Wednesday, March 14, 2007


(NOTE TO READERS: Since posting this entry last night, I had a personal realization and have updated the post as a result. If you saw this post anytime before 11:30 pm on 3/14, you haven't seen the latest version.)
Last week, I was really burning to write about anorexic women at the gym and how upsetting it is to watch them wander listlessly through the workout floor, barely managing to lift weights, traipsing feebly on the treadmills, drowning in overlarge clothes, staggering through workout class, publicly engaged in a war against their bodies.
I wanted to communicate the horror of seeing these women naked in the locker room – stripped of buttocks and breasts, skin invariably turned a waxy yellow, Auschwitz-like victims of their own internal concentration camp transplanted onto the pleasure-oriented landscape of 21st century Manhattan.
I wanted to write about the complex reaction they evoke in me – a mixture of pity, worry and outrage. Like coming upon a homeless child on a street corner or walking through a cancer ward, my soul contracts at the sight of these skeletal gym rats. They are pathetic, these dying women on the workout floor, come to absolve themselves of the sin of imaginary fat.
I have spent entire workouts covertly monitoring them as I sweat my way through 45 minutes of Law and Order-fueled treadmill torture, worried that they might drop dead any second. I have been disturbed by the failure of fitness trainers to remove these women from harm’s way with a gentle intervention…and quick call to 911.
I have pondered the responsibility of fitness clubs towards anorexics and concluded that any facility dedicated to health and exercise needs to install vigilant monitors who might offer intervention in the same way that restaurant managers would be compelled to administer a quick Heimlich maneuver to a patron who has started to choke.

It is not, as the director of the Dodge Fitness Center at Columbia University once told me when I voiced my alarm at the growing number of anorexic students at his facility, an invasion of privacy to intervene. That is utter bulls#*t.

Intervening when you witness a suicide-in-progress is a moral imperative.

And while I fear for my starving sisters, I admit that I also experience anger at them for failing to overcome the habit of denying their bodies’ basic needs, a habit popularized by adolescent girls running from their sexuality, their mothers, the encroachment of adulthood, their emerging selves.

Rather than embrace the often-fattening pleasures of life, adult anorexics are stuck in a romance with the concept of self-abnegation, they practice masochism every minute, feeling purified by their hunger, strengthened by their resolve to forego pleasure.

Spiritual purists, they disavow interest in their corporeal existence. And though they intend to make themselves holy, they inadvertently sin, dishonoring God by tampering with God’s most glorious design – the human body – desecrating it through deprivation.

So, this is what I was burning to write about last week, this and the fact that, lately, as I observe these bony, brittle women at my beloved gym, I am aware that my extra winter poundage has necessitated the addition of cellulite-control leggings beneath my little black running shorts.
However, as this week dawned, the issue began to recede from my radar screen. Feeling duty bound to tackle the matter (having referenced it in the past post) I began writing but the prose didn't flow out of my fingertips. I found the going difficult, the subject eluded me, seemed foreign, barely held my interest.
Still, I soldiered on, determined to make good on my promise, choosing to segue from the scenario of starving women to my own winter weight gain. Here is the rest of what I wrote:

It is also impossible to ignore the fact that my abs are hardly rock-hard due to my winter penchant for eating pretty much whatever I like, including the vanilla Haagen Dazs I am currently inhaling…straight from the half-gallon container, I might add…with little spoonfuls tossed to Alfie the Pomeranian who has magically appeared computer-side, lured, no doubt by the scent of vanilla wafting through the apartment.

Yes, it is weird writing about anorexics while eating ice cream at midnight. Weird and ironic... or weird and appropriate.

Life affirming, even.

Haagen Dazs at midnight is the opposite of anorexia. (Unless you go and throw it up afterwards, but that is really bulimia.)

Indeed, I am feeling elated as this creamy confection melts on my tongue even if my belly is not bikini-ready and my thighs and butt need to be encased in slimming black spandex before I’ll appear in public. I am feeling elated even while acknowledging that I'll need to wear those leggings a little while longer before my inner fitness dominatrix prevails and chains me to an elliptical trainer and carb-free regime.

HOBB is away in India with Big Babe, Middle Babe is studying in Israel and Little Babe is asleep in my bed next to the pile of clothes I’ve neglected to put away since HOBB left the country last week.

Like amassing piles of clothes, eating ice cream at midnight is one of the pleasures and privileges of adulthood.

That, and watching late night television, perhaps an episode of Law and Order, until I wrest myself from the couch to return to the deadline project due at 10 am tomorrow morning. And that is where the original post ended.
But readers, as I read and re-read the post obsessively, I felt agitated. Yes, I had written about my honest reaction to starving women at the gym, revealing myself to be less than, or more than simply compassionate towards them in their plight. However, there was something else going on, something I was afraid to touch. Something that was at the core of my annoyance with anorexic adults, something that explained just why I felt compelled to dive into a half-gallon of Haagen Dazs to make it through the writing.
It had to do with my adult self confronting my starving teenage self, seeing myself in the extreme waif-like women, averting my gaze from the reminder of what it was like to be obsessed with overcoming my appetite, being unable to bear what I might have become.
It had to do with standing inside and outside the mind of the anorexic, feeling the draw of denial as a sham way of gaining some control over my life. It zapped me back to a nightmarish time of being forced to inhabit a role I did not choose, of feeling like a prisoner in my own life.
And though I have moved beyond that time, travelled light years out of that hell, the default mode for the stress and disequilibrium in my life is still the mode of self-denial.
So, what was left unstated in the original post is that I see myself as I was in the desperate dieters at the gym. And because of that close identification, I want to yell at them, shake them out of the hell they are in, move them into adulthood where autonomy generally allows us to create our own reality, rewrite our destiny, even.
In my life, I have slain the false god of self-destruction, refusing to capitulate to his decree.
The midnight Haagen Dazs is therefore my trophy, elixir of sticky delight and sweet dreams, the essence of my healing.

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