The Starbucks Woman and Extremes of Beauty

I work in a strip mall right next to a fairly successful Starbucks. Naturally there is a wide variety of customers that stop in there, as it’s the only real Starbucks within reasonable distance of our tourist-town. Ever since I’ve been working next door there has been one woman who is at Starbucks at least once a week and stays for several hours at one of the outside tables.

I can tell that she’s drinking a diet Tazo green tea because of the watery, almost sickly color it has. My manager has seen her put just two Splenda no-calorie sweeteners in it, and has also heard from her hairdresser that this woman only eats three Peach Rings a day. The Starbucks Woman is always smoking, or at least has a pack of Marlboro Reds ready to go beside her, and she’s often writing in a lined notebook. None of this is particularly remarkable, but the thing that draws the eye is the woman herself.

She’s an anorexic.

I’m not saying that she’s skinny, and I’m not saying that she just looks sick. No, this woman is no more than skin and bones, and she is clearly on a down-hill road to death. I’m not exaggerating when I say she looks like this:

Isabelle Caro

Isabelle Caro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Above is a well-known picture of French model, Isabelle Caro, who died in 2010 from complications as a result of her anorexia nervosa. Frankly it terrifies me.

It scares me that this woman has become so pathologically obsessed with her weight that it’s killing her.

It scares me that there are countless other men and women in this world who reach this point and are unable to return.

It scares me that I could one day have a daughter that I won’t be able to save because society tells her that she is only beautiful if she is thin.

For Christmas I received Portia de Rossi‘s memoir, Unbearable Lightness, and I found it both poignant and frank. I’m a big fan of her anyway as a result of Arrested Development, and it was truly inspiring to see how she had been able to reshape her life as she stopped reshaping her body. Unfortunately, it also reminded me of how women can take pride in not eating. I’ve been guilty of it, just as millions of women across the world have been guilty of it.

I hope beyond hope that the Starbucks Woman doesn’t die, but I’m scared that one day she’ll just cease to appear outside with her tea and cigarettes. What is she writing? A memoir? A letter to friends and family? Or is she calculating her caloric intake for the day?

Eating disorders (especially anorexia) are often considered among the most difficult psychological disorders to treat, as success requires the motivation of the patient to gain weight, something they have spent a great deal of time and effort getting rid of. The mind of an anorexic patient has been twisted by the disorder so that they truly see losing weight as a necessary part of living. There have been patients committed to hospitals that must be restrained to their beds so that they don’t do sit-ups in the middle of the night.

Society doesn’t help, as it uses women’s bodies as a canvas on which to mold the ideals of beauty. With idealization comes extremes, and those extremes are what scare me the most. But society can’t be completely to blame. Eating disorders are just that: disorders. Disorders that need more research, more dedicated scientists trying to cure them, and more understanding of those suffering from them.

If you’re interested in learning more about eating disorders and anorexia nervosa, watch this documentary, Thin by Lauren Greenfield. Though the treatment practice may be somewhat controversial (in my opinion) the perspectives of the patients are invaluable in understanding some of the mechanisms underlying the condition.

If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, look here for help: National Eating Disorders Association

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