What would make a person stop eating, even when food is available? Ruby Jones and Marina Santee look at the disease Anorexia Nervosa. This is the first in a three part series on body image.
Hello. Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Ruby Jones.
And I’m Marina Santee. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
‘At first I believed my thoughts were normal. You do not expect your eyes to lie! I looked at myself in the mirror. I hated what I saw. I hated myself so much that I reduced the amount of food that I ate. I did lots of exercise. Then, I felt better about myself. I decided that once I had reduced my weight a little, I would eat normally again. But when that time came, I was afraid. It felt good to lose a kilogram or so. I made sure I did lots of exercise everyday. In the end, my body felt terrible. But my mind said I am a horrible person who deserves pain.”
The opening words are from a young girl with anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is a condition that affects the mind – and the body. Anorexics have a false image of themselves. They work to make themselves as thin as possible. Anorexia damages a person’s health. It can lead to death. Anorexia can affect anyone at any time. But it is most common among young women and girls.
Today’s programme on anorexia is one of three Spotlight programmes on the subject of ‘Body Image.’
Eva Joy Musick is a woman who used to suffer with anorexia. One thing Eva learnt is that knowledge can bring power. Many former anorexics wish they had known about the sickness before it fully developed. Then, they may have been able to avoid it. So Eva wrote a short story to communicate some facts about anorexia. Eva tells the story through the eyes of a seventeen year old girl who has had anorexia, but who has been cured. In the story, this girl is in a car with Heather. Heather is a younger girl who does not understand that anorexia is a serious condition. Heather even speaks about becoming anorexic as if it is a good thing – something to be desired. Eva decides to shock Heather by telling her what an anorexic’s life is really like.
“So you want to be anorexic then?” I asked Heather.
“Yes”, she replied. “And don’t try and tell me all the bad things about how anorexia will kill me and ...”
I stopped her: “No, no, I am not here to do that. I am here to welcome you to the group! I was anorexic once. Now, I just help new girls”. Heather seemed shocked!
We drove to my house and I gave Heather a pen and piece of paper. I said, “Now, write down everything you enjoy and love in life.”
Just then, the telephone rang. It was my friend, Shawna. She and Nikki were going out to eat pizza. And they invited me. I told them I was with Heather. I said that I would bring her too. Heather passed me the piece of paper. “Finished!” she said. I looked at it.
“Let me see what you have written. You have your friends, family, boys... Is that all? Let us add these words too – life and future, OK?” Heather agreed. I put the piece of paper into my bag. And we left for the pizza place.
When we arrived my friends were waiting. The huge tasty pizza was already on the table. We sat down. And I reached for a piece of pizza to eat. Heather reached for a piece too. “Urm what are you doing?” I asked. “You can’t do that remember? You are anorexic.” And I pushed her hand back.
“But you are eating!” She protested.
“That is not the point”, I said. “Anyway, I said I show people how to be anorexic. I am not anorexic.” Angrily, Heather sat back in her chair.
A few minutes later, a group of Heather’s friends came in. Heather stood up to go and sit with her friends. But I held her arm and turned to her friends; “I do apologise. Heather cannot spend time with you anymore. She is anorexic now and she cannot have friends.”
Heather shouted, “What are you talking about?”
“No need to be angry Heather. You may as well start this right. Anorexics do not have time for friends, do they Nikki?” I said.
“No, you did not have time for us,” Nikki agreed. “Sorry Heather, but anorexia is your only friend now. You want to stay thin don’t you?”
Heather lowered her head. “Sorry friends, some other time.”
On the way home, I drove very slowly. We passed a man and a woman, holding hands. “You see those people Heather? Well, you can forget all that. Anorexics do not have time for love.” Then we passed an old woman sitting in front of her house. “Well, one good thing.” I said. “You will not have to worry about being like that. You will die before you are old! So, pass me that piece of paper you wrote on. Now, we better get rid of some of these things. Let me see ... friends, marriage, future.”
“What?!” Heather shouted. “That only leaves my family!”
“Oh yes, you better get rid of that too. You will cause your family great sadness Heather.”
“But I love my family.” Heather said, sadly. She began shouting and hitting her hand on the car door. By that time I had stopped in front of her house. “But Heather, you will not have time for...”
“Do not tell me that because I will! You are insane! I will have time and you know why? Being thin is not worth all that!” She shouted as she got out of the car.
So that is how I taught Heather to become the perfect anorexic!
No one fully understands why anorexia develops in some people and not others. It is a complex sickness. But many people believe that anorexia is caused by deeper, mental issues. One theory concerns the need to control. Imagine a girl who feels that she has no control in areas such as family conflict, school pressures, growing problems or some situation of violence. The theory suggests that such a girl could turn her need to control on herself. She may take firm control of her own body – even denying it food. Then she may become anorexic.
Theories like this suggest that treatment for anorexics is not only about gaining weight. It is about giving sufferers other tools to deal with life’s difficulties. These tools can include self belief, love, a sense of belonging, knowledge that someone has faith in them. These are all tools that will empower young people – in a way that will not bring damage to their bodies.
In another Spotlight programme we tell how one girl’s religious faith helped her fight anorexia. That programme is called; ‘Running on Empty.’
The writer of today’s programme was Marina Santee. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. Computer users can find our programmes and a link to Eva’s story on our website at http://www.radio.english.net. This programme is called, ‘Body Image: A Guide to Being Anorexic.’