Wednesday, March 30, 2005

No real look at causes of bulimia

No real look at causes of bulimia

By Antonia Zerbisias, Toronto Star

"It appears the parents of Terri Schiavo have run out of options ...
meaning the Schiavo feeding tube will soon be removed from the cable
news networks."

You can count on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart to inject cynicism
into what has been, you should pardon the expression, a media feeding
frenzy over a brain-damaged woman.

But then, once the White House and U.S. Congress entered the fray, it
was tough to fault news organizations for being all over this tragic
story of a beautiful young woman who so desperately wanted to be thin
that she destroyed her life, and the lives of those who love her.

Even coverage of the coverage has been copious.

Critics have correctly attacked CNN and other organizations for
distorting the presentation of opinion polls on the matter. An MSNBC
host intimated that Schiavo's husband Michael is a "Nazi'' for wanting
to remove her feeding tube. Fox News has come under fire for failing
to identify demonstrators as members of an anti-abortion group. It
even invited cancelled TV psychic John Edward to read Schiavo's mind.

And, if all that wasn't disgusting enough, how about the syndicated
radio host, Glenn Beck, who claims to have raised $5 million (U.S.) in
pledges "to buy" Schiavo from her husband "if he will divorce her and
give guardianship rights to her parents."

It was the perfect Easter week story, a life and death drama with talk
of miracles and resurrections mixed in with some of the worst coverage
of any event ever.

Doctors who never went near the patient were called upon to diagnose
her. Politicians spoke as if they were medical experts. Just about any
nurse who changed a bedpan in the same hospital at some time during
Schiavo's 15-year ordeal might have gotten facetime.

Meanwhile, the media, cowed by the "moral values" crowd, rarely asked
legitimate questions that needed asking. For example, how U.S.
President George W. Bush, who cut short his vacation to preserve the
"sanctity of life," can also justify the death penalty.

Much of the coverage was fuelled by clips from some 4 1/2 hours of
videotape shot by Schiavo's parents who made them public. They have
become a Rorschach in this debate. One sees what one wants to see —
and many see exactly what the parents hope they see.

That the segments represent only a few moments of Schiavo's life is
either ignored or glossed over. That they might be as
misrepresentative as, say, shooting one minor scuffle at the edge of a
massive but otherwise peaceful demonstration and then calling the
protest "violent" is also never said.

What they show is an apparently sentient Terri, vocalizing, tracking a
balloon and moving to music.

Kind of like a newborn really.

Which is probably the point.

Nobody can condemn the parents for resorting to manipulative measures
to keep their daughter close, and alive.

Yet this is a woman whose body image drove her to risk her health in
the first place, a woman who had a deadly obsession about her

As her brother-in-law Scott Schiavo told the New York Times, Terri
would have been mortified by the video.

"She was very, very particular about the way she looked, very proud
when she walked out the door," he said last week. "She would be so
upset to have the world seeing her that way."

Not surprising.

A once fat teenager who had lost 65 pounds, Terri Schiavo was so
terrified of regaining her excess weight that she willingly purged her
body of sustenance, and in a rather violent fashion.

"The irony is very cruel indeed," observes Jean Kilbourne, an expert
on how women are portrayed in advertising, and author of Can't Buy My
Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. "I don't
think it's an issue of vanity. I think it's much, much deeper.

"Women, young women, get the message that their value depends entirely
on how they look and, these days, on being extremely thin."

Of course, nobody knows what, if anything, is in Terri Schiavo's mind
right now. Maybe if, somewhere deep down inside, Terri really does
have consciousness, she wouldn't mind seeing herself on TV over and
over again looking slack-jawed and stupid.

Why care, if it saves her life?

Which brings us back to the media, who are profiting mightily from
Schiavo's terrible fate, with this perfectly made-to-measure big
ratings story.

Throughout this wrenching moral and political uproar, they alone have
escaped castigation.

Yet they have much to answer for. They and the advertisers that feed
them are the ones who promote unrealistic images of tall, willowy
women without an ounce of excess flesh — except of course in the two
right places.

"Imagine," says Kilbourne, "if all this energy and media attention
focused instead on the self-loathing and hatred of their own bodies
that our culture generates in women, and the rampant eating disorders
that often result. Now that might save the lives of many young women
for whom it is not too late."