Letters to Emma , Brian, Sandra, and Ann
Dear Emma, Sandra and Brian,
It was good to meet you all last night and make a start on getting to know you. Thank you Emma for your frankness and bravery in talking and answering so many questions asked by a stranger.
I woke up at midnight and couldn’t get back to sleep for hours; my mind was boiling with a furious anger against anorexia. I thought, “Here we go again, anorexia! So you’ve sneaked into the life of yet another innocent young girl, pretending to befriend her at a time of big changes. How cunning of you to detect Emma’s uneasiness with her developing body, and how unscrupulous of you to offer her an “easy” solution – dieting! How neatly you insinuated yourself into her uncertainty, her longing for friends and boyfriends, promising her that thinness would ensure attractiveness and popularity, would win her admiration and make her so-called achievement the envy of all who know her. Anorexia, you offered Emma a kind of heaven – did you tell her the price she’d have to pay? Did you warn her you’d eventually steal even her soul in exchange? I heard you actually convinced Emma she’s your only victim, in a school of 1200 girls! Did you not tell her that that’s your lie to each and every one you choose?
You vampire, anorexia, haven’t you taken enough already? Aren’t’ you satisfied with the stream of young girls you’ve preyed upon, stealing their fate, then their flesh, then their strength, then their energy, their enthusiasm, their sparkle, their humour, opinions, sports, games, friendships, social times, confidence, trust, creativity, originality, individuality – their very lives?
I suppose she was an attractive choice: intelligent, friendly, humorous, a keen sport, a lover of animals, responsible, ambitious, prepared to study hard and train to be a vet. What a delightful tall poppy to cut down at the threshold of adolescent! What pleasure you must be taking in draining her energy, blurring her concentration, and alienating her from her own body, confusing her so she thinks she’s gross when in fact she’s starving, bewildering her so she no longer knows whether she’s hungry or thirsty, and shrinking her world down to focus on your sinister and distorted ideas of what looks good.
How did you do it, anorexia? How did you train Emma to criticize and reject her body instead of loving herself? How did you make her believe that some imaginary schoolboy’s opinion was worth starvation? What vulnerabilities did you seize upon to convince her that thin, weak conformists are more desirable than strong individuals? I suppose you have lots of help: the movies, magazines, TV soaps, advertising, schoolgirl culture – they all tell the same story, that less is best for girls’ bodies and minds. Did you use your usual trick of comparing? Making Emma compare herself against friends and declare herself the loser, then offer your services in consolation, the perfect solution? Did you use the old drug dealers’ trick of just a little bit at first? Did you slip smoothly from the oh-so-reasonable “no junk food” to gradually defining all food as junk? Did you use secrecy and the pretense of “specialness” to isolate Emma in subtle ways from the loving concern of family and friends? And of course I know you used FEAR, that despicable technique used favoured by tyrants and bullies the world over. Yes, you terrorized this 13 year old into accepting your lie – that you offer “control” and without you, Emma will lose all control and her hunger will be insatiable.
If it weren’t so vicious and evil it would be laughable, your threat that a healthy, active young woman will become the size of a whale just by the simple fact of eating ordinary nourishing good. This Fear has tormented and tortured countless thousands upon thousands of young women into submitting to your hateful rule. Together you have scarred and maimed and destroyed so many, many promising young lives.
But, anorexia, we will not stand for it. Emma has wise and loving and intelligent parents who will not allow you to prey upon their beloved only daughter. They have chosen me as their anti-anorexic therapist, and with the help of Dr. Broom and her dietitian and everyone who cares about Emma, we will fight anorexia and Fear and drive you out of this family’s life. We do this because we are perfectly clear about what is right and what is wrong. It is right to support Emma to pursue a challenging and rewarding life. It is wrong to starve her into conformity, weakness, illness and – if you had your way – death.
Take notice, anorexia, we will do everything in our power to free Emma from the spell you have cast over her. We are guided by two principles:
- Unwavering support and love for Emma
- Unwavering hatred for anorexia and the harm it does.
Dear Emma, Sandra and Brian, Please read this aloud together and make copies for anyone you want. I look forward to meeting again on 1.00p.m. Monday 13th.
Dear Emma, Sandra and Brian,
I was fascinated by our discussion about “the abuses of power” and by how both Sandra and Emma simultaneously recognised the parallels between Nazi Germany and anorexia: the use of propaganda, backed up by threats and fear, to make evil from right and proper. And I was very glad to learn that my first ever letter to you, once mystifying in its vehemence, now “makes sense in a way it didn’t at the time.” Emma, are you getting an idea of how far you have travelled in awareness and understanding since last September?
I want to quote from a letter I wrote in September 1998 to a young woman fighting anorexia. She is a Jehovah’s Witness. This religious group are pacifists who were sent to concentration camps for refusing to join the Nazi cause. “I wonder what you thought of my accusing anorexia as the living legacy of Nazism, its virtual concentration camps hidden in the minds of countless young women.
Who else but anorexia dares replicate in our midst the skeletal, starved bodies that whisper the agony of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen? What else but anorexia cynically repeats the lethal lie emblazoned above Auschwitz: ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (= ‘Work (perfection) will set you free’)? The starved, beaten and tortured did not work themselves to freedom, they were worked to death deliberately, callously without reprieve.
Do you hear the echo of Nazism in anorexia’s use of propaganda to confuse, mystify, seduce and blame its victims? Do you recognise from history the techniques of power, the use of threats, fear, torture to induce conformity? Does Nazism’s fear and hatred of individuality have a familiar ring? Where else does anorexia derive its infatuation with absolute control, control of mind, body and spirit? . . .”
Emma and Sandra, your ancestors left Germany after centuries of persecution. How relieved they must have been to settle in the safe haven of New Zealand, thinking there would be no more racism, no oppression, no segregation, humiliation, deportation, imprisonment, no slave labour camps. How could they have guessed that racism would drive their beloved great-granddaughter into the virtual concentration camp of anorexia.
Brian, you spoke of your horror at realizing that anorexia was driving Emma on what were supposed to be pleasure-runs. You agreed to check with Emma before runs, and Emma, you agreed to signal who’s running the run with either a bright pink hanky or the white flag of surrender.
Everyone acknowledged that the struggle continues . . . Emma confided “Sometimes I’m thankful they’re still there, even though they wouldn’t guess it . .”
In practicing “15 year old” discussions, Emma said they’re “more mature, i.e. they come to a conclusion or a compromise” unlike the 14 year old mantra “You’re just controlling me!!!” Brian point out that “Anorexia doesn’t dominate for such a long time; Emma fights back faster.” Emma explained “Mum and Dad move me on out of it . . . I want to spend more time studying, so I don’t have so much time to be distracted by anorexia. . .” Is this like saying that the sooner you push anorexia away, the more time you have got to get on with real life???
Yours anti-anorexically, as always,