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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Zosia Mamet: “We’ve Got to Start Talking” About Eating Disorders

The "Girls" actress demands a more open conversation about disordered eating and body image, and begins by sharing her own story.

4 Substance

Actress Zosia Mamet’s essay in Glamour begins: ”Do you have a secret? Is your secret something that could kill you, a silent gnawing feeling that’s slowly melting you away, little by little, something deadly that nobody else can see?”

The question of secrecy is eerily pertinent, given the death of Robin Williams from apparent suicide just yesterday. Williams struggled with addiction and depression. And Mamet’s insistence that we talk about our potentially deadly mental health issues rings especially true today.

“I’ve struggled with an eating disorder since I was a child,” the Girls actress writes. “This struggle has been mostly a private one, a war nobody knew was raging inside me. I tried to fight it alone for a long time. And I nearly died.”

For decades, numerous musicians and actors have chosen to speak openly about their addictions to alcohol and drugs. But eating disorders still remain largely in the shadows. A handful of celebrities including Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Nicole Scherzinger and Kesha (interestingly all female singers) have opened up about struggling with eating disorders in recent years. Katie Couric and Diane Keaton have both spoken publicly about battling bulimia when they were younger. But despite the pervasiveness of this form of addiction, the stigma remains.

As Mamet points out, eating disorders are an addiction—not a choice—and she asks that we change the conversation to reflect this. “I’m an addict in recovery,” she writes. “We’ve brought other addictions into the light; we’ve talked about them, dissected them, made them acceptable issues to discuss and work out. We need to treat eating disorders just as seriously.”

The 26-year-old says she first sought treatment for her disordered eating in her teens, when her father intervened. “It was the first time I realized this wasn’t all about me,” she writes, “I didn’t care if I died, but my family did.” In treatment, she realized that her eating disorder was not about not about weight or food—”that’s just the way the monster manifests itself”—but instead, “these diseases are about control: control of your life and of your body.”

She also tackles society and mainstream media’s obsession with “skinny,” a body type which “sells us everything, from vacations to underwear, effectively,” despite the fact that a majority of women don’t look like that. “Our culture delivers a real one-two punch: You want to control something, and then society says, ‘Hey, how about controlling the way you look? Skinny is beautiful,’” she writes. “Your obsession feels justified. It’s no secret that we live in a country with a warped view of beauty.”

Finally, Mamet calls upon those who have been diagnosed, or who live in “the grey area of food control issues,” to break their silence. “The first step, I think, is for those of us who are suffering to start talking about it,” she writes. “And if you’re reading this and you’re suffering, please know you’re not alone. Tell someone.”