In recent weeks, Katie Couric, Lady Gaga, Stacy London and now, Nicole Scherzinger have all spoken out about their battles with eating disorders. Gaga confessed to suffering from anorexia and bulimia, Katie and Nicole were both bulimic, and fashion guru London struggled with both anorexia and compulsive eating. It’s amazing that these women are sharing their stories, but eating disorders aren’t a new phenomenon; especially in the entertainment industry. So I can’t help but wonder: Why? And why now?
I’d like to think that these celebrities aren’t just discussing this issue for good PR, as lots of commenters on a Vitamin G blog post about this subject seemed to think (although Stacy London does have a book coming out, and Katie Couric’s talk show is still pretty new, as well). Discussing your eating disorder for publicity seems simultaneously too simple and also too emotionally risky, even for bona fide attention hogs like Lady Gaga. No, I think it’s something more positive than that (or at least, I hope so).
The 24-hour news cycle (including the internet) has made it easier than ever for people to speculate about and criticize celebrity bodies. It seems like our media is now basically a body snark free-for-all. No one is safe, least of all anyone with a body that lies outside of the teeny-tiny standard that’s become the norm: not Christina Hendricks, or Jessica Simpson, or Christina Aguilera, or Paula Deen, or Lena Dunham or Mindy Kaling. Not even a small town news anchor can escape the constant, relentless scrutiny. Women are told again and again on television, in movies and in magazines that thinness is the same as happiness, as beauty, as value.
And I can only imagine how buzzingly loud that message is when you’re the person onstage, onscreen, or front of the camera. Dr. Gregory Jantz, the founder and director of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, a residential eating disorder treatment facility in Edmonds, Washington, says he’s not surprised that famous women often suffer from eating disorders, as they can be linked to personality traits these women share:
“People who become national stars in highly competitive fields like movies, television and music often hold themselves to very exacting standards. Many of the people that we treat for conditions like anorexia and bulimia show a similarly strong degree of striving toward perfectionism.”
That may explain why lots of celebrities struggle with body image both before and after they got famous, but it doesn’t explain the rash of celebrity confessions in the last few weeks.