"Must we (all) talk about our eating disorders?"
That's the question Kat Stoeffel at The Cut raised Wednesday in response to New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn's admission that she is a recovering alcoholic and that she suffered from bulimia in her teens and 20s.
Quinn, who if elected would be the first female and first openly gay mayor of New York City, joins a growing number of successful women who have publicly admitted to eating disorders. Last year, Katie Couric admitted that she battled bulimia in college and in her early 20s and Mika Brzezinski recently published a book about her struggle with food addiction.
"Is every minute women spend talking about Our Eating Disorders a minute not spent talking about how messed up it is that House found time to vote to repeal Obamacare again? Is it good for other women to see women in power opening up about issues so closely tied to feminine identity? Or is it better for women to see women in power not giving a damn about them?"
These are fair questions. Christine Quinn is not an actress or a reality TV star. Her greatest goal is not to land an Us Weekly cover. She hopes to lead America's most populous city and, because of the "firsts" that define her candidacy, she undoubtedly serves as a professional inspiration to young gay women. Is it bad then -- for her own candidacy and for the young women who look up to her -- for her to talk about her eating disorder, to talk about her alcoholism? Does it make her seem weak? Set her apart (negatively) from her male competitors?
I don't think so. The notion that confronting your mental health issues somehow makes you incompetent is an antiquated one. Some of the strongest and most competent people I know are those who are dealing with, and recovering from, a mental health challenge. Any of them will tell you that acting as if you don't "give a damn" about your issues is one of the best ways to ensure they escalate.
I've written about my own recovery from drug addiction, and it was enormously liberating. Publicly defining myself as recovering addict sucked a lot of the power out of my addiction. They say in recovery that "you are only as sick as your secrets." Aren't we better off with leaders who are willing to talk about their demons, who feel they have nothing to hide?
Critics have argued that Quinn's revelation was politically motivated and a play for sympathy. I can't say what drove Quinn to come clean. But I also can't help but admire her and these other women who come forward and say, Hey, me too. It's important for the women of my generation to see that success does not prevent mental health issues and that mental health issues do not prevent success.
When I was in my early teens and knee-deep in a restrict-binge-purge cycle, I became obsessed with The West Wing. Explaining to my mom one day why I favored the show over the more demographic-appropriate O.C., I told her that I liked to think that the women of The West Wing didn't think about their bodies, that they didn't obsess over food, that they had better things to think about.
I didn't get that that part, especially, was fiction. What women like Christine Quinn show us is that the Donnas and CJS and Ainsleys of the world often do struggle with food or struggle with substances or struggle with their minds.
And they still worked for the President.
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