Readers respond to John George's article on his daughter's anorexia with a deluge of mail, some supportive, some scathing. Plus: Bimbo TV and Anne Lamott.

Published January 24, 2003 10:52PM (EST)

[Read "My Disappearing Daughter" by John George.]

The author is shocked -- shocked! -- to find out that his daughter is having trouble with her life, expressed as anorexia. Sounds like her parents wanted academic perfection -- noting how she got into top schools, scored high on her SATs, etc. -- and they got it. Never mind that she sat in her room and had no friends; she wrote cheery fake e-mails home. Once at college she was out of sight and out of mind: one kid down, one to go, is I think how the pseudonymous author put it. Why are you, author, writing about it? Maybe her rage -- I think rage is a large component of anorexia -- comes from being the offspring of someone who writes about her sickness for profit and notoriety. I'm not shocked.

-- Stephanie Brown

While I admire "John George" for relating his experiences as a parent of an anorexic daughter, there is one point he makes that sticks in my craw. As he is implicating himself in being blind to her disease, he also places a large chunk of blame on the public school system, which ineffectually educates students and parents about eating disorders. As an educator, I consider my first priority to teach students the academic skills they will need to succeed in their future endeavors. I do acknowledge that there will be some number of "life lessons" woven into that academic instruction. However, I resent the fact that public schools are seen as the ultimate authority on any pitfall that should befall children and therefore responsible for dealing with such a vast array of problems. The fact that our public schools have become primarily agencies of social services instead of institutions of learning is increasingly undermining the knowledge base of each generation.

I'm not arguing that services should not be provided to parents to teach them about such health risks as anorexia, but is that really the responsibility of the public schools? Parents and other members of a child's community should not be absolved of responsibility for learning about a child and educating themselves about problems children face just because that child attends public school. But I guess since a teacher often spends more of the day with a child than a parent does, he or she is often the first to notice if something goes terribly wrong in that child's life.

-- Elizabeth Reckker

When I was in college, my sophomore-year roommate was bulimic, and had been throughout her overachieving teenage years. She would do anything in order not to binge and purge, including developing a cocaine habit that escalated and ultimately led to her death. She told me as much as she could about her disorder, and I learned early on that it was not really about weight control.

I laud John George and his wife on their active response to get their daughter help, and to try to fully understand the disease. The idea that one can just decide to be normal again, overnight, on her own, is so ridiculous. I laud them for looking at themselves and at their parenting to see how they might have influenced their daughter. I laud them for not blaming her for her disease, and for not letting her die because it was "too hard" to help her.

-- Jennifer

While I am sure that the author of this article, the father of the disappearing girl, loves his daughter immensely, I can't help wondering why so much of the article seems to be about him.

References to his own feelings about his daughter's problems were numerous, but there was only one mention of how she felt about her illness -- "I thought you would be angry." In reading this piece, I gained no insight into her or her illness. I did gain, however, a sense of how hard it was for the author to suffer through this. He even ended the article by saying that the job of a parent never ends. What must his brilliant daughter think of this? Because, of course, she has read this article.

I couldn't help thinking that the father, for all his references to the anorexia epidemic, has not truly allowed himself to see that anorexia is as much a symptom as a disease. His apparent shame for having a sick daughter seems to have overwhelmed his compassion.

-- William Keck

I can relate to the author of this article on so many levels that it's astounding. Anorexia touched my life through my identical twin sister, who suddenly went from 130 pounds to 90 pounds in less than three months. Unfortunately, she had dropped out of college about four months before this happened, so she was no longer covered under my parents' insurance. Along with the weight loss came depression, so she wasn't holding a full-time job either (no insurance there).

My parents and I didn't know what to do. I had always felt like I had led a completely normal childhood and I thought my sister had agreed. My parents have had a long and happy marriage and my parents never pressured us socially or academically. My sister and I both had tons of friends during high school and did well academically.

My sister had turned into a complete monster overnight, refusing to eat and constantly lying about everything. She became quite the actress. We soon came to realize (through research) that my sister suffered from clinical depression, which in turn manifested into anorexia in an attempt to control growing up. All of our friends had gone off to college and my sister wasn't ready to grow up, so by not eating it forced my parents to continue to care for her.

Unfortunately, hospital care wasn't in the cards because it would have been financially devastating without insurance (and even then many insurance companies don't cover the extensive treatments anorectics need). My parents paid out of their pocket for my sister to see a psychologist who specialized in eating disorders, but my sister soon stopped going because it's hard to treat someone who is in denial. And through all of it I came to realize that my idyllic childhood wasn't so rosy anymore -- many of my friends had suffered with some form of an eating disorder through high school and I had never even realized it!

It's been a year since my sister lost all of the weight but now she's making it on her own, living by herself in a different state where she is in school to become a personal trainer. She's gained back some of her weight in the form of muscle and now eats because she knows that she needs nutritional meals to form muscle. However, I know that this isn't the end, and that anorectics usually suffer with the disease for the rest of their lives. My family and I have come to realize that my sister is an adult (she's 21 years old) and that her fate is in her own hands.

Kudos to Salon for touching on a topic that affects so many of us at this moment and will unfortunately affect so many more people by the day. I hope that John George's daughter knows how fortunate she is to have a family that cares about her and that was able to get her the help she so obviously needed, and I wish both father and daughter the best of luck with the future -- they will need it.

-- Stevie Shea

As a writing teacher in a program for gifted children and parent of a senior at a private high school that sends a substantial portion of its graduates to the Ivies, I see the kind of stress that produces anorexia and other psychological problems every day. The constant pressure to achieve and insane over-scheduling many middle-class children experience throughout middle school and high school horrifies me. When I compare my own carefree working-class youth to the lives of my students and some of my daughter's friends I am deeply grateful that I was denied the "opportunities" for advancement and enrichment they enjoy.

-- Deborah Rudacille

I was a driver for almost a year at a very exclusive drug and alcohol rehabilitation "ranch" in the Southwest.

While we drivers all had some experience with the 12 Steps, we did tend to have a skeptical view of the "problems" of the rich and dysfunctional addicts and alcoholics we ferried about. (Let's be clear, no one knows the depth of another human's pain ... or the depth of their willingness to remain in that pain.)

But no one ever was skeptical or dubious about the eating disorder patients we dealt with. Al Anon describes alcohol as "cunning, baffling and powerful." It seems as if any addiction is that way. As I recall, to a man, we drivers were baffled when we would meet these frail, often incredibly bright and perceptive young women ... who were killing themselves one denied bite at a time.

My heart goes out to this woman's parents, and to anyone who has been visited by this disease.

-- Griff Griffis

[Read "Sam is 13" by Anne Lamott.]

Good for you, Anne Lamott! I applaud your honesty and compassion, even though I'm sure you'll get some grief from those parents who NEVER will admit how awful their kids are. Also, there will be those who can't handle the idea of a rock-slinging Jesus. My son is 15, and his dad and I continually replenish that rock pile. It's nice to know we're not alone.

-- Brenda Kyzer

Thank you so much to Anne LaMott for making me feel like ALL my feelings regarding my children are OK. I am a single mother to three kids. I love them with every fiber of my being, with a fierceness that is sometimes frightening. They are far and away my greatest blessing. There are also pockets of time in which I resent their intrusion on my life. There are times I curse ever ovulating at all. I'm sure they hold secret huddles to plan on how to make my life, or even just my day, absolutely miserable. "Today's subject: Let's make Mom feel like the worst mother who ever lived and let her know she is damaging us forever." These children are the best thing and the worst thing I've ever done, often in the same day. LaMott makes me feel like just maybe we'll be OK.

-- Tracie Wiebush

Sam is 13, and he has no privacy or dignity, because his mother is a monster of ego whose religion is herself. Sam is 13, and he has to resign himself to the fact that his youth -- his whole life -- will be spent being dissected and chronicled without his consent. Sam is 13, but someday he'll be an adult and will understand what's been done to him, and I'm betting Anne Lamott will really find out what stoning feels like then. In the meantime, could Salon stop helping her exploit her child with her septic brand of sniveling self-veneration?

-- Name Withheld

I am a high school psychology teacher ... in a private Christian school no less! I read Anne Lamott's columns to my classes on a regular basis since she is the one Christian artist who I want my 75 students to hear and to discuss. Although our school is not a stereotypical narrow-minded right-wing Christian kid mill, the educators here are, for the most part, more "interdenominational" than they are "ecumenically" oriented. Except for me. I am here because the students need me to be here and because things are changing for the better. Anne Lamott is a major part of that change and my students and I want to express our thanks to Anne and to Salon for having her back! Cheers ... on behalf of the three psychology classes at MVCS

-- Gayle L. Dosher

[Read "New Jack City" by Heather Havrilesky.]

In "New Jack City", Heather Havrilesky presents a masterful if depressing look at the creepiness of American pop culture. I wish I could say she is being unfair when she pins this cultural decline on the American male. However, judging from the popularity of that pathetic bug Howard Stern and knuckle dragger-targeted entertainment like "The Man Show," a significant portion if not a majority of American males are sub-moronic wankers.

I've got to point out, though, that American women play a role in enabling all those millions of dim perverts. Most of the guys who admire Howard Stern, who dream of being there live on the "Man Show" stage, have girl friends. My God, a lot of them are married! Their guy worships an "entertainer" whose mission in life is humiliating women. What are these women thinking? ARE they thinking? America is in worse shape than even Ms. Havrilesky knows. Not only are most American men sub-moronic wankers -- a sub-moronic wanker is exactly what the American woman wants!

-- Larry Specht

I read Ms. Havrilesky's article with some interest. She seems to be laying the blame for the pornification of the mainstream media on the fact that people of my gender (straight men) want to see the jiggle, bounce and humiliation of the young, stupid and "genetically blessed" and believe that we have an inalienable right to have hot sex with beautiful women without emotional connection.

As a short, hairy, almost middle-aged man who doesn't derive any particular pleasure from the current crop of reality shows, and who has never liked Howard Stern, I have to take exception to Ms. Havrilesky's attack on my gender. Last time I checked, there are two sexes, and straight women are equally complicit in creating dysfunctional relationships between straight men and straight women. Just for the record, I (and most of the straight men I know) try to engage in emotionally meaningful relationships with women, don't believe that absurdly desirable women should be serving themselves up to us for hot, no-strings sex (most of us are boggled when a moderately desirable woman shows an interest), and watch very few of the reality shows that Ms. Havrilesky thinks are directed at us, none of them with any regularity.

I wonder why Ms. Havrilesky doesn't question the reasons that the women on these television shows (and others in real life) sign themselves up to be exploited. Why, for example, do so many women (like the exemplar in "The Real World") obsess over men who make it clear that they have no interest in anything beyond sex, while all the while complaining that they can't find a man who wants to commit? Men who actually try to treat women well and fairly will often find themselves ignored in favor of men who will regard any particular women with apathy (at best), or who juggle a lot of women simultaneously, setting up a competition for a "scarce resource." This is a lesson that every "nice guy" learns through at least his 20s. Of course, not all women are like this, but the anecdotal evidence I've seen and heard suggests that enough are that a smart, even moderately unethical man would be wise to learn the lesson these women teach, "biological determinism" being what it is.

Last, I suspect there is a fair bit of truth to the "sexually underfed" husband or boyfriend, who may be truly engaged emotionally with his partner, sensitive to her needs, and interested in sex with her and only her. Not every man who isn't getting laid is an insensitive boor, as Ms. Havrilesky seems to suggest. The truth of the matter is that in a committed (and non-abusive, of course) relationship, sex happens only when both partners agree it should. For a lot of men, that means that it happens at a pace that the female partner dictates, not at the pace that he dictates. Ironically enough, in the popular media, there is a lot of sympathy for women who want either more sex OR less sex. (What's wrong with that guy who's not giving it up for his woman, huh?) There is relatively little sympathy for men who may be dissatisfied with their sex lives, especially if they just want more, because it's well known that all men think with the little head, as Ms. Havrilesky intimates.!

Is it surprising that a man would fantasize about a world in which women want to have sex at the same pace that he wants to have sex, in which he doesn't feel like an ass for having his advances rebuffed by the woman he loves? I believe there is a reason for the stereotype of the dumb, horny husband we see in the media.

Ms. Havrilesky seems thoughtful, and it would be interesting to see her take some of these questions head on, instead of implying (when not stating outright) that those darn straight men are to blame.

-- J. Alexander Scott

Perhaps the real problem here is not all of these exploitative TV shows but the seemingly endless supply of morons trying to appear on them. Nobody is forcing anyone to appear on "Howard Stern." Anyone more highly evolved than a house cat -- who isn't consumed by a sick lust for fame (or infamy) -- knows what appearing on Stern, or "The Real World" or ANY of these shows will lead to: their humiliation.

-- Larry Grogan

It's so sad that we are bombarded with these images. As a woman, I'm tired of it; it's boring. Since corporate America seems to think all women need to emulate these "life-sized Barbie dolls," it's no wonder that there are so many eating and psychological disorders in young girls and older women alike. I wish for a split second those tables were turned. What if there were men in those super-low, tight-ass jeans on every billboard, TV show, magazine ad and mainstream porn (Skin-emax style).

It's also sad that men are portrayed as nothing more than penises with dimples who want nothing more than a flash of panties on a Juggy jumping on a trampoline. Or a bouncing boob, watching with anticipation, waiting for one to pop out, or the hint of nipple. Is that all it takes? How would a guy feel if women got wet seeing two men kissing, and feeling each other up? I'm sorry, but these days I wouldn't be caught dead in 3-inch heels!

Fantasy sequence or not, real women, with all their seemingly endless not-for-TV imperfections, still don't wear that stuff on a regular basis. If we did, do you think they would fantasize about women fully dressed?

-- Eileen Hall

Oh, please. Do we need another tiresome moral lecture on the perpetual adolescence of the American male? All prurient entertainment is "immature" by its nature. Responsibility and maturity are almost always antithetical to the erotic experience. Men really do want more sex than reality allows them; women like Havrilesky seem perpetually unable to acknowledge this simple fact. Until society in general changes to allow people to have sex more frequently and with a greater variety of people -- and it probably never will -- men will pursue satisfaction through whatever vicarious means the law allows.

-- John Breitmeyer

By Salon Staff

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