Diet secrets of the dangerously disordered

A yucky episode in which the media is caught sending deranged messages to women about their weight.

Published January 5, 2006 1:05PM (EST)

Whoops! In a case of crappy media timing, Us Weekly's new cover features an inset picture of "Herbie: Fully Loaded" star Lindsay Lohan in a bikini over the headline "Diet Secrets: Lindsay, J.Lo & Others."

Too bad that the new issue coincides with the ballyhooed publication of the upcoming Vanity Fair, in which Lohan admits that she has recently suffered from bulimia and dabbled in drug use.

Gawker jokes about the gaffe that Lohan's "Diet Secrets" include "Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Use some drugs 'a little.' Use cocaine a lot. Eat lots of fish and chicken. Purge."

It's funny, but it's not. It's no revelation that movie stars face enormous pressure to stay slim. Nor is it news that many young women hurt themselves in pursuit of impossible physical ideals.

But it doesn't help when one of those young women is consistently held up to us -- and her own peers, the young women who buy tickets to her movies and buy magazines to read about her -- as a physical specimen worthy of our obsession. Lohan's extreme weight loss over the past year has garnered both positive and negative attention, as have her collapses from "exhaustion" and "asthma." It has been no secret that she's not a healthy chica.

And yet the media -- and this includes Vanity Fair, which reportedly features photographs of the 19-year-old posing topless next to the story about her eating and drug problems -- continues to fetishize her form, rewarding every new physical transformation with a photo spread or story. We've seen her thin, thinner, wasted away, big-breasted, bare-breasted, blonde, brunette, redheaded, freckled, pale.

Even without being specifically promised her "Diet Tips," what other message could we be getting besides one that encourages us to emulate her? After all, if we did, we could be on the cover of magazines.

One other Lohan note: Apparently, the Vanity Fair story also quotes Lohan's stage mother from hell, Dina, as saying, "She took it a little too far, maybe ... but it wasn't as bad as it looked." She took it a little too far? Your daughter just told a national magazine that she was on the brink of death, described her siblings calling her in tears, referred to her own body as "disgusting," and admitted that when confronted about her trouble she "just started bawling." Buy a fucking vowel, lady.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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