Vikki Hensley is 24-years-old and currently in the throes of an extremely terrible battle with anorexia. Yet instead of talking about her problems to a therapist, Hensley has shared her story with The Daily Mail.
Hensley, a PhD student who is clearly quite ill, claims that she's not talking to psychologists or psychiatrists because her intellect makes her incapable of treatment. "I am always one step ahead of them," Hensley says, "I know what they are thinking and how they think they will 'cure' me." Which, as any former anorexic can tell you, is complete and total bullshit. Everyone, when deeply, deeply sick, feels like they are too smart for treatment: the illness has taken over, and the ED voice will do anything to convince us to stay away from those who might want to pull us away from our obsession.
Yet the Daily Mail paints Hensley as a brilliant and tragic mind whose story is somehow different from the stories of millions of women out there suffering from eating disorders, describing her failing health, interviewing her desperate mother, and acting surprised that someone as bright as Hensley could fall victim to anorexia. It is just another in a series of disgusting media interviews with incredibly sick women; a freak show designed to shock readers with images of anorexic females and tales of the dark side of eating disorders.
My issue here is this: Vikki Hensley's story, much like the story of the anorexic twins, who Entertainment Tonight breathlessly followed around for years as if they were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, is not designed to help anybody. Instead, it is designed to add a mysterious glamour to the illness, a n"Oh, isn't this awful? Let's post more shocking pictures" treatment that dehumanizes the victim and adds yet another misconception to the disease: that it is a peculiar "choice" that some women make, and not a serious mental illness.
Hensley's quotes are painfully familiar: she claims that she enjoys being mistaken for a young girl, and that her weight is a sign that she's "very good at dieting", which feeds her drive for perfectionism. She is, sadly, a textbook anorexic: everything she's said, I once said, as did the women who were hospitalized with me during my illness. We all thought we were too smart for treatment, we all strove for perfectionism, we all allowed the ED voice to speak on our behalf. Yet at some point, we recognized that our illness had taken control, and we took the steps to gain that control back.
Not so for Vikki Hensley, who, after attempts to go into recovery at a hospital, now keeps herself going with a caloric intake that "allows her to function 'normally.'" Hensley is still very sick: she has not had a period in years and still speaks only in the language of the illness, noting that "The thought of having a period makes me feel unclean, and while I want to have children, having periods isn't something I want to have to deal with. In my ideal world, I would only have a period when in the future I want children, not now." Her desperate need to return to a pre-pubescent state, where her body remains androgynous, is something many fellow anorexics are all too familiar with.
We are supposed to empathize with Hensley, and to a point, I do. But mostly, these types of articles piss me off more than anything else: Vikki Hensley is mentally ill, and on the path to death from her illness, yet the Daily Mail celebrates her willingness to barely squeak by in the name of her career, as if we should think she's some kind of hero for being able to juggle her anorexia and her coursework at the same time. I should clarify that my anger is not directed at Vikki, but rather her illness, which is leading her to believe that she's doing the right thing, and the Daily Mail for shamelessly trumpeting said illness. Nobody should be held up for being sick: this type of thing only validates her existence as "Vikki The Anorexic" instead of Vikki the Person, and sadly, every time we parade sick women around as tragic heroes, we are only feeding the illness and potentially egging them on toward their death.
It breaks my heart to read such things: Vikki's story and her words are things I've heard a million times, words I've used myself. Yet I was fortunate enough to escape the strange media fascination with the illness: nobody ever praised me for being mentally ill, or celebrated the fact that I had found a way to barely survive while continuing my "commitment" to anorexia. One can only hope that Vikki, sooner rather than later, will get the help she really needs. God knows she's not going to get it from exploitative articles like this.