Singer Amy Winehouse’s struggles with drug addiction and alcoholism were well documented by the media (especially the paparazzi) during her short life. The young singer’s thin, fragile frame and sometimes puffy face were attributed to her heavy drug use and alcohol consumption. But Amy’s close friends and family, and even some of the people she worked with in the music industry, knew she was struggling with another problem. The fact that these people who were close to her hardly spoke out about it and often even overlooked it, says a lot about the standards we place on women living in the spotlight and the attitudes we have toward eating disorders.
Many of Amy’s fans are not aware that the singer suffered from bulimia for most of her life. In the 2015 documentary Amy, the first mention of her eating disorder comes about halfway into the film when Amy’s parents are interviewed. Her mother Janis recalls a teenage Amy telling her about a new “diet” she has discovered that involved eating as much food as she wanted and then vomiting.
Janis says that the conversation didn’t alarm her at the time, and she simply dismissed the activity as a silly teen habit that Amy would eventually outgrow. Amy’s father Mitch was also aware at the time of how the young girl was keeping her weight down, and he also dismissed it.
As Amy’s fame grew over the next decade, so did the media’s scrutinization of her addiction and alcoholism. Her looks, and body especially, were often the targets of ridicule. The media interpreted her thin, often unhealthy looking body as the result of living as a junkie. The media failed to recognize the signs of Amy’s eating disorder, just like many of Amy’s friends and family members overlooked it. The documentary on Amy’s life that was released earlier this year also spends little time discussing her habit of binging and purging aside from the interviews with her parents, and an account told by a colleague who noticed that the singer had odd eating patterns.
There were people in Amy’s life who tried to get her help for her addiction multiple times. Some of these people had selfish reasons for doing so, others were genuinely concerned for her. It’s interesting to look at how the people close to Amy, who were also aware of the fact that she was bulimic, chose to maintain a hands off approach to the issue.
In contrast to the way they handled her addiction, these people almost saw her eating disorder as something that couldn’t be changed or that was simply beyond anyone’s control. Their attitudes unfortunately reflect society’s attitude towards eating disorders – that they aren’t as serious or devastating as other diseases (like alcoholism or addiction).
Part of what contributes to this is the fact that people with eating disorders are still very much able to function in everyday life with work, careers, family obligations, and other responsibilities that need to be carried out. The truth is that eating disorders are deadly, and Amy’s bulimia had a lot to do with her tragic death. The way the media viewed the life of the young woman, and continues to handle it, only reveals that a lot needs to change about our understanding of eating disorders and the devestating impact they have on lives.