This Saturday 4/5 and Sunday 4/6, Brown students will both literally and metaphorically speak the words of truth written by their peers in this moving play, “The Secret Life of Eating at Brown.” Compiled by Phoebe Nir ’14, the play takes strides against disordered eating, a subject commonly experienced by college students everywhere, but highly stigmatized and left unheard in a zone of social discomfort. Phoebe let the secret out with us by answering a few questions about TSLoEaB, her personal attachment to disordered eating, and why it’s extremely important to eradicate the subject’s taboo.
BlogDH: Can you give us a little bit of info about what The Secret Life of Eating at Brown will entail?
Phoebe: TSLoEaB is a collection of Brown students’ anonymously submitted essays on the subjects of food, body image, and disordered eating. The idea was to debunk the myth of the eating disorder as this very specific and obvious thing that only happens to, I don’t know, teenaged white female gymnasts in Scarsdale. We live in this weird world where food is so freakishly abundant, and our bodies are under a lot of peculiar pressures, regardless of gender or socio-economic background; we’re all fighting in the same ring. The monologues we will be sharing come from a variety of different perspectives, and there’s going to be a completely different cast for every reading. I’m actually going to be meeting some of the actors for the first time at the show, because I wanted to involve as many people as possible, and have a minimal barrier to participation.
BlogDH: I read the article you wrote for Post- about your personal connection to the subject of disordered eating, but for those that didn’t, can you speak about what inspired you to create the performance?
Phoebe: I felt like the level of sophistication and understanding our society has about disordered eating is totally inadequate compared with how many people are struggling. I’ve struggled a lot during my time at Brown, and I think part of the issue was that I felt very alone and ashamed by what is really a fairly common experience. I wanted to make this show in the hopes that we could all shed some light on what’s going on beneath a lot of people’s high-functioning surfaces. Removing the stigma could go a long way to helping some people heal. If one person in the audience feels validated and embraced by what they see, I’ll feel like the project was a success.
BlogDH: Do you think that disordered eating is a widespread issue at Brown? If so, do you feel like it’s been properly addressed?
Phoebe: I think disordered eating is widely prevalent on this campus, and it manifests in a lot of weird and insidious forms. I don’t want to discount the experience of somebody who has found a lot of support through the channels available on campus, but I’ve always felt pretty underwhelmed. People put up all those posters of slightly curvy girls doing cartwheels and things, and I think the body positivity message is great, but what if you’re a black guy at risk for diabetes, or an athlete who feels like you’re losing control over your body, or someone who grew up in extreme food scarcity and has to compensate for that anxiety—are you going to find that poster inclusive of your experience? Is seeing that going to encourage you to confide in somebody that you’re struggling, or is it going to make you think that you’re a freak?
And even if you are that gymnast from Scarsdale, that message of body positivity can feel as judgmental as looking through a swimsuit catalogue. That’s the paradox—we’re all supposed to be effortlessly comfortable in our own skin, at the same time as looking flawless.
It almost goes without saying that it’s totally normal for a woman to be very concerned about gaining weight. It’s such a cliché to see the group of girls eat a bunch of cupcakes and then complain about how fat they’re going to get, but I think it kind of happens in real life. But then what if, instead of laughing it off and moving on, one of these girls lingers on the thought, and then starts spending a lot of time thinking about it, and begins to behave very neurotically? That’s almost the most normal response, given the environment we exist in.
BlogDH: What was the process of putting the play together like? How did the movement to start collecting anecdotes and stories begin?
Phoebe: It’s kind of funny to think about now, but this whole thing started because at the beginning of this semester I was on crutches and couldn’t be involved in anybody else’s play. It all happened in a matter of weeks; I just made a survey online and tried as hard as I could to get people to fill it out. The responses were really great and interesting, so it was easy to stitch it together into a short play.