Recently, I mentioned on Twitter that I just finished reading Wasted by Marya Hornbacher. I have not written my review as yet. However, today I thought I would reprint my review of a Fringe Fest play which was published in March 1993; the newsprint is a bit too ragged for total readability, though I will scan the photo that went with the article. I reviewed this play and read Wasted because at one time my nerves were so bad from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) that I couldn’t keep my food down. This problem eventually led me to flirt with bulimia and anorexia.
Review: Dying To Be Thin
A Day in the Life
by Teresa D. Gibson
Linda Carson’s, Dying to Be Thin, is an all-too-real depiction of a day in the life, thoughts, and feelings of a bulimic. Directed by Pam Johnston, this one-act play, starring Carson as Amanda, is so poignant in its portrayal of the severe emotional extremes of such an illness, that even the borderline-funny moments could not make me laugh. Its glaring accuracy, which is what makes this play a tremendous success, made me wonder what anyone in the audience could see as funny.
The scene opens on a cozy set. Amanda is asleep in her canopy bed. A table, dresser, and mirror surround her and, to the right, is the all-important bathroom. Everything looks normal. Only the bathroom scale, a note on the wall with a written vow to lose ten pounds, and a very thin main character, give any hint of something being wrong.
Minutes into the opening, to the sound of food lists being chanted in the background, “sugar, chocolate, icing, bread, cake,” and so on, the audience is witness to Amanda’s first purge. The scene is handled with creativity and is effective, yet there is something almost too pretty to make an impact on the non-bulimic.
Throughout the play, however, emotions are captured perfectly. In a frighteningly short time, we travel with Amanda through her post-purging euphoria–a new beginning of eight hundred calories a day; panic at her slim sister’s upcoming visit, triggering a resolution to cut down to zero calories for one week; terror of approaching her mother’s gift of rice cakes; and the excitement of going on “a binge to end all binges.”
I felt her emotional free-fall. I was excited at the thought of her accomplishing her goals–regardless of how her intimacy with bathrooms found her one day trapped in a grubby one, down a dark and dangerous Toronto alley.
As I watched all of this, I couldn’t help but remember an exchange between a therapist and a bulimic friend in a therapy group. So tormented was she by society’s billion dollar fat industry, geared at making women ashamed of themselves, that where we saw frailty, she saw bloating.
Knowing that recovery is multi-layered and complex, the therapist gently instilled a watchful voice inside us all, “I love and accept myself. Binging and purging is doing harm to me.”
Her surprise at hearing that her ‘ultimate release’ or binge was actually doing awful things to her body, struck me hard. So did the list of the damage that bulimia can do: chronic fatigue and illness, depression, electrolyte imbalances, kidney damage, gastrointestinal problems, as well as lost time at school, work and with friends.
Dying To Be Thin is an incredible production. Its detail is meticulous and I was tremendously impressed by Carson. She acknowledges being a recovering bulimic, knowing full well how identification with an issue can sometimes spur undesirable effects. Yet, in not hiding, but instead illustrating the downward spiral of a condition that once seemed magical, she gives back to bulimia sufferers compassion, dignity, and a lessening of shame.
Printed in Kinesis, March 1993.