Mourning the Morning After: The Oscars and Addiction

02/27/2017 01:54 pm ET Updated Feb 27, 2017

Put aside the most unintentional moment of suspense and confusion in the history of the Academy Awards, and consider this iconic shot of Faye Dunaway the morning after her win for Best Actress in a Motion Picture, in 1977, where, sitting poolside at The Beverly Hills Hotel – with a makeshift floor mat of newspapers, their headlines as fleeting, and as disposable, as their physical value; going from the breakfast table to the birdcage to the trash within a matter of hours – this image captures the emotional range, from exhilaration to exhaustion, that is the match light of fame: It shows us that not even the pinnacle of celebrity – not even the most significant statuette in Hollywood – can erase the possible signs of isolation and depression.

All of which is to say, movie stars are not immune from the problems that plague the rest of us. 

And, while I do not cast judgment on Miss Dunaway (especially after last night's "performance" concerning her announcement of the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture), and though I do not mean to suggest she is a symbol of the pain of addiction, she nonetheless works in an industry, as do I, where this condition is rampant.

I refer not to drug and alcohol abuse, though these are challenges unto themselves, for which most actors are not afraid to seek treatment or go public with their difficulties. I write, instead, of the silent epidemic of eating disorders: A disease as serious as alcoholism, and as potentially lethal as snorting cocaine or shooting heroin, but, in the eyes of the media, an addiction far less glamorous than Hollywood's other drugs of choice.

Indeed, studios release films about drug and alcohol dependency. They mythologize the tormented writer, the dejected comic and the manic artist; they dress the star in an expensive wardrobe of black, giving his face a ghostlike pallor – while the lead actor, through a combination of fasting and a very restrictive diet, looks as gaunt as an actual addict; a skeletal creature, with a spoon and powder, who still manages to come across as a sexy hustler in Needle Park.

Where, in contrast, is the movie about the creative personality with an eating disorder?

That film does not exist, or Hollywood has no plans to make one, because of the false belief that this illness is less agonizing than alcoholism or the trauma of a drug overdose.

And yet, I assure you that there are actors and actresses with eating disorders.

Some may be former Academy Award nominees or winners, as well as attendees at industry events, mingling, perhaps, at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, while holding an hors d'oeuvre – a canapé of cucumber and caviar – which is more a prop than a reason to sate their hunger.

Excessively thin, and enduring physical and emotional anguish, they will not eat. They will starve themselves, because of the wrongful association of beauty with health; they covet a slender body, no matter the cost of achieving or maintaining an image as a "social X-ray," because they no longer possess an identity of their own.

Therein lies the awful tragedy of having an eating disorder: The panic of quiet desperation, in which society says you can never be too lean, despite the self-inflicted wounds to one's mental health and physical safety.

These actors should know, and the public should also understand, that having an eating disorder is not cause for shame or silence.

I battle this disease, too, and I will not succumb to its temptations. 

I refuse to surrender to its seductive yet destructive effects, because I must stay strong, so I may help others regain their strength.

Many of us have achieved greatly, and suffered deeply. But we must never give up.

We must work our way toward remission.

We deserve better.

We will be better, thanks to the grace of God or the transcendent grace of faith in ourselves.

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