat more. After going out with friends, she breaks down and orders a piece of cake, the sugar from which propels her to a sugar high, and she's unable to calm down or think straight. The guilt from the cake makes her feel so fat that she lies in bed wishing for her hipbones to jut out more.
Week Three: She's lost enough weight that her breasts and butt are flat and lifeless, leading male friends to complain that she's too thin. She continues to feel guilty about last week's slice of cake (!) and has reached the point where she can think and care about nothing but food and sex, "a girl needs some kind of sensory pleasures in life, and sex and smoking are the only ones left." She begins to take laxatives and attends a detox retreat where she consumes nothing but fruit juice and exercises twice a day. She no longer communicates with friends or family, and has so little concentration that she can only watch trashy TV and read celebrity magazines.
When she realizes that she's lost a stone (14 lbs) in 3 weeks, she's overjoyed, and gets a rush of power and a feeling that she's better than other women because she can look good in anything. She judges other women's bodies obsessively and ruthlessly, and her only enjoyments are shopping (naturally), smoking and sitting in the steam room. She decides to take time off work.
Week Four: When her doctor finds out about her laxative use, he sends her to a psychologist, who tells her she's at risk for developing bulimia and needs to go back to her pre-diet eating and exercise habits. Not surprisingly, she's furious and refuses to take his advice.
Week Five: Back on the job but away on an assignment, she can't handle her stress, and without food as a coping mechanism, turns to binging followed by self-induced vomiting. When she casually mentions this to two friends, she's surprised by their shock, having reached a point where such drastic measures are normal and justifiable. She begins reading books on eating disorders, encouraging her intellect to "fight back against my misguided, hunger-fueled, bizarre idea of vanity."
Week Six: With the experiment coming to an end and the binging and purging taking a serious toll on her physical and mental state, she slowly begins to eat normally again. Not surprisingly, everything else in her life becomes a lot simpler and easier to manage. Yet she feels like a failure, having gone down to 9 stone (126 lbs) when most Hollywood celebrities are closer to 8 stone (112 lbs, which would probably translate to a size 0). She reflects on the fact that at her thinnest, her female friends all thought she looked her best.
Okay, now up until this point everything made sense to me, based on what I've read about how the mind and body react to eating disorders, and from observations made by friends and family members who've suffered from anorexia and bulimia. But here's where she really shocks me:
"The cult of thin is a powerful one and, truth be told, if I didn’t have to work I could imagine almost enjoying getting into it."
Whaaat? After realizing the toll this lifestyle took on not only your body (constantly feeling weak, inability to think clearly), your mind (non-stop obsessing over food and comparing yourself to other women), your relationships (the eating disorder made it nearly impossible to interact with others) and your personal life (only gaining pleasure from shopping and smoking, no longer capable of participating in intellectual hobbies), how do you justify wanting to continue living this way?
Life is certainly easier when your life revolves around one thing only- not eating. You're competing with yourself, with the results of your hard work visible to you at all times. The article reinforced what I've often heard from people suffering from eating disorders, which is that it's never about wanting to look better for other people... it's not about looking better at all. It's about regaining a sense of control that you previously felt like you'd lost.
One other thing that interested me was that she mentioned in the beginning of the article that before this experience she had pretty good self-esteem, and while there were always things about her body she'd have liked to change, she'd never been motivated to make any drastic changes. But once she began the diet, the high she got from losing the weight and feeling like she'd conquered her body led her to do things that her normal, pre-diet self would have never considered. I wondered whether this meant that almost any of us, if we committed to an extreme diet like this, could be sucked into a kind of eating disorder... is it a slippery slope that we're all at risk for sliding down?
I've never been on a diet in my life and have no interest in ever going on one. If I want to lose weight, I try to limit my portion sizes, eat healthier and go to the gym more. When I stick to this routine for long enough, I lose weight (it's certainly not a fast fix). I've read the statistics about dieting and I recognize that diets don't work for longterm weight loss. And besides, I get way, way too much pleasure out of eating to ever consider giving up the things I love to eat, even if I limit my intake to weekends or special occasions.
I don't want to pretend that I wouldn't prefer to have Gisele's body over my own. But based on Kate Spicer's description of her life while on an extreme diet, I could never justify making those kind of sacrifices just to have the perfect body and all the things that come along with it.
But I'm curious what you guys think... do you think that having the perfect body and an (artificial) sense of control over your life is worth the mental/physical/emotional trauma Kate Spicer experienced? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.