You could be without even knowing it. After all, it’s an only recently made-up syndrome, created to fill pages 107-110 of May’s edition of Red.*
Semirexia, like all pretend diseases where journalists have lazily added -rexia (“drunkorexia”, “tanorexia”, even “excessorexia”), is not really defined in any clear sense. It’s basically feeling a bit rubbish about your body and food, kind of how you feel when you read glossy magazines full of skinny models, like, for instance, Red. But that’s just me being flippant. It might look like it’s no more than the low-level misery we all experience when we’re encouraged to be thin but obviously want to eat (so for most readers of such magazines, that’ll be “life”). But actually, as author Rosie Green informs us, “the causes of semirexia are complex”:
Easy answers to its proliferation are our culture’s ever-growing obsession with celebrity (we’ve all felt that funny mix of admiration / self-loathing after seeing Cameron Diaz in her hot pants). Or perhaps its the advertising industry’s increasing reliance on the airbrush. Maybe its even our own ‘alpha woman’ pursuit of self-improvement?
Yeah, Rosie, maybe, maybe. Here we are, idiotically comparing ourselves to A-listers, being manipulated by advertisers and harbouring ideas above our station. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s not just us or “the advertisers”, and it’s something to do with the thundering, not-so-subtle message of magazines such as the one you’re writing for?
To be fair, Rosie doesn’t believe it’s just down to silly reasons like “wanting to look good in a bikini” (tch! where on earth would you get the idea that that’s important?). She’s talked to a health psychologist specialising in eating disorders, who lists possible causes as “a reaction to your childhood, stemming from a family member’s relationship with food or constant talk of dieting and focus on body image within the house”. So in short, if it’s not your own stupid fault you’re “semirexic”, it’s your mum’s. Well, no, Red. I’ve had enough with this. Let me say this quite clearly: A LOT OF THE FAULT FOR EATING DISORDERS LIES WITH THE LIKES OF YOU. WITH THE EDITORIAL LINE OF MAGAZINES LIKE YOURS. IT’S NOT US, IT’S YOU, YOU, YOU.
Throughout and immediately following my decade of anorexia, I would have vociferously denied any connection between the my illness and glossy magazines. Linking what I’d been through to “the fashion industry” or “the beauty myth” would have felt like a gross trivialisation of what I’d been through. I’d never wanted to look like Kate Moss. I’d suffered genuine childhood trauma and didn’t doubt that that was the main cause. I still don’t. Even so, it was never the whole story. That much is obvious to me now.
The simplest way of saying it is this: if a publication suggests that, by default, its readership wants to be thinner and needs to restrict consumption of food, then said readership is more likely to want to be thinner and to restrict consumption of food. It’s not a case of just preaching to the converted. The publication helps set the standard for what you believe to be normal and healthy. So if, for instance, on page 67 of said publication you see a photo of a thin woman “looking good in a bikini” alongside a heading that says “Lose that last 7lb, Eat your tummy flat, The only 5 exercises you need etc etc” you might think oh, in order to look good in a bikini, I’ll need to change how I think and feel about my body and food. And you might end up feeling really rubbish about both. And the causes of this are not complex. It is partly about “wanting to look good in a bikini”, but only because Red is assuming you should (yes, this appears in the same edition of Red. As part of an advert for the next edition, where presumably you can totally forget about all this “semirexia” hand-wringing and just get back to the business of being “semirexic”).
Thankfully Rosie Green is herself no longer severely “semirexic”:
And what was it that changed such an ingrained perspective?
No longer reading any of the publications for which you still write?
I had to give up control of my body and front up to the fact my weird eating habits could affect my babies.
Way to go, Rosie. Let’s exchange one ridiculous ideal of perfection (thinness) for another (self-sacrificing motherhood). And let’s make mothers like me, who try to be okay parents despite still exhibiting “weird” habits (eating and otherwise), feel that bit more useless. Motherhood. Bloody great.
Reading things like this almost make me want an eating disorder just to have something to throw in the faces of people like Rosie Green. Sometimes I give up, I really do. I am so sick of glossy magazines taking the moral high ground with eating disorders, blaming everyone else while pretending that their own hands are clean (step forward, Alexandra Schulman). Skinny model gloss world is not the place for a serious discussion on eating disorders. On the contrary, it’s the place you go to when your own ED is running out of steam. When it needs a little boost. Semirexia. Sounds so pathetic. Stuff you, Rosie Green. We want super extreme megarexia and we want it now.
* I tell a lie. Page 109 actually features a skinny model advertising Scholl shoes, in-between all the shit about how feeling bad about your body is all your responsibility.