Liz Jones' "For 40 years I have battled anorexia - so what happened when I had to eat normally for three weeks?" is, hands down, one of the most upsetting pieces of writing we've ever seen.
Yes, it's the Daily Mail. And Liz Jones has been party to a goodly amount of asshattery in her time. But she's a also writer who's actually bucked her publication's trend and written smart pieces in which, as she puts it, she's "vocal in campaigning for more diverse women on the catwalk, on the covers of magazines, and in adverts - encouraging women to love themselves as they are, not to conform to some outrageous, one-tiny-size-fits-all ideal of beauty." But, as she frankly admits, in her case that's theoretical.
I certainly don't practise what I preach and am in fact secretly proud that I'm still a size 8 [4 US -ed], a sample size. I love my concave stomach and I can't help, despite my beliefs, but regard women who are fat, who don't exercise, who gorge on things like Galaxy, as somehow lazy. They just don't try hard enough....That's the thing about being a borderline anorexic: it makes you feel superior, clean, morally unimpeachable.
There's nothing "borderline" about it. Perhaps because she's not currently hospitalized (she has been in the past) she thinks her life is not in the grip of illness but merely joyless and controlled. "I have never pigged out. I have never eaten a whole bar of chocolate, a whole banana, or even a whole avocado," she says with the strange mixture of self-awareness and defiant pride that characterizes the piece. But as the article continues, it becomes abundantly clear that the author is very ill - and that what she needs is not to be force-fed a bunch of heavy food, but to see a psychiatrist, and quickly.
Jones is perfectly ready to admit that her illness has impacted her life, but conflates neurosis and illness, veganism and ED, looking good in a bikini and being unable to menstruate, "being thin" with "being sick" with an ease that's alarming.
Being this way made me not just socially awkward, but unlovable: I've always hated being touched, hugged, naked, half-dressed on holiday, in case I'm found wanting, in case someone felt or saw an extra ounce of flesh. Being this thin meant I never got pregnant; I have menstruated perhaps half-a-dozen times in my life...In fact, I was always fearful of getting pregnant because the thought of my stomach growing fat, of stretch marks and a big bum, was not a price I was willing to pay for a child. The whole process seemed messy, dirty, greedy.
We are used to reading about people struggling with ED, perhaps, but not from the eye of the storm: usually these accounts come from the tentative safety of recovery, or from someone receiving some kind of treatment. This is different: Jones may be smart and self-aware, but she's so in the grip of her illness's distortions that she doesn't seem able to see what's appallingly clear to any reader. And why, in the name of heaven, does she then decide to "address" her illness by allowing her visiting sister to stuff her with scones and cream and cake for three weeks on end? "To learn pleasure in food" presumably - and to help offset her doctor's concerns about osteoporosis - but does anyone really think this kind of unbalanced 0-60 is going to do anything but produce more anxiety and self-loathing? Even Jones doesn't: as she begins the "experiment," she says, "And so, for the first time in 40 years, I'm going to try, for three weeks, to eat normally. To see if my world falls apart and I become fat, and bloated, and lazy." She adds, "Oh, and by the way, at the start of this odyssey I weigh 8st 2lb, which is slight for my 5ft 8in frame. What a silly, empty half-century achievement that is." She may know the second part is true, but that's hardly the same as believing it.
And what happens? Well, her sister puts her on some kind of grandmother's weight-lifting diet, heavy on the carbs, cream, and sugar. Not shockingly, Jones feels "incredibly fat, and lazy, and tired." There are up-sides: she enjoys some of what she eats, begins to take things a bit easier and "when I stand up, I don't see stars and black clouds. A first." Of course, she ends up putting on a few pounds, and she's "horrified." Not shockingly, taking on her semi-acknowledged ED in an incredibly drastic and unhealthy fashion, without professional guidance, has not achieved any miracles on her psyche.
I'm afraid I find all the extra flesh disgusting. I start imagining myself thin again, savouring how much I will enjoy losing this weight...The thought gives me focus. All this eating has proved what I thought all along: food makes you soft, lazy, undisciplined. And I realise my not eating is an excuse not to take part, and that part of my personality has not changed.
What's the most terrifying part of this? The self-deception? The fact that one of the few fashion-writer advocates for runway diversity actually has contempt for anyone over a sample size? That her publishers would run such a naked cry for help? (Okay, that doesn't shock anyone.) That some young girl could read this and, like Jones, believe this isn't a serious problem? It's hard to know what Jones' intent writing this is (with the Mail, a certain amount of gratuitous humiliation is apparently contractually obligatory; that shot - cropped by me - is intended to show off her new "gut") but one thing is for sure: this successful, mature woman's confession that "I'd rather be thin than happy or healthy" is not unique, and is cautionary. And Liz? Despite your avowal that "it's too late" for you? It's not.
Earlier: Daily Mail Writer Says Drive To Be Thin Holds Women Back
Columnist Liz Jones Buys £585 Silver Leggings, Encourages Children To Go Hungry
Daily Mail Columnist: American Women Are "Mindbogglingly Stupid"