Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Going to Extremes

Yesterday’s news brought word that France is outlawing Internet sites that the government feels are promoting anorexia and bulimia by showing photos of super-skinny people and offering helpful hints for effectively starving and purging. They’re known as pro-ana-mia sites by their viewers. Indeed, the people who frequent these sites – primarily tweens, teens and young women – consider anorexia and bulimia lifestyle choices. They want to be extremely skinny, like the models and actresses they emulate. With classic ana-mia vision, many of them, although already quite thin, perceive themselves as fat and are panicked by every morsel of food they encounter. Are they tempted to eat? Yes, of course, which is why they look to these sites for what is known in their world as “thinspiration.”

This story is distressing on several levels. For starters, it’s apparent that many young women around the world have a phobia about being fat – so much so, that they have no concept of being a normal, average weight; only totally skinny will suffice. They've bought into society's strident anti-fat attitudes – to an extreme. Should they be shielded “for their own good” by a government that wants to keep them from killing themselves? France thinks so.

I'm not so sure. As an old-school American, I bristle at the idea of state-imposed strictures designed to save us from ourselves. It is why, as an obese person and a smoker, I rant against anti-smoking laws and society’s rabid fear of the “obesity epidemic.” However, I’m genuinely distressed that the international thin-obsessed fashion industry has, for decades, “thinspired” young women to hate themselves as they are and motivated them to go to shocking extremes in pursuit of a distorted standard of beauty – like the young woman who illustrates this post. Personally, I think super-skinny fashion models should be banned, along with their pop culture entertainment counterparts (but that’s me being extreme).

But it's a quandary. If I adamantly defend my “right” to be very fat, a condition that many people here and abroad regard as even uglier (and just as suicidal) as the opposite extreme of the spectrum, how can I sanction the suppression of pro-ana-mia Web sites? Wouldn’t I be enraged if pro-fat/fat acceptance sites were banned? You bet!

Our culture (ours, the French, almost everyone) has demonized and ridiculed diversity in body size and has thereby created the pro-ana-mia extreme. Millions of young women, and some men, have been terribly victimized. But as I’ve said before, I support the right of suicide. I was suicidal during a darker period in my life and I assure you, making the decision to kill myself and then taking the necessary action was very difficult to do (and, as you can see, I didn't do it). “Passive” suicide – by radical thinness, smoking, or hard drug/alcohol abuse – this can be considered a lifestyle choice – crazy perhaps, even tragic, but a choice nonetheless.

I’d rather be dead than prevented from living as I choose, and I don’t doubt that the pro-ana-mias would rather be dead than fat. I'm reminded that the wonderful Gilda Radner once told an interviewer (during her SNL days) she would rather have cancer than be fat. Talk about be careful what you wish for! Mostly, I’d rather be dead than controlled by government policy (as the old saying goes, better to die on your feet than live on your knees). We are living in mean-spirited, judgmental, oppressive times – and I fear it will get much worse before it gets better. So, I say, let them not eat cake – and let them visit any sites they want to. They may be sick, but they have a right to be sick. Call me crazy, but I call that freedom.

1 comment:

Lori said...

Hi MizB! Thanks for visiting my blog today and for your compliments. Your blog is great. I like how you think and how you write. I'm going to have to come back and read more. What a small world that we live so close! Thanks again and enjoy your weekend (and the beautiful weather we have in NYC today!)