Daily Life: What pop culture gets wrong about bulimia

Daily Life: What pop culture gets wrong about bulimia

I have a piece at Daily Life this week, about why so many pop culture depictions of bulimia are inaccurate:

It’s true that bulimia happens among ballet dancers and beauty queens, and other people whose bodies are their livelihoods. But the reality of bulimia and other eating disorders that involve purging – through vomiting, overexercise, or laxative abuse – is that many people suffering from them don’t look like ballerinas or pageant contestants. Many women with bulimia – about 80% of bulimics are women – are not skinny women trying to stay skinny or trying to lose even more weight. In fact, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, people with bulimia “usually appear to be of average body weight.”

Watching pop culture portrayals of bulimia, you’d never know it. You’d also never know just how grotesque bulimia can be. It turns out that purging laxatives doesn’t make for great TV. It’s hard to give actresses the swollen cheeks that can result from frequent vomiting, while still keeping them appropriately hot. It’s hard to depict the way the stomach acid eats away at the teeth over time.

Depicting over-exercise is easier – plus, you get to show your already-skinny character in tight, stretchy exercise gear – and anorexia is easier still. Just have your character eatnothing. Bulimia is tougher to pull off on screen, in part because, while any eating disorder is brutal in its own way, the brutality of bulimia is obvious. It’s grotesque to do it, and gross to look at it, and as a result, it’s a good deal harder to sell an accurate portrayal of it to an audience, or worse, to glamorise it, than with other eating disorders.

You can read the whole thing here.


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