Have you ever told a secret, and immediately gripped your hand over your mouth in horror, wondering why it is you just revealed the up-till-then unspoken nugget? I haven’t had that experience since fifth grade or so—that is, until a few weeks ago, when a galley of Going Hungry: Writers on Denial, Self-Desire, and Anorexia (Anchor Books), landed on my desk. I flipped it open to the page on which my own essay begins, a re-telling of my battle with an eating disorder and the subsequent treatment I received for it. Staring at my name, my hand flew to my mouth. Secret? Not anymore.
So when my editor asked me to write a blog item about the essay, I smiled, said sure, and promptly avoided doing so until the last possible moment. As a fashion writer, my job is to report on the goings-on in other people’s lives, to examine other people’s creations. There has always been some safety in the anonymity of reporting; even using the occasional first-person voice on this blog feels awkward to me. Not surprisingly, it took me a good six or so months to actually write the essay, which I started well before I took my job at W last year. When I did finally dive-in, it was with the long-lens perspective of someone who has been healthy for nearly ten years. (I won’t rehash the story here—that’s what the book is for.) Still, particularly working in an industry that, let’s face it, glorifies thinness to the point where British Fashion Week organizers called on models to provide doctors’ notes before strutting the catwalk (they dropped the request on August 13, which could be another blog post altogether), there’s a sudden sense of exposure that’s unsettling. I have, at moments, worried that those who know me but did not know my history might now look at me differently, both figuratively and literally. Of course, there’s a flip-side to the first-person freak-out, which is: Oh God, I’ve bared my soul…but what if nobody even reads it?
At the same time, I’m more than humbled by the company I’m in: Francine du Plessix Gray, Jennifer Egan, Louise Gluck, and Joyce Maynard—writing of her now-famous and toxic romance with J.D. Salinger—have all contributed essays, as have a number of younger writers, whose essays are smart, often frustrating reminders of how many seemingly together women spend chunks of their lives obsessed with food and weight. I’m a big fan of the piece Egan (herself a former model) wrote, in which she laments, most of all, the hours she wasted worrying about being skinny. “I could have learned Greek or Latin with that time,” she writes. “I could have built a boat.” Then, she adds, “But what I end up feeling, in the end, is just relief at finally having been released from that tiny box of thought.” Here’s to that.