Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Ron Paul at Seattle University | Team Nickels Wants Park Ranger... »

Friday, September 14, 2007

My Walk to Work

posted by on September 14 at 16:20 PM

So… uh… if you were walking to work and saw someone throwing a rope over the limb of a tree, clearly about to hang themselves, or preparing to jump from the Aurora Bridge… do you say something? Anything? “Hey, man—sure you wanna do that?” Or do you walk on by?

Heading in to work this morning I passed a young woman—late teens, early 20s—on the street. She was clearly anorexic. She looked like someone in a photo taken at a Nazi concentration camp after liberation—if, uh, people in concentration camps had blonde pony tails, iPods, and pink work-out suits hanging from their emaciated bodies. And it was anorexia—she wasn’t suffering from leukemia or breast cancer or a brain tumor. People reduced to skin and bones by cancer don’t go out running. If it was cancer, she would have been in a bed in a hospital, morphine dripping into her veins, not out exercising.

She was anorexic, starving herself to death, committing suicide.

Should I have said something? “Hey, can I buy you some breakfast? A bagel or six?” I didn’t, of course, because… it would have been rude. And considering the prerequisite mental damage that anorexia requires, it would have been futile. Maybe a single comment from a stranger—“Sure you wanna do that?”—can convince someone not to jump off a ledge or a bridge, but can a single comment enough to save someone disciplined and determined enough to starve herself to death? Kinda doubt it.

Still, you hear that anorexics believe they’re fat, and that they walk around thinking that everyone that looks at them thinks they’re fat. But what if every person an anorexic walked past said, “Jesus, you’re skinny! Eat something!” Or, “Can I get you a sandwich?” Would that help? Would it hurt? Have no effect at all?

All I know for sure is that I felt terrible all morning, like I passed someone preparing to jump off a bridge and I didn’t have the courage—the simple human decency—to say, “Hey, you sure you wanna do that?”

RSS icon Comments


I have a friend with a family history of severe alcoholism. So my friend doesn't drink a drop. However, my friend struggles with anorexia. She is addicted to controlling her hunger. I have so far refrained from pointing out the irony to her. And yeah, she'd be stunning if she just gained a few pounds.

Posted by Dr_Awesome | September 14, 2007 4:28 PM

I don't think it would have helped. If you'd called her skinny, she probably would have thought you were cruelly mocking her gigantic ass.

Posted by Gitai | September 14, 2007 4:29 PM

So, she could've had cancer. She could've had Crohn's Disease. She could've had all kinds of fucked up shit besides anorexia and maybe the last thing she needs is a stranger walking up to her and saying something to her about how she looks.

If she needs human decency, she can get it from people who know her. And if, for some reason, the people who know her aren't giving it to her, she's not going to take it from you.

Posted by Judah | September 14, 2007 4:33 PM

Huh? Are you suddenly the "how to live" police, Dan?

Posted by frederick r | September 14, 2007 4:35 PM

It would have no effect at all. But that's not what matters. What matters is that you (would have) tried. You never know.

Posted by Mr. Poe | September 14, 2007 4:36 PM

Play her ribs like a xylophone.

Flight of the Bumblebee, if you can manage it.

Posted by JC | September 14, 2007 4:38 PM

The next time I see Ann Coulter I will ask her if I can get her something to eat....

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | September 14, 2007 4:38 PM

Does the same apply to fat people? If I see a fat person eating should I feel guilty if I don't ask them if they're sure they want to eat that?

Posted by kyleen | September 14, 2007 4:39 PM

Anorexics don't usually die, but they pretty seriously fuck their bodies up. So maybe the proper comparison would be, if you saw someone about to jump out of their apartment window onto the top of a parked bus, would you stop them?

I guess the answer would still be the same, though.

Posted by Eric F | September 14, 2007 4:40 PM

Anorexia is a psychological disorder that manifests in a physical way. You buying her food or even force feeding her won't make her disease go away. You'd be better off offering to pay for a psychological consult or something.

Posted by Carollani | September 14, 2007 4:41 PM

I have the same reaction everytime I see someone smokeing...

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | September 14, 2007 4:41 PM

I'm with Judah. MYOB, Dan.

Posted by mmbb | September 14, 2007 4:46 PM

Agree with No.8-You probably wouldn't say anything to a fat person.

And it would not help. Everyone she knows probably tells her she's thin.

But it's a good thing you feel bad about it-it shows you have compassion.

Incidentally, when my husband was a kid he was walking with his father along FDR Drive in NY when they saw someone about to jump into the river. His father ended up talking to the man for a few hours, and he didn't jump-that day, at least.

Posted by Dianna | September 14, 2007 4:49 PM

Dan, even teachers who have students with anorexia... kids we care about, see every day, support through all kinds of developmental madness... we can't just sit them down and talk to them about their own anorexia. Nothing a stranger says to an anorexic would make a difference, other than potentially triggering more body-image anxiety. These things take major professional interventions.

So you're off the hook.

Posted by L | September 14, 2007 4:49 PM

Seriously, Dan, there's nothing you, personally, could do. Real anorexia is a full-on cognitive disorder, and anorexics don't need reassurance they're not fat from a stranger (or Stranger), they need therapy.

Posted by tsm | September 14, 2007 4:51 PM

Good on you for caring. :)

Whether or not she actually has annorexia, whether or not saying something would have changed anything. The fact that you care matters.

Posted by Phelix | September 14, 2007 4:58 PM

Dan, it's sweet that you care but it wouldn't do any good.

And #7, the next time you see Ann Coulter, ask her if she wants a bottle of sleeping pills and a gun to go with her Tic Tac and bottled water.

Posted by monkey | September 14, 2007 5:03 PM

Actually people with anorexia do die and in fact psychiatrists are allowed/required to commit them to hospitals, when they reach the immediate threat range.
However unlike jumpers, the helping profession calls it parasuicidal behavior (like death by cop in certain socioeconomic groups). Thus they can go a long time "on the edge", before their physical problems become critical.
I don't know if suggesting to her to eat something would help, as her dysmorphia is likely to be egosyntonic. However, if it was said nicely, non-judgementally and supportively by everyone who saw her, knows her and cares for her, the social pressure/support might have an effect. Really though, she needs therapy and possibly inpatient care.

Posted by MSW | September 14, 2007 5:04 PM

I think more people should say something, to both the obese and the anorexic. If it comes from a caring place it can't hurt anything.

Posted by AMB | September 14, 2007 5:15 PM

At a local gym, I used to always see this girl who was scarily thin who spent possibly hours doing cardio. I'd come at different times during the day and she'd be there too. She worked out at a frantic pace and with a determined expression, changing machines after she'd finished one, shirt completely soaked with sweat. I always wanted to say something... but I knew it wasn't at all my place to do so, and it wouldn't have made any difference anyway. When I stopped seeing her there, I assumed she'd died or been sent to rehab. It just kills me to think about the former of the two options... but it's nothing that could've been changed by well-intentioned words from a stranger. So, Dan, I definitely feel you on this one.

Posted by Rose Red | September 14, 2007 5:17 PM

I remind them that everyone they leave will be depressed and sad and angry for the rest of their lives - and then say the part over the water means people who see their body won't have to go to grief counselling.

Then, as they argue, I yank them back and drag them to the phone.

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 14, 2007 5:18 PM

I came home from college halfway through freshman year and my parents took one look at me and hauled me off to the hospital. I probably looked exactly like that girl (I don't have any photos from that time, thank god). But I did have Crohn's disease and I lost almost a third of my weight in a matter of months. I was a walking skeleton.

Nearly dying sucked, but what really annoyed me was when the doctor asked me if I was anorexic. What a fucking idiot. This was after I'd said "I'm too thin! I miss food!" So yeah, I'm with Judah and the others. Help the folks you know need help, help the kids who're being beaten and abused in public, but this girl's probably best left alone.

Posted by jtroop | September 14, 2007 5:27 PM

So here Dan writes a touching little something about how our idea of politeness seems a bit callous, and how agonizing this is to him, and how he wishes he could do something...and the immediate (and predictable) response is "OMG UR AN ASSHOLE MIND UR OWN BEESWAX, ASSHOLE!"

Nice, guys. Nice.

Posted by John | September 14, 2007 5:34 PM

Although this woman looked terrible, I think it would have been out of line to say something.

Posted by yup | September 14, 2007 5:40 PM

19: That's the dumbest thing I've read today... and I've been reading the Slog all day long.

It doesn't matter to the person you just unintentionally insulted that it came from a "caring place." Just mind your own fucking business.

Posted by Carollani | September 14, 2007 5:54 PM

My take: if you want to kill yourself, go ahead. I'd keep walking.

Posted by Gomez | September 14, 2007 6:05 PM

@9 - ZING!

Posted by Paulus | September 14, 2007 6:13 PM

Just like all kittens and puppies don't grow up to make good pets, there is a tiny, tiny, minority of humans that just aren't fit to thrive for whatever reason - or all kinds of reasons. Let those people go. Show compassion all you can when warranted, but some people will do themselves in regardless - for them life is suffering. Of three suicides I've known in my years, only one would have benefited from intervention. The other two would have ended the same regardless of anyone's words.

You don't know all the details [your diagnosis could be wrong], you don't know the future, you should feel no guilt here. But as a former catholic boy I get it. You need the absolution of your congregation.

Posted by ouzel | September 14, 2007 6:31 PM

Dan, being Dan, that is, a man with intuition for common sense and an expert in delusion-killing, is the best person to whom an anorexic could have as a friend, because the whole thing in anorexia is severe self-delusion. No single man can ever change an anorexic alone, but a Dan Savage can certainly be a huge help.
But it is a commitment, as in you'd have to be her friend. And anorexia being a cult of the self through flesh, you're unlikely to get genuine recognition. (Well, at least, the anorexics I know stayed self-centered even when their eating habits went back to normal.)

Posted by Mokawi | September 14, 2007 6:42 PM

There's a strange restraint we all feel with each other in a city, walking past: part of you wants to reach out and rescue a person who seems in misery, for the simple human connection you feel with their struggle. But the hesitance we feel is usually the stronger force.

Like we couldn't all live this close together if we take too much responsibility for each other. And then every once in awhile some godawful Kitty Genovese thing happens and everyone decides they need to turn up the responsibility dial just a little.

It seems like a tension in urban living that won't be resolved with quick answers. Good for Dan for being awake enough to struggle with it.

Posted by rhynn | September 14, 2007 7:04 PM

I was anorexic in my teens. it DID help when people said, 'God, you're sooo skinny." It chipped away at my illusion.

Say something next time, Dan.

Posted by Katia Roberts | September 14, 2007 7:12 PM

I think a good rule of thumb is that if someone is killing themselves immediately by hanging/jumping, and a good friend will never have the chance to stop them, then a stranger should intervene.

If on the other hand, it's a slow death, like eating Twinkies, or reckless driving, or voting republican, then friends/family should be the one to remind them that they are killing themselves. The slower the suicide the closer you have to be. Some things should only come from your mother, or whoever plays Mom in their life.

Posted by DJSauvage | September 14, 2007 7:12 PM

My sister is sometimes thought to be anorexic, because she's skinnier than anyone has a right to be. But she's not; she's just really really thin, and always has been.

Point is that automatically assuming the girl was anorexic is risky.

But Dan's post is a good one. If someone's killing themselves, or making ready to do so, quickly (the jump off the bridge or rope over a branch examples) then saying/doing something is generally seen as being socially correct and polite.

Why, then, is it uncool to say/do something if they're doing it slowly? Anorexia, or overeating (much more common in America today) or alcohol or drugs or any of a host of other risky activities...

The moral of the story seems to be that if it's a deal where they're consciously doing it over a long period- meaning they aren't just some spur-of-the-moment kind of thing- then it's okay for them to make that choice for themselves.

I am not crazy about this idea. :(

Posted by BlueEyedBuddhist | September 14, 2007 7:28 PM

@19 means well, but in a general sense, this brings on really creepy conclusions.

While anorexia or obesity may be what one considers a life-on-the-line disorder, there are many out there who think that, say, one who does not believe in Jesus has his or her life on the line as well. And there's nothing wrong with people who feel that way. But I definitely don't want to support any statement that allows these people to show concern for me just because they think I might be on the brink of a fall.

Now, if I were just run over by a vehicle, or I've obviously been the victim of an accident or crime, that's a completely different context.

Posted by matthew fisher wilder | September 14, 2007 7:53 PM

My wife and I saw that same woman yesterday. Horrifying.

Coincidentally, my wife specializes in treating eating disorders. It's an incredibly stubborn disease, and your comments wouldn't have made any difference. None at all.

Posted by Sean | September 14, 2007 8:34 PM

I asked my psychotherapist wife what she thought. Her take was that since Anorexia is a struggle for control, the anorexic will just continue the conversation in her head until she wins. She also says that anorexics tend to dig in their heels in the face of comments about their bodies.

After all it's not like Karen Carpenter, Nicole Richie or the skinny Olson twin never heard that they are too skinny. When talk show hosts joke about your weight, you pretty well hear the message. Those women still starve themselves while the whole world is saying "have a burger for Christ's sake!"

On the other hand, #31, Katia's comment is probably the most important one on the thread. It is important to hear what works from actual former anorexics. Everything I have ever heard about working with them is a tale of incredible frustration and impossible levels of resistance. I have come to think that is something that people either have to grow out of or die from. If we can find out what works from actual former anorexics maybe we can find some better answers.

Carrie Otis has said some about her struggle with anorexia although she managed only to get down to impossibly hot rather than Bergen-Belson. But from what I have read it seems to have been a very slow process with her and it may just turn out to be a matter of time more than anything else.

Katia, what else can you tell us about your thought process while you were sick and what helped you recover? Also, how old were you when you stopped being anorexic?

Posted by Jim | September 14, 2007 8:36 PM

My thougts about anorexia changed when I read Harriet Brown's piece in the NYT, "One Spoonful at a Time." Google it.

Posted by MidwayPete | September 14, 2007 8:56 PM

speaking from experience, I would expect that girl to have been sincerely flattered had you told her that she was too skinny. Getting it from your friends and relatives is one thing, getting it from a complete stranger is even better! (at least that's how I would have felt). When I was sick, I was never trying to lose weight to look "normal" or even like a supermodel, I was trying to look frail and skeletal. This might not be true of all anorexics, but I doubt this feeling was isolated in me. Had it been me, I would've posted excitedly about it on some anorexic forum somewhere and waited for the congratulations to come flowing in.

Posted by citrus | September 14, 2007 9:09 PM

Great article. The Maudsley approach is actually the only treatment with data showing that it works. Nevertheless, it's been slow to catch on here in the US, perhaps because it puts treatment in the hands of parents rather than hospitals.

Posted by Sean | September 14, 2007 9:14 PM

I lost a friend to anorexia this year, and I fought the same question for months. She came back from SLAC looking deathly thin, and all of us who knew her were trying to find something we could do. We were none of us close to her, and if we said anything she pulled further away. I tried to just be a friend. Seven months later she passed out on the sidewalk and was taken to hospital. Two weeks after that she was dead.

Could I have done more? I don't know. I wish I could have. She had been anorexic for fifteen years at least, long enough that she never went through puberty; she'd been hospitalized for it before, involuntarily, and was still angry about that years later. My thought was that all we could do was let her know we were friends and wait until she asked for help. She died instead.

Now I know two more people on the same path. What can I do? I don't know.

Posted by Anne | September 14, 2007 9:38 PM


Ask them straight out if they have problems, either with depression or with their weight. Don't feel hurt if it seems like they're lying to you. Read up on eating disorders. Talk to to parents and friends to see if anyone's taken any steps yet. If there's no family to help, do an intervention yourself. If the intervention doesn't work and the disease has progressed far enough, it's possible to have them hospitalized against their will, which sounds awful until you realize that hospitalization may be the only way to help them.

There's a lot that you can do. Good luck.

Posted by Ursula | September 14, 2007 11:30 PM

@1"And yeah, she'd be stunning if she just gained a few pounds."

Thanks Dr. Awesome, thats pretty much what I was wondering after the fist couple of sentences.

Posted by Giffy | September 15, 2007 12:56 AM

I'm fat.

Posted by Buffy | September 15, 2007 1:30 AM

I know how you felt Dan. I was in a corner shop last Saturday night to buy some booze when I saw a woman, she was clad all in black and was looking at some magazines, I felt an emptiness in my stomach when I couldn't see any discernible human shapes behind her clothing. I looked at the store manager and he was staring, transfixed, at this woman; then I saw her face and I can't even describe how I felt... It was a surreal feeling, I sort of froze inside, like seeing someone who's dead already, except that she was just casually browsing through this magazines... My girlfriend was with me, but she didn't see her, so I just took her hand and got out of there as fast as possible

Posted by PigBlanche | September 15, 2007 4:48 AM

Number 36 you wrote:

"Carrie Otis has said some about her struggle with anorexia although she managed only to get down to impossibly hot rather than Bergen-Belson. " you are saying that it is impossibly hot to be anorexic. Did this strike anyone else as disturbing and misogynistic? I hope your psychotherapist wife can provide you with a referral.

Posted by Molly | September 15, 2007 5:30 AM

Over time I've had a few talks with my friend; and what my friend has explained has been in line with most of the comments here. To my friend, it was about control, and given that my friend was in a terrible situation re: the other parts of her life at the time, turning to anorexia represented, for her, something she had utmost control of.

And no amount of flattery, cajoling, or explaining had any effect on her. Telling her she was too thin had the opposite effect- it was almost a compliment to her. What she heard was "Yes, it's working, I AM in control!" And it isn't about being thin at all. She can see a voluptuous, full-figured attractive woman and be envious of that woman's figure. Suggesting to her that she would be even more attractive if she were to gain a few pounds, though, is utterly unacceptable to her.

My friend claims she is over it now. But when a group of us goes out for dinner and she only drinks a coke, it makes me want to cry.

Posted by Dr_Awesome | September 15, 2007 7:58 AM

I'm with you @45. If there's such a fine line between superhot and concentration camp in our society we better expect anorexia to become increasingly common.

Posted by chi type | September 15, 2007 8:01 AM

There's a lot of voices saying it wouldn't have helped, as she's probably too far gone/the disease is too resistant; however, people vary and the disease varies too I'd bet: next time say something. I wish I knew what the something was, it should be tactful in case she does have some awful disease other than anorexia. Perhaps "Are you okay?" which is pretty neutral, yet gives an opening to conversation if she's ill. Seems lame; although I'm not sure a stranger can push harder than that.

There's accumulating evidence that anorexia, like so much about us, is partly genetic too. Triggered perhaps by enviroment, and complexly affected by our other genes as well. We may need early interventions and appropriate medicines to cure it. You wouldn't expect to cure schizophrenia without drugs, anorexia may need its own specific treatments too.

Posted by SpookyCat | September 15, 2007 8:09 AM

Yes you should have said something.
How about a smile and "Good Morning"
thereby affirming her essential humanity.
Miracles happen when we connect with each other_ no guarantees of course.

Posted by coyote yogi | September 15, 2007 8:51 AM

1) Everyone in favor of staging an intervention with fat women everytime one orders a milkshake, kindly step off. It is pretty difficult for a woman of any size to cross puberty without being made aware that she could stand to lose a couple pounds. If making people miserable about themselves built motivation, we would live in a nation of anorexics.

2) There is a very young woman in our neighborhood who is an exercise bulemic - she powerwalks five to eight hours a day, every day. We are all aware of it, and aware that her family is constantly working with her and her mental health care providers to try to help her. What can we do, besides treat her with compassion, and invite her in when she gets caught out in a storm?

And maybe try to address the fact that once she's nineteen, unless she gets to college, she gets bumped off insurance and there's no health care for her anymore. That is what worries me the most.

Posted by purpleshoes | September 15, 2007 8:52 AM

The last time a jumper was slowing traffic on University Bridge, The Stranger said "JUMP!". Some asshole wants to die and is preventing us from getting to work on time so we can live and pay our mortgage? Get it over with.

I hope The Stranger isn't going all soft and new agey on us. It's thinning the herd getting rid of these people.

Posted by Jump! | September 15, 2007 10:19 AM


That was 2001, right?

I'd just moved here for college and that story was so bizarre to me.

Incidentally Aimee Mann's "Save Me" started on my play list as I read these comments. Tear! =*(

Posted by Lake | September 15, 2007 11:05 AM


I like the subtle (ha!) victim mentality you're adopting there. Obese people could stand to lose WELL MORE than a couple of pounds. In most cases, you're talking about at least 60-80 pounds.

It's not about making you feel bad, it's about getting you to recognize that your dysfunctional relationship with food is going to send you to an early grave.

Posted by AMB | September 15, 2007 11:48 AM


I agree that I may not have been super sensitive with my phrasing. However, google Carrie Otis and see what I am talking about.

Although I did use "guy talk" to make my point, what I was talking about was the fact that people (usually women) can be anorexic without looking like it to "civilians." Carrie Otis never looked skinnier than the average model we see today. She would have looked chunky next to Kate Moss.

Nevertheless, I accept her claim to have been anorexic. The reason I bring this up is to point out that the walking skeletons that most of us instinctively identify as anorexic are not the only ones who have the disease. They may in fact just be the most visible tip of a very much larger iceberg.

So. I can accept that I made my point in a potentially offensive way. Can you accept that even so my point had some merit to it?

Posted by Jim | September 15, 2007 11:59 AM

@30: My thoughts exactly.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | September 15, 2007 1:21 PM

Dan, there's actually a very good book that exactly deals with your blog post. "The Fall" by Camus. It's about a man who's got it all, fame, fortune, looks and one night, after closing his law practice, he takes a stroll down Amsterdam's many canals, crossing a bridge where a beautiful woman is staring into the water. He wants to stop and ask her name, take her to dinner, but walks on. Then he hears the splash of a body hitting the water. But he doesn't turn back. This book is the narrative of his life, as he tells it to a stranger in a bar over beer. Worth reading.

Posted by Anya | September 15, 2007 1:48 PM

I have lost a significant amount of weight before because of crohns. Having people I know and complete strangers tell me how skinny I am and how I need to eat something has caused me to be extremely self conscious about my body. It makes it very hard to be comfortable with who you are when everyone apparently sees you as abnormal or shocking. Sure it was just them expressing their concern, but it did not help me in any way. Unfortunately in the situation described, there is no way of knowing what the 'right' thing to do is.

Posted by skeleton man | September 15, 2007 1:55 PM


I appreciate your response, and I understand that your point is that Carrie Otis looks closer to "normal" weight than the young woman described by Dan Savage - on this point I totally agree with you. Carrie Otis is a beautiful woman and I would not have guessed that she suffered from an eating disorder.

I also thank you for conceding that your comment was "potentially" offensive. I hope you don't mind if I use girl talk to say that your comment was, in fact, actually offensive. You seem to make a pretty typical straight white guy assumption (I am not saying you are a straight white guy - just that you are thinking as one) that waif-like, borderline anorexic women are "impossibly hot". As a former anorexic, turned healthy athlete, I can promise you that anorexia is not hot. Anorexics are often constantly ill, grow excess body hair (their body's response to having so little fat), stop getting their periods, and have little or no sex drive. Personally, I think that healthy normal weight women are "impossibly hot", so does my husband.

So there, rant over - sorry that you were the victim of me spitting poison, but I am really sick of people who think that only frail and helpless women are attractive. Young people buy into this an do terrible damage to themselves.



Posted by Molly | September 15, 2007 3:07 PM

@53: I care about the rights of both people I resemble, and people I don't resemble at all, to live life unheckled. I resent the implication that someone's body is public property to be commented on. (I am, however, entertained by the way your pronoun choice makes it sound like you're trying to armchair-diagnose me from your computer, sight unseen. Hi!)

In general: there's a difference between acting with respectful compassion towards strangers and getting all "hello, there, little lady, let me tell you how to run your life." It sounds like Dan, in his rather direct way, was still contemplating the former rather than the latter.

Posted by purpleshoes | September 15, 2007 3:16 PM

Well, this is something that I feel qualified to give an opinion about. First of all, I have almost jumped off a freeway overpass and YES, someone walking by did tell me to jump which caused me to move closer to the edge and to the outside part of the railing. However, another person walking by aided by a police officer kindly grabbed me and pulled me back over the railing before I fell or jumped. At the time I was psychotic and I'm not even really certain why I decided it would be good to jump, but being egged on by the assholes who told me to jump did not help. In this case, the intervention of strangers was needed, because I probably wouldn't have made it off of that overpass alive. So, if someone is jumping off of something or hanging themselves, please do help. Yelling "Jump" is a complete asshole thing to do and you should get your penis and testicles cut off for that behavior. At one time I was also starving myself to lose weight. While I wasn't anorexic, my hair was starting to fall out and I wasn't eating. All anyone cared about was what my new body looked like. "oh you look so great! how did you do it! you look so thin! good job!" No one cared that I was dying inside and literally dying from starving myself to death. All anyone ever said was how good I looked because I wasn't fat. And, I'm sure people would have commented if I had gotten too thin. I never got too thin. Instead I became bulimic and gained a lot of weight back. Still people felt free to comment on my weight and still do to this day. Apparently my body shape and size is a public commodity that should be talked about at all times. Either I'm too fat, I'm looking good because I'm losing weight or I'm too thin. It doesn't matter. No one knows what is going on INSIDE of me and in my life. People think they have the right to comment on other peoples' bodies, but you know what, you don't need to and I don't want to hear it. You never know what kind of turmoil some person is going through by looking at them. That girl who was anorexic would probably have obsessed about your comment all day and all week. She would try to figure out just what was making her look the thinnest, because that is probably her goal. If she didn't eat for a week and you came up and said she was too skinny, she'd probably take it as some kind of reinforcement that her starvation plans were working and that she was doing a good job--like a badge of honor. What you and most of your commenting people don't seem to "get" is that a person's body is not fodder for public gossip. Everything in our society puts weight on what a person's body shape is or isn't. A 300 pound woman can get mooed at while walking down the street and ridiculed by her doctor in the same afternoon and go home and starve herself for 3 days until she gives up and binges and purges. No one sees her pain. All some assholes care about is "saving" her from herself and her "fucked up relationship with food" by saying she shouldn't have another milkshake. Let me tell you this: telling a fat person they are too fat or telling a skinny person they are too skinny is nothing but destructive. People should not focus on the body to these extremes anyway. If you are so concerned with her, say "hi! how are you?" Let her know that she isn't invisible. And while you are at it, why don't you say "hi! how are you?" to the crazy homeless people who are even more invisible. Saying hi to someone who is crazy *might* even make a difference. Maybe they will scream at you because they are afraid of you, or maybe they will feel like they aren't invisible for the first time in years. If you want to be truly benevolent, just say hello and ask how someone is doing. NOBODY needs comments about their body--positive or negative. Saying something positive or negative about someone's body who has any kind of eating disorder is just fueling the fire. I once had a therapist who said to me: gee, you look like you may have gained some weight. It wasn't exactly his fault, but after the session I went straight home and binged and purged. At the time it was the only way I knew how to cope with what I was feeling. The point is that you never know what state of disrepair someone's life is in when you see them and don't know anything about them. What if you are the one who sends them over the edge? You don't think a stranger could have that power, but they can. If I hadn't been teased by strangers growing up, maybe I would have been a different person. Who knows? Maybe I would exercise more if I didn't get stares and mocking when I try to do something. So, here is my rule of thumb: if someone is in the process of hurting themselves, step in or call the police for god sakes! Don't yell JUMP! If you see someone who looks abnormal because of what you believe is an eating disorder and you really care, then really care enough to stop and greet them like a normal human and not a piece of meat. Don't comment on their body size or shape. Be a friend. Read about eating disorders. Talk to the person and find out what REALLY is going on. Don't assume that you know who someone is by looking at the outside, because 99% of the time you will be dead WRONG! And I can pretty much guarantee you that if you have any female friends, at least one of them will have an eating disorder that you don't even know about. Holocaust victim-looking stage is only one stage in a LONG line from fat to thin. Maybe you should focus on the people in your own life who might be at risk and dying inside, but who you never would guess have an eating disorder. Anyway, I know this is a bit rambling. Sorry.

Posted by Kristin Bell | September 15, 2007 7:17 PM


Who says liberals can't get along, even when one of them is a straight white guy? I'm glad we had this meeting of the minds. I accept your apology for the poison and I apologize for offending you earlier.

As it happens I agree with everything you said in your post. I do not find waifs or anorexics attractive. It is unfortunate that women can be anorexic and still outwardly appear to be merely fit as the Carrie Otis example shows. I would never find someone I thought to be borderline anorexic to be attractive, but we can't always tell from appearance whether someone is starving themselves.

The one quibble I have with your position is the implication that straight men are more likely to be attracted to waifs. I think that if you were to look at magazines such as Playboy or the various lad magazines you would see that straight men are much more likely to be attracted to women with normal, albeit slender, physiques.

Contrast that with the fashion world which is manifestly not controlled by straight men. That is where you find the image of beauty that requires lettuce salads and fainting.

Straight men in fact sometimes discuss among ourselves how we dislike the image of beauty as presented by high fashion and how evident it is that the models are not selected by us or with our tastes in mind.

I think that women tend to internalize a much more demanding standard of beauty than what straight men actually desire. Much of this is presented in magazines aimed directly at them with no straight male input of any kind.

I think that if you were to compare the image of beauty in porn which is largely aimed at straight men to that presented in Vogue and Cosmopolitan you would find that we straight men are actually much more on your side than the people who market directly to you.

In any case, all this is not what I am what I am most interested in. You are the third woman to say on this thread that you once had an eating disorder. I would like it if you and any other people who have had such a disorder would give the rest of us more insight into your thought patterns when you were ill and what helped you get better.

What were you thinking when you were anorexic? What was your mental process when someone said something about your weight or appearance? Did you have the distorted body image I have heard so much about? In other words, did you see yourself as fat even when you were way too skinny, or was it more a case of while you recognized you were underweight, you still wanted to lose more because of the way that gave your mind control over your body? Did you realize how much skinnier you were than normal weight people? Finally, what helped you get better? Was it age/time? Therapy? Intervention? Support from friends and family? If it was support, what kind of support?

Thanks for your insights.

Posted by Jim | September 15, 2007 8:31 PM

Dan Savage is a man who supported a war in Iraq that has resulted in the maiming and deaths of tens of thousands of human beings, and supported it just to be edgy; just to get a rise out of people; just to be snarky. I don\'t understand why some people actually think Dan Savage is a person to listen to, admire and emulate. Maybe when they reach the age of eighteen and are facing the draft they will finally get it. Well known cocksuckers can support American wars at no risk to themselves. Other people are cannon fodder.

Posted by Terry Michell | September 15, 2007 10:00 PM

Look, at least Dan didn't vote for Nader. Can you say the same?

Posted by Jim | September 15, 2007 10:06 PM

#60: you said it better than anyone else. thank you.
this is a big city and the only people who ever give me a smile and "hey how ya doin" are the ones asking for change. and i always smile back, because it is nice to be reminded, whatever the circumstance, that we're not all a bunch of ghosts. in the infinite litany of personal shit that every last one of us has to deal with on a constant basis, nothing helps more than someone else giving a damn.

Posted by her | September 15, 2007 10:24 PM


Not to belittle or mnke light of your situation in any way, but I do hope you know that this...

"Yelling "jump" is a complete asshole thing to do and you should get your penis and testicles cut off for that behavior"....

...without also suggesting a suitable "punishment" for a woman (who might also be a "complete asshole"), along with a few other comments of yours, leaves a distinct impression of a slightly bigger iceberg than the one you seem to be discussing (or rambling about).

I do wish you the best, however.

PS. Men can have anorexia too. Just an additional thought.

Posted by Wowza | September 15, 2007 10:55 PM

Anorexia is a disorder of the brain. Anorexics are anosognosic, meaning they cannot recognize their illness. They cannot "choose" to eat; they need people outside of themselves to get past their inner compulsion to not eat. It's not a refusal to eat; it's an inability.

Ultimately the best thing you could do, and it doesn't sound like you could have done it in this case, is talk to someone in her family. When people cannot eat on their own they must be helped to eat.

The psychological symptoms of anorexia resolve with full weight restoration maintained for at least a year. In other words, get an anorexic person up to her true and solid weight (not a minimum number on the scale) and keep her there for a year, and most if not all of the psychological symptoms will disappear.

How do I know this? My daughter was anorexic two years ago. We re-fed her using the Maudsley approach. Today she is a happy, healthy 16-year-old with none of the symptoms or behaviors of anorexia.

People who are interested in learning more can visit

Posted by Harriet | September 16, 2007 1:34 AM


Yes - it great when people can talk and work things out in a polite way. I appreciate your interest in this issue and it looks like we are both really saying the same thing. I think your point about how the women in men's magazines are a lot healthier weight-wise than your average runway model is quite good. (However I am not so sure that having huge plastic bumps implanted in her chest is the best decision a women can make for her body).

I don't think that writing a long reply about my own battle with eating disorders will add much to the conversation - suffice it to say that I was living in an out-of-control situation and I decided to take control of the only thing I could (my weight). I was no so interested trying to be hot, nor did I think I was fat when in fact I was close to 100 lbs at 5'10" - I just did it as a kind of experiment in control and it sure did get attention from people. I know that people develop eating disorders for many, many different reasons, and it was probably easier for me to regain a healthy weight as I am not totally dismorphic.

I hope that the young lady that Dan Savage saw is getting the help she needs, and I can totally understand his concern for her well-being. I also think that Mr. Savage's desire to help her is very kind and comes from the right place. I can't help but think that if enough people took the time to at least try to help someone else, the world would be much better.

Posted by Molly | September 16, 2007 12:03 PM

@65: Oh,, I don't hate men if that is what you are thinking. And I don't *actually* think that anyone should have their penis and testicles removed...I was exaggerating for effect, and that is why I didn't include a female counterpart to that punishment. So, I meant to say that people (men/women) should have their virtual penis and testicles removed if we could...well, whatever virtual penis and testicles are...anyway, I wasn't actually serious about removing peoples' body parts! :)

Anyway, even if I did want some men's penises and testis removed, that doesn't mean I have a chip on my shoulder about men in general. But, I don't actually feel like removing anyone's genitalia. I'm not a mean person, nor am I violent. I just tend to exaggerate when writing for effect I think. The bridge story was true though and I might add that it was two men who saved me AND I included them in the story, so yeah, there is no iceberg or whatever you said. other than me not liking how people are treated sometimes.

blah blah blah....I guess that is all! :)

Posted by Kristin Bell | September 17, 2007 2:56 AM

I was anorexic for two years and then bulimic for six. During my illness I was hospitalized twice, and I almost died. I have now been in recovery for 10 years. It is miraculous to me that I have been better longer than I was sick.

I agree with #49 that by far the best thing would have been to have just smiled and said good morning - perhaps even slowed or paused for a minute to make some other inane comment about the good weather or something. That way you ensure that your impact is positive, which it sounds like is what you wanted.

People who have eating disorders are often profoundly depressed. Due to the fact that the disease is about control, they can also be almost unbelievably obsessed with detail and over-analysis. By being a bright (genuinely) smiling face, one could at least offer a genuine bright spot to file away rather than another (to her affirming) "You're too thin" genre comment. FYI: For me, comments like, "Are you okay?" were also affirmation that I was "succeeding". The fact that those things also meant I was dying was immaterial because at the core, I was so depressed I knew I deserved to die anyway.

And Molly and Jim: Jim, it's great that you are genuinely interested and somewhat informed about this topic. I mean that. I'm greatful for your thoughtful questions and invitations to participate. I'm also glad to see that you are willing allow that there has been some misogyny in your posts. I do need to let you know that the women in porn are not generally "normal albeit slender." Considering bodies that are very often surgically altered for men's enjoyment "normal" speaks to the degree of blindness to structural misogyny we are still letting self proclaimed "liberal" and sensitive guys get away with.

Molly, I was so proud of you for calling Jim out on this earlier, then you apologized and called your actions "poison". In my opinion, speaking truth to power is not poison, and it does not require an apology. I hope you are taking up plenty of room in the world these days.

Posted by greendyke | September 17, 2007 5:32 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).