“-rexia:” An overused, cliche and annoying-as-hell buzzword that is to tabloid reports of disordered eating what -gate is to political scandal.
Recent years have ushered in a whole new list of –rexias (and –mias) to describe every shade of disordered eating behaviors and some not related to eating at all: There’s wannarexia (for eating disorder hopefuls); manorexia (for gay men with anorexia); drunkorexia (for co-ed binge drinkers); brideorexia (for brides who take the requisite pre-marital dieting too far); diabulimia (for diabetics and only because diarexia isn’t as catchy); orthorexia (for overzealous health nuts); tanorexia (for Day Glo people addicted to their tanning beds); exorexics (for people addicted to their treadmills); and pregorexia (for pregnant celebs and others who don’t want the telltale “baby bump). The Huffington Post even recently coined “money-rexia” (for people with insatiable greed). Many of these invented terms aren’t even semantically accurate. Rexia comes from the Greek orexis, meaning desire or hunger. The suffix of an- denotes a lack thereof. Bulimia also comes to us from the Greek boulimia or ox-like hunger — bous meaning ox and limos meaning hunger.
Case in point: Stuff, the “award-winning news and information website” of Fairfax New Zealand Ltd., published this article yesterday ruminating about uncorroborated and rumoured suspicions that Britney Spears is “reportedly abusing laxatives and vomiting after meals.” Stuff reminds its readers that it “previously reported Britney is suffering from bulimorexia, an eating disorder which sees her both starving herself and then bingeing and making herself sick.” Newsflash to Stuff and Fairfax New Zealand Ltd.: Bulimorexia isn’t an actual eating disorder diagnosis; it’s just one you made up. Nope, it’s not legit even if you tack on an -rexia suffix. Bulimia, of course, is an actual legitimate disorder recognized by the DSM-IV and encompasses the behaviors described above. And as a side note, I and I’m sure Britney Spears herself would rather any medical disorder, fabricated or legit, be diagnosed by Britney’s doctor and not you or any other media outlet.
It wasn’t always like this. The rexorexic media was once content to just publish account after shocking account of plain ole’ anorexia, filling inches with morbidly compelling tales of young affluent white girls subsisting on only lettuce leaves and a handful of Cheerios, of diets gone terribly wrong and girls with everything to live for willfully starving themselves to death. Bulimia? Eww, that’s just yucky. Who wants to hear about average-weight and overweight girls sticking their heads into toilets and vomiting?
Then anorexia became just another common verbal banality. Not content with after-school specials, celebrity musings and pro-ana website scares, media mongers needed to put a new sensationalist face on an old life-threatening disorder that has become otherwise mundane to an desensitized public. Enter rexorexia. The term is quite simple, really: The media fabricates a new trendy disorder, attaches -rexia to the end of it to make it sound medically authentic, and voila! A new eating disorder is born.
It’s nauseating, for sure, this rendering of the leading cause of death for our nation’s best and brightest girls into revenue-generating titillating tabloid headlines. Manufacturing trendy buzz words to attract new attention to old problems is also just lazy journalism. But far worse, it’s irresponsible and dangerous. Pregorexia, for example, implies that an eating disorder develops largely in response to media coverage of unrealistic pregnant and post-baby bodies of celebs. It’s generally accepted medical knowledge today that while the media can play a role in the formation of an eating disorder, it does not cause it. Pregorexia is also concerning because it implies that the “problem” will go away after nine months when the label is no longer applicable. Likewise with brideorexia. The trivialization and abasement of anorexia and bulimia as trifle adjectives and invented buzz words perpetuates not only the sheer popularity of eating disorders, but also their irrelevancy. And ironically, it is our casual references to them — these catchy glamorizations like pregorexia and brideorexia, the digest of suspicions on if a celebrity has an eating disorder, and so on — that allow them to go unnoticed and uncared for.
I am all for broadening the the definitions of disordered eating and specifying in more detail the catch-call category of ED-NOS, including making binge eating disorder a diagnosis in itself. But it is quite dangerous to replace official diagnoses with unofficial, fill-in-the-blank-rexia labels concocted by a “money-rexic” media that minimizes and distracts from the real underlying illness and one’s motivation to seek treatment for it.
Let’s put the emphasis back on on people first and call a spade a spade. There is no brideorexia, although there can be a woman engaged to be married with anorexia. There is no manorexia, although there can be a man with anorexia. There is no pregorexia, although there can be a pregnant woman with anorexia. There is no exorexia, although there can be people who overexercise, as is commonly seen in people with bulimia. All of these people need support and professional treatment. What they don’t need are fictitious labels to disguise, excuse, stigmatize or further glamorous their eating disorder.