On “Vomit Stix!” and being offended.

By | January 3, 2011


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Back in the early aughts, when I was still entertaining my aspirations to academia, I used to do campus talks and lectures on fat politics.* At least I’d try. Before I  learned classroom-management skills, things would get sidetracked, rapidly and dramatically. The usual culprit? A skinny girl either suffering from or in recovery for an eating disorder.

Now don’t fret! I am not dissing skinny girls with eating disorders. I have a great many of you as readers and I am constantly humbled and pleased that you glean something of value from what I write here. But my conundrum in this particular circumstance was that I was not giving a talk on eating disorders — I was giving a talk on fat. Though they can be related, these subjects are distinct and separate, especially in an academic context. So when I’d get halfway through my talk about fatness (and the lack thereof) in popular media, and someone in the room would raise her hand and start disclosing about her ED, I’d get a little deer-in-the-headlights about it. How do I redirect this conversation without dismissing this woman’s experience, and her desire to share it? That is important, and good! We should talk about eating disorders and body image issues freely and without shame! I wanted to support the ED folks without allowing that subject to dominate the discussion, which was supposed to be about fat.

Eventually I learned the technique of redirecting without dismissing. I even figured out how to acknowledge that, while your eating disorder is a valid subject, being fat is a seriously different animal from being not-fat but having an ED. As is being fat and having an ED at the same time. The experience of feeling fat, and hating your body, may share aspects in common with actually being fat. But being fat brings with it a whole bunch of other baggage that a non-fat person really can’t get. It’s one thing to look in the mirror and see yourself as a huge and hideous monster. It’s another thing to fear going out to eat because you’re not sure if you’ll fit in the booth with your friends. Both are tragic. But they are different.

Last week, Joy Nash posted another of her series of weight-loss miracles, this one entitled “Vomit Stix!”, which you can watch embedded above. Unfortunately, Joy’s received a few comments from folks who took offense and read the video as making fun of eating disorders. Joy is now apparently considering taking the video down. (In the event that it’s gone by the time you read this post, in it, Joy enthusiastically promotes “natural” weight loss via purging using a fake product called “Vomit Stix”, which one uses to induce vomiting.)

I know from personal experience that satire can be a bit of a bitch to nail down — there’s a very fine line between incisive and rude. And I’m not about to dismiss the hurt feelings of those who were offended by giving out vague advice to “lighten up” or tips on the untwisting of panties, which is how the backlash comments seem to be running. This is not only dismissive but totally unhelpful. On the brighter side, Joy herself has responded:

My intention was definitely not to offend or hurt anyone suffering from an eating disorder. I was attempting to satirize the cavalier way that the weight loss industry will push disturbing and harmful “products” under the guise of promoting health.

So there’s our authorial intent clearly stated, for what it’s worth. I’d agree that the most important point this video makes is that many behaviors seen as damaging and dangerous in thin people are outright encouraged in fat people. The specific example above is purging, but the sentiment is the same for many disordered eating patterns. Fat people are often supported in hating their bodies, in starving themselves, in engaging in unsafe exercise and in seeking out weight loss by any means necessary. A thin person who does these things is considered mentally ill. A fat person who does these things is redeemed by them. This is why our culture has no concept of a fat person who also has an eating disorder. If you’re fat, it’s not an ED — it’s a lifestyle change.

The video is funny, but in the sad way that satire often is. It’s funny, while reminding us of the ugliness in diet culture. More to the point, Joy’s video is not really about bulimia so much as it is about the incredibly muddy messages we receive about the proper care and feeding of our various bodies. I am not offended by it, though I am not equipped to make the sweeping judgment that it isn’t offensive. Obviously, it’s offended some folks, so the potential to be offensive is there. The thing is, I am not a person who believes potentially-offensive things should be hidden to spare folks from having to deal with them. An image, a video, an offhand comment can be truly abhorrent, but if it inspires a fruitful conversation about why it offends, then it’s done some good. This is how we learn things. Joy’s videos shouldn’t exist just to make us all feel happy about ourselves — they should feed the continuing cultural discussion about bodies, and eating, and weight.

Do you disagree? That’s cool. We don’t have to see it the same way. You’re allowed to be offended. You’re allowed to be upset. And I’m allowed to be analytical. And we should both talk about our reactions, respectfully and productively, with one another, because these things are swept under the rug enough already.

Back in my lecturing days, I worked hard to encourage the skinny girls with eating disorders to feel connected to fat politics — to recognize that our cultural obsession with fatness and bodily control is, in part, why their EDs exist. This is a subject that affects everyone with a body, no exceptions. By focusing with laser-like precision on our own individual experience — be that experience one of bulimia, or one of being death fat, or one of being “naturally” thin — we lose sight of the complexity of the topic. Joy’s video is not just about bulimia; this blog is not just about fat. Rather, we are all having a vast, prolonged, challenging conversation about bodies, one that strives to represent reality and diversity instead of ideology. It’s a hard thing, but we don’t always have to agree, so long as we keep talking. That conversation is far more valuable than uniform agreement.

* For the record, I really miss doing these talks and lectures. They were challenging and difficult and uncomfortable and a generally awesome time. Unfortunately, once I fell out of academia — and lost my brainy cred! — I assumed I could no longer do them. In retrospect, this was pretty short-sighted.


40 Comments

Ashley on January 3, 2011 at 1:31 pm.

I have mixed feelings on this. I was going to refuse to comment on it until I felt either way, but I don’t think I am going to, so I will just explain my thoughts on it the best I can.

While I usually adore Joy and her videos, I can see how this could be offensive to some. I can also see how others might find it funny. But is this really a topic to be funny about? I’m not so sure. I don’t think certain issues should be made light of, one being eating disorders, along with suicide, mental illnesses, physical disabilities, etc. Overall, I don’t think this is her best video. I think she had the best at heart, but I think she has become a little lost in the creativity. It could have been done better.

Do I think she should take the video down? Only if she is not fully prepared to defend this video and knows exactly how to stand up for it, while knowing what to say to the naysayers. If she doesn’t, then that shows that maybe she bit off more than she can chew with this one.

Also, I have heard that some are speculating that she might be trying to encourage a comedian or acting career with these…and I can see how some people might see it that way too. She doesn’t seem to be as into her message as she is with being funny.

I do hope that she finds her way back to the important issue at hand and continues to make her awesome videos.

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Eryn on January 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm.

I appreciate the write up you did on the subject. Its giving me words that I can use in conversations I have with friends and loved ones with ED’s. I have the most amount of love and compassion for those living with eating disorders and yet I couldn’t clearly explain the struggle with actually *being* fat without sounding like an asshole. THANK YOU!

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Flann on January 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm.

I, too, love Joy Nash, and I always want to excuse people I admire when they do things that hurt…My take on this is that it’s not so much that Joy is making fun of BN, it’s that she’s making BN seem like an extension of vanity. It’s not funny because it’s been done a million times, and it’s getting strong reactions from those who, like I, deal with an ED, because this public-opinion-idea that bulemia and anorexia and ED-NOS (and, to a lesser extent, the restriction side of BED) are just for appearance ‘improvement’ and attention is the number one thing that gets thrown in the faces of people with ED’s–”You’re just doing this to be thin! Cut it out! If you just got over yourself and your silly vanity you would be able to stop!”

Supremely unhelpful.

Eating Disorders are mental disorders, OCD in a different form. They are not a weight-loss plan, and, in the same way that OCD is not about how many times I turn the light on and off, ED’s are not about the weight.

This was disappointing to me because I feel that Joy is more original than this, and has no need to rely on old, un-true, and hurtful tropes to destabilize the Diet-Is-Best Establishment.

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Arwen on January 3, 2011 at 2:19 pm.

his made me laugh because the parody is so close to my experience. A perfect rendering of the selling of absurdity. But this sort of thing is, in a way, diet talk; for sure it could be troubling or triggering.

I’m thinking on Ashley’s statement, “should we make light..?” – it’s a very good question. In the school of internet hard knocks I’ve really come to see how the way we live and cope and incorporate experience really is very personal, individual.

I think, personally, that I do need dark comedy to cope sometimes. There are those who prefer to look at the light while recovering from things, but I can’t deny the dark; it lives and looms in my memory/experience and forces recognition. Laughing at it? Mocking it? That’s a tool I use for living. For me, it makes room to acknowledge the dark and incorporate it.

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Arwen on January 3, 2011 at 4:16 pm.

( I thought I should contextualize my experience: I did have a compulsion-based ED – if I were skinnier it might be considered anorexia nervosa, but it was anorexia – for a good while. And also “tried” bulimia for weight-loss. So the darkness, for me, in the video has something to do with the courting-mental-illness that goes on with the diet industry.)

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Regina on January 5, 2011 at 1:32 pm.

I so relate to what you are saying about needing a bit of “the dark” to cope sometimes — my sense of humor runs the same way. And your description about not denying what looms in your experience — rather acknowledging / incorporating it — rings so true for me that it will help me put “words” against this in the future. Thank you.

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Ashley on January 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm.

Another thing I wanted to add, you said, “Joy’s videos shouldn’t exist just to make us all feel happy about ourselves,” and I agree that she really has no obligation to make videos for the purpose of making viewers feel happy about themseleves, but speaking as somewhat of a “public figure” myself… any time that you are in the public eye and the media, you are making an impact and influencing someone, and I think it’s important to remember that you should project who you are as a person, but also always try to remain respectful and considerate of the feelings of others. You can’t always please everyone when you make a statement on a topic like this, but use your better judgement and if you sense that a large amount of people might be offended by what you are thinking about saying, it’s probably best to reconstruct your sentences or refrain from saying it until you can find the best way to say it.

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Flann on January 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm.

Oh, also, meant to say:

Really appreciate the separating of being fat and having the body dysmorphia that comes with and ED. I try to explain to my friends that, even though I feel very fat, I know that I am really only on the smaller side of what would be termed fat and that there is a lot of thin privilege in my life. They just keep parroting back that “I’m not that fat!”….whiiiiich kind of misses the point. As for connecting fat politics and ED: FA has been so helpful to me in my recovery, and your blog has been a big part of that as well. Thank you, SO much.

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Lesley on January 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm.

Thank you for contributing to the conversation! I totally agree that EDs, whatever variety, are not about improving one’s appearance, and it’s pretty grotesque that they are so often boiled down to being a petty and shallow concern. I do think that EDs often manifest behaviorally as they do because of our cultural obsession with bodily control — and diet culture is definitely a part of that — but this is not the same thing as them being exclusively about “looking good”. The very idea is absurd.

I just wanted to make that clear, if I hadn’t already!

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withoutscene on January 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm.

I love Joy and her work, but I have to say that this video and the amputation video have left me uneasy. Regarding this video in particular, I think that it falls a bit flat and wrong because this is something that people do regularly AND because it’s already suggested so casually. The Tapeworm video, in contrast, depicts a behavior that is 1) shocking and 2) perceived as much less prevalent/out of the ordinary–and therefore comes off a) less as promotion and b) funnier because the viewer can assume that ‘obviously anyone who does this is out of their mind’. The viewer, imo, doesn’t empathize with someone who ingests a tape worm like they would someone who is bulimic. I think that’s in part why the amputation video didn’t sit right either…because I have automatic empathy for and can relate people who have a limb amputated, so it comes off as trivializing their experience.

Perhaps a strategy might be to 1) go with things more out of the ordinary and/or 2) chronicle something “new” that is a real weight loss product satirically, only to reveal it’s something people actually use…highlighting the fact that our reality IS shocking and crazy.

I do really value the approach to dialogue you’ve laid out in this entry….I think it is VERY useful for all of us.

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Lesley on January 3, 2011 at 6:19 pm.

I dig your analysis. Food for thought.

And thanks! I think the most damaging thing we can do in these situations is create an environment in which there are “right” things to say and “wrong” things to say — it just makes everyone reluctant to say anything at all.

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firefey on January 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm.

the tapeworm thing WAS a recomended weightloss method of the late victorian era. but yeah, i tend to agree with you on why this one didn’t do for me what previous ones have.

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Shoshie on January 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm.

I love Joy Nash’s videos, and they were, for sure, one of the first things that helped me on my road to fat acceptance. But I really think this could have been done better. Like maybe a lose-weight-fast bone saw or a pill to make muscles dissolve. Those would make the same point regarding a diet industry that doesn’t actually care about the well-being of its customers, without relying on common and harmful tropes.

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Quisp on January 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm.

Lesley, reading this makes me wish you still aspired to academia. Your description of how you learned to re-direct classroom conversations is inspiring – I’m professor who’s still learning, and always glad to learn from you.

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Living400lbs on January 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm.

What struck me about this video was how much it reminded me of my cousin trying to sell me on “just throw up after Thanksgiving dinner and then you’ll have plenty of room for dessert” and how it couldn’t hurt me because I was fat. Or her mother discussing how they’d fast Wednesday and Thursday morning of Thanksgiving week so that they could “eat anything we want” at Thanksgiving. And my mom nodding and suggesting I try it.

Which, I think, is the point.

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Ruth on January 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm.

Im.. kindve keen on it in one way-because shit like this is sold all the time. Sometimes you need the horribleness of it and the sickness of it to be thrown into a bit of relief. People with eating disorders are basically told this by society-being sick is worth it to be thin. Maybe thats why it sits uncomfortably, as people find it hard to have something actually spelt out, rather than just constantly pushed in a thousand ads and videos and across the internet.
Its still difficult though (my mindset is a little disordered) and so i can see how it can feel almost like an encouragement to messed up thinking- the thought “well actually most of the world doesnt seem to think this is satirical”
Not in that the rest of the world thinks its messed up, but in that a lot of the world seems to think such behaviour is kindve okay-particuarly if youre fat.

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Monica on January 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm.

Lesley, I really appreciate your insightful commentary on this video, as a fat girl with an eating disorder. I’ve been a fat girl with an eating disorder at least since I was twelve, although the nature of the disorder has shifted. I was anorexic, and I was still fat, and it took me the better part of five years before I could look at my experiences and say, hey, this is valid, this counts. And so I really appreciate the intent behind Joy’s video, even if I find the execution somewhat troubling.

(And hey–if you want to come give an academic lecture on fat politics at a small liberal-arts school in rural Ohio during spring semester, I will do my damnedest to get you here. Seriously.)

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Lesley on January 3, 2011 at 6:20 pm.

Rural Ohio! You make it sound so good! Haha, seriously though, if you can get me there, I will come!

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BuffPuff on January 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm.

Folks, this looks to be on the level to me. Barking mad, yes, but for reals nonetheless:-

http://www.tapewormdiet.net/index.html

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Shinobi on January 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm.

I have no personal experience with ED, so when I say I don’t find this video offensive, I don’t think it really counts for much. So I support whatever Joy decides to do, and I hope that people don’t hold against her what was clearly an attempt at humor. (Sometimes things just aren’t perceived the way you thought they would be, especially in the world of humor and satire.)

What I do thing is important about this video is that it makes a point about the commodification of eating disordered behavior. Here is someone trying to make money off of a life threatening behavior by selling completely unnecessary “diet aids.” They’ve even tried to appeal to different markets in order to maximize their profit on this “weight loss plan.”

And that’s what happens in the real world all the time, eating disorderd behavior is constantly being sold to the public by the weight loss industry. Don’t like Nutri system? Try Jenny Craig! Or Alli the easy peasy poop your pants drug! They are eager to sell you whatever restrictive eating plan will “fit your lifestyle” so you can lose weight, gain it back and then go back on another plan so you can keep giving them your money.

In the end we aren’t just fighting a culture of dieting. The fatosphere is against an entire industry whose livelihoods are based on the desire of people to lose weight. The diet industry make tons of money off consumer’s desire for weight loss and consumer’s belief that if they just find the right product they will be thin forever.

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Amy on January 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm.

I think Joy Nash uses satire from within the fat community to point out issues in the fat community. In her first Fat Rant video, it was a fat person making fun of other fat people, and then at one point Joy talked about how we act like people treat us badly because we are fat, but maybe there are a lot of other reasons for people to hate us. It’s a point to remember, but at the same time, if you’ve grown up being told you are bad for being fat and being treated differently because of it, her video seemed dismissive of that experience. Most of the people I’ve known with eating disorders were not actually fat, and there are reasons people develop eating disorders, but at the same time, disordered eating resulting from the desire to be thin, is common in the fat community. So I think she’s doing her usual thing of calling fat people to task and making them look at their own responsibility.

It’s not society at large who would advocate fat people vomiting up their food as a method of weight control–they’d tell people not to eat in the first place. The idea of vomiting so that you can eat more isn’t just in the realm of those who suffer from eating disorders, but if you have an eating disorder, and can’t stop yourself from doing these things, I can see how these videos could be painful and unfunny. Just like making fun of people with OCDs or with lower IQs, which is fairly common in the comedy world.

If she talked about surgery where you had your stomach removed, that would be both absurdity, and yet real and painful to people who have done things like have their jaws wired shut or their stomachs stapled off.

Saturday Night Live once had a bit about losing weight through limb removal, and yet there are people, albeit very few of them, who have a body dysmorphic disorder who want to have things amputated, or painful to people who had accidents and had body parts removed not of their choice. And I’ve heard anorexia nervosa described as body dysmorphic disorder, but also heard that it is often a product of childhood sexual abuse. So satire or not, there will be criticism. I don’t think you can really be satirical without drawing some ire.

One of the things said to fat people as a way to shut down all arguments is, “there are no fat people in concentration camps.” If we talked about putting people into camps against their will and making them do a lot of physical activity with little or not food, that would be offensive too, to those who underwent those things. So for me the point is, yes, an eating disorder is a problem, concentration camps are a problem, surgically altering healthy organs is a problem. Why try and encourage this in populations who are otherwise unencumbered. I feel like that is her ultimate point. But, eating disorders have complicated causes, I can see why people would feel upset.

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CTJen on January 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm.

I love you, Lesley. One of the posts in my sadly neglected blog queue is about how one set of behaviors is termed “eating disordered” for one group of people (non-fats) and “dieting” for others (fats). You said it better than I ever could have.

Also, Joy Nash’s videos are meant to push the envelope, I think, and make us feel uncomfortable. Speaking as a fat person with an ED, I think they are spot-on. I hope she never takes them down.

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Holly on January 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm.

TRIGGER WARNING FOR MY WHOLE COMMENT. Leslie – I am so happy you decided to write about Joy’s video. I watched it for the first time last week, and as a blog-less person didn’t really feel I had an appropriate forum for offering my thoughts on it. My initial reaction upon watching the video was, “Oh dear.” Not because I was personally offended, but because I both anticipated and dreaded the impending comment shitstorm. Your response to the video was spot-on and overwhelmingly reasonable, as always.

I am both a fat person and a person with an eating disorder. I have had an ED for nearly 14 years, and while I am less fat than I was when I first became sick as a teenager (was 300+ deathfat; am now at the low end of the obese spectrum), I have never, even at my sickest, not been some variant of “overweight.” While I have been peripherally aware of fat/size acceptance for even longer than I have had an ED, my experience as a fat person with an eating disorder is really what has driven me to engage with FA in recent years. While I agree with your comment that Joy’s video is not “about” bulimia per se, your statement that “our culture has no concept of a fat person who also has an eating disorder” – and that “If you’re fat, it’s not an ED — it’s a lifestyle change” – was most salient for me. And so while I acknowledge that ED only represents a fractional part of this discussion (about the video and about FA in general), I do feel it is important to address the matter in my comment.

Having an eating disorder is an isolating, disorienting, often terrifying experience. And while ultimately I can only speak for myself, I am comfortable assuming that being fat amplifies many aspects of this experience. Being fat with an eating disorder means being forced, again and again, to confront the fact that society hates you when you are at precisely your most vulnerable. Being fat with an eating disorder means being denied treatment, being denied empathy. It means waving your hands in the air, begging for a life preserver, and getting a “thumbs up” instead. For me, it’s meant a line of therapists and doctors declaring that I must have Binge Eating Disorder before one word about food had passed my lips, yet dismissing me completely I when I admitted to restricting and purging. It’s meant being medically hospitalized with rock-bottom potassium levels and an arrhythmia after purging 10-15 times a day for months on end – bankrupting myself and practically failing out of college – yet being told 2 days later on the ED unit that I was “all set to go home in a couple of days.” It’s meant losing half of my body weight and receiving only complements, not once being asked how or why. It’s meant losing my gallbladder after a crippling attack of pancreatitis, and being asked by the ER doctor if I was an alcoholic, not whether I had recently lost a large amount of weight. It’s meant being referred to Weight Watchers minutes after telling a new doctor about my history. It’s meant knowing, from the beginning, that I was in a good position to “get away with it” because no one suspects the fat girl. It has played a huge role in keeping me sick.

So given my history, do I find Joy’s video offensive? Is it ever okay to joke about eating disorders? As with pretty much everything else in life, context matters. I am inclined to agree that most cracks about ED that get bandied about in the media (“Eat a sandwich!”) are decidedly not okay. But when the joke (if you regard Joy’s video as a joke, and I’m not sure I do) comes straight from the mouth of a tireless activist who has made a name for herself by promoting body acceptance, I am willing to be a lot more lenient. Even as someone who still struggles with symptoms, I recognize that ED behavior is nothing if not deranged. Sure, the symptoms serve a psychological purpose (reduce distress, give a sense of control, etc.). But otherwise, denying your body vital nutrition, or expelling that nutrition, to the point where you’re half-dead is about as counter-intuitive and maladaptive as it gets. Of course we should never mock people with mental illness. But the pervasive view in our society – you must lose weight at any cost (cost proportional to fatness) – deserves mockery, to say the least. The reality is that Joy’s video feels uncomfortable, in large part, because it is so close to the actual message. We have weight loss drugs that cause anal leakage, we have Biggest Loser contestants dieting until they piss blood, we have brides-to-be lining up for plastic surgery on reality TV. It’s all unacceptable, and none if it is a far cry from Vomit Stix. My biggest hope for a video like this is that others are able to push past the initial discomfort, view it through a critical lens and reflect on why it causes so much unease.

Sorry if all of this was a little TL;DR, but I really believe that this kind of cognitive dissonance can be crucial for moving toward self acceptance. As amends, here is my favorite quote from the admittedly triggering but ultimately outstanding “Wasted” by Marya Hornbacher -

“And when, after fifteen years of binging, barfing, starving, needles, and tubes, and terror, and rage, and medical crises and personal failure and loss after loss when, after all this, you are in your early twenties and staring down a vastly abbreviated life expectancy, and the eating disorder still takes up half your body, half your brain, with its invisible eroding force, when you have spent the majority of your life sick, when you do not yet know what it means to be “well,” or “normal,” when you doubt that those words even have meaning anymore, there are still no answers. You will die young, and you have no way to make sense of that fact. You have this: you are thin. Whoop-de-fucking-dee.”

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Lesley on January 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm.

Holly, given the quality of your writing here, your lack of blog is a loss for us all! Thanks so much for commenting.

Also, it’s funny — I’ve never been particularly fond of eating-disorder-themed memoirs, but I read Hornbacher’s years ago and it has ALWAYS stuck with me. I’m glad you brought it up, because I would totally recommend it not only for people looking to learn more about the experience of an ED, but for anyone interested in body politics in general.

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Holly on January 4, 2011 at 12:50 am.

Thanks for the positive feedback, Lesley. Especially since despite reading this blog religiously, I still managed to spell your name incorrectly. Ugh.

One point I realized I failed to make in my comment above is that nowhere on her YouTube channel or website (to my knowledge) does Joy Nash state that she does not, personally, have a history of ED. Not that I have reason to believe she does. But those who are quick to declare her video “offensive to ED sufferers” might also consider that this response implies, a priori, the assumption that Joy herself has not had an eating disorder. This assumption itself is telling, because it seems to reflect the default view that ED, fatness, and fat activism are mutually exclusive.

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Erylin on January 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm.

thanks for this…i too am in the same boat. i refused to watch the video, it is way too triggering for me. I have been bulimic for 15+ years, and been told by close loved ones to “just purge for a few months so you’ll look good for dating”. People dont get the agony of passing out headfirst into a toilet because you are too lightheaded after purging everything you have eaten for days on end.

“Being fat with an eating disorder means being denied treatment, being denied empathy. It means waving your hands in the air, begging for a life preserver, and getting a “thumbs up” instead.”
omg this…this is so my life at so many stages. hell my mom is convinced if i just get some therapy my ed will magically diappear with a wave of the therapist wand and THEN i can lose the weight /headdesk

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Carolyn on January 3, 2011 at 11:33 pm.

I had this long, personal comment written, but… I’m not ready to see it in print yet.

Thank you for this comment, Holly. And thank you, Leslie, for this entire post.

<3

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SA on January 4, 2011 at 10:58 am.

Holly – I just wanted to say that your comment is A++ and spot on. I’m working on a journal article about HAES and FA for my professional community, and would love to quote some of your comment – will you drop me a note at elusis (at) gmail and let me know how you’d feel about that? Even if it’s to say “hell no.”

And Lesley – this is one of your top blog posts in recent memory.

I’ll just contribute this:

Years ago, when I was living a totally different life, I was taking a performance art class and we got into a debate about using comedy vs. drama to address serious topics. Some people were adamant that there were certain topics that should never be treated humorously. Rape, abortion, and the Holocaust came up as examples.

Whereupon I immediately went out and wrote a partly-comedic piece about the abortion I had in high school, just to prove… something.

I don’t think I believe in sacred cows. I do believe in sensitivity, and compassion, and not being a dick. And I do believe that if you’re going to use very sensitive issues as the subject of satire, you should go very carefully, and generally you should opt for the inside perspective, rather than some kind of outsider’s dissociated “ha ha, look at the weird people over there!” perspective.

But there was a clip from the recent Joan Rivers film that was repeated a bunch of times on various NPR shows, where she was telling a joke about Helen Keller and a guy from the audience popped up to shout that he had a deaf son and it wasn’t funny. And she shot back that she had a deaf mother, and comedy’s purpose was to help you laugh at painful things so you can get through them. Her joke was pretty flat, but her point, I think, was at least partially right. I’m not a big Joan Rivers fan but she practices what she preaches – she’s told jokes about her husband’s suicide, and her own abortions.

So, I think it’s too simplistic to jump up and say “we mustn’t joke about _____” because comedy is sometimes best when it treads close to painful subjects in a way that sheds new light on them. And in this case I think Joy’s videos are successfully doing just that: highlighting the sheer, unmitigated, crazy-making contradictions at the heart of the obesity panic in terms of how far fat people are told to go in the name of “health.”

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Ankaret on January 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm.

I’m worried this is going to come over as derailing, and I apologise if so, but… Lesley, would you consider making a follow-up post about how you redirect without dismissing? Because I would love to know how to do that.

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Lesley on January 3, 2011 at 6:27 pm.

Ha! Funnily enough, I have had a blog post on the subject going through various permutations for months now. I first started poking at the subject because it occurred to me that although we often talk about how to call people out, or how to respond to being called out, we don’t much talk about how to redirect a conversation in a more subtle and fluid way. I’ll try to finish it soon!

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Ankaret on January 7, 2011 at 9:28 am.

Thank you! I will wait for it eagerly. :)

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Alexa on January 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm.

I don’t have an ED, and I did think the video was funny, as I usually think Joy’s videos are very funny. However, I certainly noted while watching this one that it would be a very different experience for someone who has Bulimia. The behavior made fun of in the video is a major part of the illness for (I believe) all bulimics, so this would strike home in a rather jarring way and it would seem to them offensive instead of funny, as it does appear to make fun of purging behaviors and the people who engage in them.
I’m not in any way intending to criticize anyone, but my personal common sense is telling me that it can’t possibly be a surprise to anyone who watched that video that people who have EDs such as Bulimia would be offended by it.
What I also think is that it is important to point out the absurdity and harmful effects of the diet industry, and it should not only be done by using completely made up and obviously absurd concepts. As far as I know, no one actually sells things like Vomit Stix, but I think there’s no question that the diet industry does sell things and propagate ideas that contribute in a major way to illnesses such as Bulimia and behaviors such as purging. I think it’s important to make some allusions or connections to actual EDs many people suffer from.

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Mulberry on January 4, 2011 at 9:04 am.

TRIGGER WARNING: Speculation about EDs from someone who has had no personal experience with them. Brave souls please feel free to correct any misconceptions, or even tell me if I’ve got something right.
Disclosure: I am not and have never been bulimic. I have always been fat. That said, I find myself offended not at the video, but at bulimia itself. Not at the people who have it, but the idea that somehow the results of the process are worth the cost.
I don’t believe it is done necessarily out of vanity. It’s worse than that. I see it (correct me if I’m totally wrong here) as something done out of a desire for control, particularly control of the self. Maybe even as a sort of way station for some aspiring anorexics.
What offends me in particular as a fat woman is that fatness is seen as the opposite of self-control. It is that very concept which spawns such misery in the lives of fat and thin and in-between people.
As for the video? I remarked to DH the other day that it is very difficult to satirize dieting and weight loss. Yesterday’s Onion article is today’s scientific breakthrough. Any of Joy’s weight-loss videos could trigger someone who has actually tried the method described, or something similar. It’s just that bulimia is more common.

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wriggles on January 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm.

If you’re fat, it’s not an ED — it’s a lifestyle change.

Being ‘obese’ is supposed to be compulsive/binge eating disorder. The ‘cure’ is the early stage of anorexia turned into a lifestyle aka, weight loss dieting.

Then there’s weight loss surgery, which is being cut into actual anorexia, with “both ends” bulimia to police it in place.

I wonder why people with eating disorders aren’t offended too much by that?

I don’t think certain issues should be made light of, one being eating disorders, along with suicide, mental illnesses, physical disabilities, etc.

Every single one of those is not just made light of but is attacked without quarter if you’re fat-which as we know at times functions as a Trojan horse to attack certain things indirectly.

We are told we are suicidal so deserve to die (go figure) we are lying about our ED’s and through that C/BED are turned into a joke.

I mean come on binge eating compulsive eating anorexia, bulimia?

And everyone knows fat people cannot have disabilities because they are a “self induced” extension of ‘obesity’.

This is another disconnect between fat and thin and I’m sorry, that is widely supported. When things happen to us, they are not treated anywhere near the same, that’s where the offense comes in. For some of us being outside this ‘protection’ gives us a distance and a perspective and yes for some of us I’m afraid, an irreverence.

That’s what’s waiting to leap out of a lot of earnest sobbing fatz, once they dry their tears.

Joy Nash’s offense was to go with that and forget to second guess a deference we don’t tend to be shown. That is a valid experience of being fat.

Of course Joy’s video was offensive to some people used to bulimic behaviour being taken oh so seriously. But we are expected to aspire to do whatever it takes.

That’s what people often really mean when they say we haven’t tried hard enough, because they know that’s how some of them do it (well, so they think). See, biggest loser.

In the end, I respect the deference shown to others on these issues, but tht doesn’t resolve the underlying issue. It puts us in the position of we can take it, other poor ickle human can’t and we have to take care of their poor lickle fee fee’s. Very big sister/brother earth mother/ father, as usual.

This stepping on the toes of the protected is only going to get worse, what’s keeping it down, is fat hurt.

Either we have to be included in the ‘protection’, or kept out which automatically begins to erode it, as we see. That is an important part of the hosility towards us people want to use us, exclude us, yet then blame us for threatening the whole applecart by that very exclusion.

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Flann on January 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm.

“I wonder why people with eating disorders aren’t offended too much by that? ”

Excuse me, I am a person with an eating disorder, and I VERY offended by those things. I don’t understand your assumption that I wouldn’t be, as every single thing you’re referring to with that statement is something that not only reveals the serious depth of fat hatred that our society embraces without thought, but also belittles eating disorders down to merely their symptoms, and casts them only as ‘tools’ for achieving an end, instead of a living hell that can cost you everything.

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nonobadpony on January 4, 2011 at 9:47 pm.

wow, i have been reading this blog for month but never before felt the need to comment.

i am ( mostly, bc never will my mind really be free of the ed cancer) recovered from a 20 + year struggle with anorexia and bulimia.

for the person offended by bulimia, i am afraid i don’t really understand. it is not a “waypoint ” for wanna-be anorexics. anorexia, by and large, was easier and safer but somehow did not minister to the deep, deep pain and grief within me the way purging did..but i digress…

not only is the video funny ( in that sad, satirical way) it is NECESSARY!! i started out my ed an overweight 11 yr old…and my parents actually thought it was GREAT that i was vomiting 10-15 times a day, even AFTER i landed in the er with potassium levels so low they wouldn’t let me leave. bc i was losing weight, and i had never done that successfully before, and what could be more important that that??

I wish there had been even one person in my life then who would have said “this is crazy!! you don’t make yourself sick just to get thinner! who wants to be sick?!”

to me, that is what the video is saying and it needs to be said

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Kath on January 7, 2011 at 6:39 am.

I related to the video on two levels. Firstly the satire, but also as a very fat woman who suffers an eating disorder (though well on the road to recovery these days), I have actually had behaviour like this sanctioned by medical professionals. They KNEW what I was doing, and approved of it because it was better for me to have an eating disorder than it was for me to be fat.

It *IS* offensive for a fat person to be attempting to lose weight by forcing themselves to vomit. And satirising it is a very effective way of busting open the dirty little secret that fat people are encouraged to engage in that behaviour.

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Kristen on January 13, 2011 at 1:19 am.

It’s good to see eating disorder behaviors in big women talked about – it’s something that I’ve had personal experience with, that I kind of stood at the brink of… I’ve always been pretty big. My age was usually my clothing size, at least from the onset of puberty. I was a size 12 when I was 12, and an 18 when I was 18, my senior year of high school, and I finally decided that it was time to Lose Weight. I actually did it healthily enough at first. I purged sodas, fast food, and other junk from my diet. I taught myself yoga. I went for walks/jogs every day. A year later, in the middle of my freshman year of college I was finally down to a size 14. Except, then I hit a plateau.

I continued to try to eat healthy, and be active until the holiday season caused my weight to creep up 15 pounds. Suddenly, it wasn’t about being healthy any more. I was fed up with being Size 14. I wanted to be size 12 because then I’d be Normal, Straight-Size, Less-Fat. I started restricting my calories to 800 a day. I’d write down everything I ate. And, not just that, I’d weigh myself twice a day, drink lots of water so I could pee before weighing myself, take my measurements every day, take photos of myself in the bathroom mirror in my undies to show myself what a fat ugly pig I was and how I didn’t _deserve_ to eat. I’d learn to relish the feeling of emptiness in my stomach. This behavior went on for a couple months, but to the point where it worried and shocked my friends. Months after this episode I would say “Man, I really had a problem, didn’t I?” and they’d reply “Yeah, duh, we _told_ you that.” But you don’t really hear it at the time.

What snapped me out of it? After a couple months of this behavior I’d lost the extra 15 pounds… But one month, I didn’t get my period. Yeah. That really shocked me out of it. I’ve been regular as clockwork since I got my first period, and its absence to me was like a big flashing red light screaming WARNING! WARNING! So I backed off. I stopped counting calories. I wasn’t exactly healthy. I had, and always have, that little voice in my head that tells me that I’m a fat pig – and it’s even harder to tell it to shut up because I know that by every definition out there I *am* fat. But anorexia, bulimia, eating disorders… they’re not a body size, they’re a mentality. It’s that little shithead that sits on your shoulder and shouts fat slurs at you.

It’s been a long road to loving who I am. I’m in my 4th year of college now, only a few quarters away from getting my English and French bachelor’s degrees. I’m 21, 5’3″ and a size 18/20. Even though I’m the biggest I’ve ever been, I also feel sexier and more confident. I’m not sure I’ll stay this size forever – I want to start working out and eating healthy again, because after a few depressive episodes I got quite lazy and weak, though I’m afraid that even if I start with a noble goal, the shithead will rear its ugly face and tell me to lose that weight so I can fit into 7 Jeans like the normal college girls do…

As for the video, I found it funny and bitter. I appreciated the commentary, and it was witty. But for a moment I had flashbacks of kneeling over the toilet with a toothbrush jammed down my throat crying because all I could manage to get my body to choke up was a few teaspoons of stomach acid…

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Andrea on January 31, 2011 at 8:23 pm.

I’m afraid I’ve arrived at the party quite late, but I wanted to say:

I have deep empathy for those triggered or offended by Joy’s video. I know I myself have been _violently_ triggered by ads for weight loss pills, diet food, and most especially bariatric surgery. But of them all, I would prefer to deal with the triggering knowing that the source was aimed at stopping the tide of madness rather than enlarging it.

_Vomiting_ does not equal _Bulimia_. It is an action associated with bulimia, but they are not one and the same. Just as food restriction is associated with anorexia, laxative purging is associated with both bulimia and anorexia… but there are other relevant associations, too. Fasting, vigorous exercise, and the desire for elective surgeries are just a few of the other _associations_ that can be made with various ED’s and an array of body dysmorphia types.

HOWEVER. All of these things have applications outside of ED’s as well, and a great many of them are touted in various commercials with elaborately coiffed, smiling people urging viewers to take them up for one reason or another. Even the laxatives, while not specifically aimed at weight loss, are recommended to actors and actresses dismayed at not being able to button their pants in order to ‘ease that bloated feeling.’ Do any of you recall the radio commercials selling vitamin tablets to be taken as part of a diet regimen that involved TOTAL FASTING every other day? That’s called starvation, people, and it, too, was commercialized.

This doesn’t mean that those commercials can’t or aren’t triggering for those of us who have engaged in those behaviors as part of our ED’s. But just as exercising to lose weight is not always indicative of anorexia, vomiting is not necessarily indicative of bulimia. As others here have pointed out, bulimia is not about weight loss.

Nevertheless, as others here have pointed out, plenty of people DO engage in vomiting to try losing weight, and are applauded for the effort. The mere fact that this is so well recognized indicates to me that Joy’s video does have a place and needs to be seen, to help those of us surrounded by people who are willing to accept ridiculous and harmful behaviors as ‘worth it’ to lose weight, to keep our perspective.

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Sarah on July 13, 2012 at 1:02 am.

Trigger Warning: Nothing unique or clever about the idea of a “vomit stick”. Toothbrushes, tongue depressors and fingers are all “vomit sticks” used by bulimics. This video is simply mocking bulimia in a way that I find neither unique, clever nor helpful.

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