August 30, 2007

For the annals of anorexia.

Keira Knightley. A great beauty has lost track of what beauty looks like, and that look on her face, which once would have seemed to reflect sly, knowing sexuality, now expresses -- at best -- wacky quirkiness.

Where is this woman?

I've been seeing a lot of anorexic women this year, both in Madison and New York City. I'm not talking about slender women who have dieted their way to the low end of normal, so that they look sharp and modern as their clothes hang so well on them. (Remember in "Some Like It Hot" when Marilyn Monroe expresses envy of Jack Lemmon's figure -- he's in drag -- because "clothes hang so well on you"?)

I'm talking about women who radiate ill health, who stalk about unsteadily, who make you think of concentration camps and skeletons. Their skin is withered and their arms and legs are weird shapes. This is an aesthetic that does not include the appearance of health. What does an inviting look from such a woman mean? Not join me in bed -- in the realm of life and fertility -- but join me in the grave.


Roger von Oech said...

Not quite as bad a look as the "heroin chic" of the early to mid 90s.

Eva said...

Well, it all gets rather wearying doesn't it. Don't get too fat, or you'll disturb us with your lack of control. But don't be too thin, because you'll disturb us with your withered arms and hollow cheeks.

All my female friends talk about is their weight and how they are currently planning to lose some. Some of them have been trying to lose the same 10 or 20 pounds for all the years that I have known them, and they talk about it every single day. Which is an incredibly boring, boring, boring topic of conversation.

Skeptical said...

Neither too fat nor too thin is not too difficult a target to hit. It's not like some razor's edge. It is not particularly bothersome that one who makes his or her living putting him- or herself forward as an aesthetic object should be subject to aesthetic assessment.

michael farris said...

What a hateful, unbeautiful look. Yech.

Why should clothes 'hang' on a person? Clothes hangers are not attractive. Attractive people make you conscious of the body inside the clothes and don't disappear into them.

And obsessing about food to the point that the disposable starlet in question must have done to reach her current state of ugly, fleshless emaciation is major league gluttony. Obsessing about not-eating food to the point where it becomes the centerpiece of your life is just as gluttonous as eating everything under the sun.

Gedaliya said...

That photo Knightly is ghastly...horrid...unbelievable.

I can understand morbid obesity...but self-induced starvation is beyond my ken.

Christy said...

Do you think that first pic is photoshopped? Her head is so big relative to her body that she looks like a bobble-head doll.

That scene of Some Like it Hot is incredible on the big screen. Monroe might as well be naked.

Pogo said...

I am forever amazed how welll the human mammal is designed to detect health, or what Bernard Williams described as “the ethological standard of the bright eye and the gleaming coat”. One look, and you just know.

The issue with anorexia is why do these women lose their ability to see this way, at least in themselves? Is it lost? Distorted? The trigger of lust for a human form depends on meeting certain markers of health that predict 'good parenting material'.

With anorexics, there is a cartoon of an adult female that appeals to some, but perhaps only in the way that couples risk to sex, that which suggests erotic excitement, like a 'bad boy' does for many women, even though intellectually they know that good parenting is unlikely if not impossible.

In the end, just sad.

Mindsteps said...

The second picture of Keira Knightley that you linked to...the movie poster from Pride and Prejudice depicted a woman of absolute perfection. The first picture you linked to of a skeletal Keira Knightley at a press conference in Venice appeared to be that of a woman in a never-ending pursuit of perfection. For this woman, could one image beget the other?

I also wonder what Ms. Knightley would say about these two pictures and their juxtaposition.

peter hoh said...

I no longer think anorexia is about misguided young women thinking that this is the way to appear attractive. It's a mental disorder -- a cruel mind game played on the self with a very strong brain-body connection. That is, the physical part of the brain is a big part of this disorder -- if that aspect of the brain can be thought as different than the psychological (thinking, feeling) aspect of the brain.

The story that ran last year in the NYT, about the Madison mom who tried a different approach to helping her daughter battle anorexia played a big part in shaping my thoughts about this disease.

Keywords are Harriet Brown, the Maudsley approach, re-feeding. Here is the article, "One Spoonful at a Time."

peter hoh said...

Mindsteps, I think you can see the start of this disease in that Pride and Prejudice poster. It was probably photoshopped anyway, so doesn't count as an accurate protrait. She was pretty damned whispy in "Bend it Like Bechkam," but she played an athlete, so it looked okay, as we are disinclined to think that an athlete is unhealthy.

Telecomedian said...

Christy, I think you're on to something. I know from seeing other interviews that she truly has gotten ridiculously skinny, but that first picture doesn't look natural. Perhaps the lens' focal length made for some picture distortion, besides the obvious possibility of Photoshop. any event, that girl needs a sammich.

Justin said...

Christy said...

Do you think that first pic is photoshopped? Her head is so big relative to her body that she looks like a bobble-head doll.

That's actually a symptom of bulimia. I'm not sure what the physiological cause is, but it's commonly referred to as puffy cheeks.

Roger said...

Sad--just sad.

SGT Ted said...

Seeing as there are "underground" websites dedicated to Anorexia and Bulimia as "Lifestyle Choices", I would say that it is a mental disorder. Or it is until the rest of us "grow" to become "enlightened" and more "tolerant".

Justin said...

Just to clarify my earlier comment, I'm not saying that Ms. Knightley is bulimic. It could be Photoshop or a funky angle that is causing the distortion. But if she is bulimic (bulimia and anorexia usually go hand in hand), it wouldn't be unusual for her face to appear so big compared to her body.

Theo Boehm said...

If Keira Knightley looks that thin in a photo, think how thin she must be in real life.

It's well-known that photographs tend to make people look fatter. I had a lesson in this many years ago when I employed a young woman who also worked as a model.  The woman in question had a fairly lucrative career as an underwear and swimsuit model.  She needed extra work, so I hired her part-time.  She was skilled, efficient, and pleasant.  I was happy to have her.  The one thing I worried about was how terribly thin she was.  She didn't look healthy.  And, as a distressingly hetrosexual male, I can tell you I had zero interest in her in that way.  Yecch.  A walking skeleton.

The weird thing was, she looked great in ads.  Her swimsuit apreads, especially, made her look sexy and appealingly thin, not at all like the person I knew.  I met several of her friends from modeling, and they were all similarly on the edge of anorexia.

Around this time I also met a young woman who did jewelery modeling.  She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever met, gorgeous in every way.  I asked her if she ever did anything but head and hand shots of jewelery, and she laughted and said she was way too fat.  Fat??  Her boyfriend, who was a professional photographer, showed me some full-body shots of her wearing an evenging gown, and it was true.  She looked positively dumpy.  And these were beautifully done, professional photos.

So, picture Keira Knightley, the walking skeleton, and imagine her being even thinner in reality.


davidc. said...

I passed by Meg Ryan on the sidewalk a couple of months ago and moved away from her in doing so as I thought she was a crack addict. My wife identified her a moment later but I would never have recognized the woman that she has become due to the excessive weight loss. These actresses seem to have forgotten what beauty is.

Sarah said...

I think it's a lot more complicated than can be expressed in a blog post or a comments section . . . but I'm really glad the post noted the difference between the social desire to be very, very thin and the illness (which by the way is the deadliest mental disorder).

Synova said...

I think she looks too thin on the Pride and Prejudice poster and for all of the Pirates of the Caribbean stuff, too. The photo Ann linked to looks downright unhealthy.

And yes, if it's so true that the camera adds 10 pounds the fact that so very many actresses appear thin to the point of extreme illness in pictures is alarming.

I'll accept that actresses need to be thin to look *good* on camera. If they are looking dangerously *ill* on camera they do not look *good*.

Cedarford said...

It seems to be about where their employers want them. It hasn't hurt their marketability. It is a lot easier to tell a casting agency that you will gain 10 pounds for the part than lose 10 pounds when shooting starts in 18 days.

I'd love it, given how most shooting is done digitally, with digital editing, if they could try and come up with "body-norming" software that makes someone in photos or video look like are in person. That would be a massive hit with camera purchasers if the price was resonable, and the media and entertainment industry would not have to expect actors and models be "starved".

But another issue is for all the alarmist prattle about anorexia and bulimia I'm not certain that it HAS, overall, adverse health effects.

We know from numerous studies that starved rats live longer, with more energy and less cancers, than a "normal weight" rat. Who is to say that 2-legged Nicole Ritchie rats are any different? We may have focused on "The Karen Carpenter Story" a little too much - when her problem wasn't thiness - but crash dieting, heavy use of diuretics, and not letting her weight drop slowly to avoid the big heart strain..

There is a "strata" not just of Hollywood actors and actresses - but of "old wealth" women who have been excruciatingly thin since back in the 50s, when the tag "You can't be too rich or too thin." 1st emerged.

Now you see these little slips of women in their 80s that you learn were just as thin in their 30s. In good health. I have two grand-aunts in that category, now in their 80s, and avid golfers and hikers - no doubt looking for another "normal-sized" widower to meet and outlive like the others.

Nancy Reagan types.
"Thin since age 12" now old wrinkled heiress types.

Ultrathin dowagers that planted their CEO hubby 25 years ago.

For now, the gossip rags love to shriek "scandal!!, but I'd like to see the medical data about men and women in various cultures that go to a minimal calorie intake, and how that impacts lifespan, cancer rates, and vigor.

We already know that "horribly thin" people have less diabetes and heart disease as they age. They are also less fertile, especially women...

Joe said...

Who is to say that 2-legged Nicole Ritchie rats are any different?

Several scientific studies have found that underweight humans live shorter than those of normal weight. For one, they have a higher rate of heart failure.

There is growing evidence that all the hysteria about Americans being overweight is causing an increase in anorexia and bulimia among females and males, especially teenagers.

(Legitimate scientific studies have also found that losing weight quickly has measurable negative health consequences. One implication is that for people who are genuinely overweight, it may be better for them to get fit, rather than lose weight.)

hdhouse said...

for heaven's sake girl, stand up straight...shoulders back.

Joe said...

By the way, the study with rats wasn't about starved rats, but rats fed a balanced diet with half the calories. Again, though, rats aren't humans and humans to poorly on diets too low in calories. (Body fat in humans serves a legitimate function--get yourself too lean and you're asking for a heart attack. More common, you're less likely to survive a severe illness.)

Mark Daniels said...

It all makes me so incredibly sad! Anorexia is such a vicious killer.

Mark Daniels

Mark Daniels said...

By the way, are we to believe that the Roger von Oech who comments here is the Roger von Oech of 'A Whack on the Side of the Head' fame?

Mark Daniels

Peter Palladas said...

...who make you think of concentration camps and skeletons

Err, no. Death in Belsen - don't look unless you need reminding makes me think of concentration camps and skeletons, not women who diet by choice.

Joan said...

She's skinny but in all honesty I have to say she doesn't look sickly to me. Certain photos make her look more stick-like than others. In this one from the recent film festival in Venice, she looks fantastic.

She's a slim-to-skinny girl, always has been. But her skin is fantastic! I once worked closely with a woman suffering from anorexia, and I remember the way her dry, papery skin hung from her frame. She had absolutely no muscle tone. After that experience, I would never accuse Knightley of being anorexic.

Is she too thin, though? How is that possibly any of my business?

My daughter's nearly 9 years old and weighs barely 50 pounds. She's between the 5th and 10th percentiles for weight while at the same time being between the 75th and 90th percentiles for height. She has a well-balanced diet and rarely gets sick; she's just a skinny little girl. If her proportions survive puberty, I'm sure she'll have to endure accusations of being anorexic, too.

Bob said...

I call 'em what they are: Bonesacks.

I don't care about the studies that say that thin people live longer lives; who'd want a life like that, anyway, puking and starving yourself for an extra five years or so?

Right now there's a picture on Drudge of a 100-year-old woman lighting a cigarete from her birthday cake candles. I'll bet that old woman is at least happy.

Trumpit said...

She makes Michael Jackson look normal. Well, not really, but the thought was there.

Roger von Oech said...

Mark Daniels wrote: "By the way, are we to believe that the Roger von Oech who comments here is the Roger von Oech of 'A Whack on the Side of the Head' fame?"

Ann has linked to my site several times in recent months, so I thought I'd occasionally contribute my two cents to her forum (which I enjoy for its liveliness).

Roger von Oech
Creative Think blog:

Trumpit said...

I also think about Karen Carpenter, whose voice was unmatched, who left us way to soon.

I'd like to thank Madison Ave. (not Madison, Wi.) for convincing us that thin is in, & zaftig is out; that liposuction will let you wear that bikini that you're too ashamed to wear now; that thin like a rail is a sign of vibrant health; that diet coke is a healthy drink alternative.

What will the adpeople think of next to turn us into sickly automatons?

halojones-fan said...

Part of the issue is what people have pointed out: It really is difficult to look thin in photographs and on camera.

That's a part of the modeling and video/film business that a lot of people just really don't understand: Just how much the people are posed and shaped and worked to make it "look right". That's actually starting to be a problem with the newer high-definition DVDs; now that you can see more detail, the fact that a person's entire face is solid makeup becomes more apparent!

As for "zomg why do they get so thin, it doesn't look good"--remember that you can always put more clothes on to look bigger. You can't exactly take things off to look smaller...eventually you reach a certain minimum size...

XWL said...

Straight men aren't who these women are starving themselves for, that's for sure.

I don't think HDTVs are helping the cause much either (but for reasons beyond just resolution). It's amazing how many widescreens in public spaces are set to show 4:3 in stretch-o-vision rather than cropped or in the original format.

If I were a weight-conscious actress who caught a bunch of images of myself stretched horizontally by a third, I'd probably freak out a little bit, too.

AlphaLiberal said...

Bodies aren't hangers. I much prefer to see a woman's shape filling out an outfit than approaching a hanger's thinness.

lee david said...

When your head starts to look like a lollipop on a stick figure, you've got trouble.

EnigmatiCore said...

"In this one from the recent film festival in Venice, she looks fantastic."

I think she looks dreadful in that picture. Not as dreadful as in the example Ann found, but pretty damned far away from 'fantastic'.

But then what do I know about what is attractive in a woman, being a guy and all.

blake said...

Put me in the camp that thinks (hopes?) she's just skinny. And has always been such (see Beckham). I'm sure considerable engineering was used to give her cleavage in Pirates.

For most of human history thin women have been shunned as unattractive. I'd argue the past 40 years have been their brief time in the sun, but for a big portion of the population, they're still shunned.

(Currently watching Pride and Prejudice, by the way, and you can make out tremendous detail in her upper body bone structure. I think she's just skinny.)

Galvanized said...

I've read on this actress that she's just naturally skinny and eats like a horse. While it's strikingly beyond trim, it can be just as frustrating to put on weight when your metabolism is fast/body structure thin as to take it off when it's the opposite. And, honestly, I commend her for also not going with the new trend of plastic surgery -- a boob job, buttocks implants -- to enhance her beauty. She's an exception, I think.

But I do know what you're talking about. She just serves as an example of the look, not of an actual sufferer. But maybe she should have her thyroid checked out or something because she appears precariously poised to blow away with even a mild gust of wind.

Revenant said...

She looks pretty normal in the pictures from the premiere (scroll down). She made some bad fashion and makeup choices for that first picture.

NSC said...

A woman should have some curves. I remember thinking Keira was just a tad too skinny but still beautiful. Now she looks like an alien.

Harriet Brown said...

As Peter Hoh pointed out, anorexia is a physiological disease. It's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It often starts with a diet that goes too far, or with an unintended weight loss for one reason or another. For those who are susceptible it can spiral very quickly out of control.

I wonder why it's so hard for us in this culture to feel empathy for those with eating disorders. Why we feel called upon to criticize their looks and trash their lifestyles rather than feel compassion and empathy for the very real nightmares they're going through.

What you see in that first photo of Keira Knightley is, I believe, the true and ugly face of anorexia/bulimia. The creature that lives within each anorexia/bulimic and torments them night and day. Imagine what it's like to live with that in you.

Then imagine what it takes to heal.

It's no joke.

michael farris said...

"I commend her for also not going with the new trend of plastic surgery -- a boob job, buttocks implants -- to enhance her beauty. She's an exception, I think."

I think she's had work done on her mouth, she used to have a weird rat-mouth thing going on (very distracting in Love, Actually.

Julia said...

Plesae don't mistake looking thin for anorexia. Anorexia messes your head BIG TIME. People with this illness (myself included) feel tortured every second of every wakeful minute. Eating feels like you are being destroyed. The negative voice in your head runs riot and the fear of gaining weight is greater than the fear of death. You don't think you WILL die anyway, that isn't supposed to be what happens.

Looking thin doesn't mean someone has anorexia. You HAVE to have the intense FEAR of weight gain, along with a lot of OCD "type" symptoms. People often over-exercise to the point of collapse too.

Its an ILLNESS and its unkind of people to just make nasty comments about how people LOOK. Sufferers have very low self-esteem, they hide behind layers of clothes, often still feeling COLD in the height of summer, sufferers feel terribly ASHAMED of themselves and have NO QUALITY OF LIFE. No one who has this illness to any "severety" would say its a life style choice. NO ONE CHOOSE IT. Its NOT about looks, or vanity AT ALL. Its about inner pain, turmoil, an inability to exist and cope with the stress and strain of life... it enables ME to exist and without it I feel I would end up killing myself because life would be WORSE and I can't cope.

There needs to be better treatment, it needs to be more available, AND more flexible. Its NOT just a teenage fad which you grow out of.... people DIE.

Sarah said...

Amen, Julia. Please take care.