I went to see Source Code recently, having been grimly aware that I wasn’t going to comprehend a solitary thing that happened from the start to the finish of this motion picture. And, indeed, I’ve almost never been more correct about anything in my life. That’s not to say Source Code isn’t a good film – for all I know, it is the finest film ever made – but my lack of comprehension did mean that my attention wandered to other matters. I thought about the fact that its director, Duncan Jones, was at one time living his young life with the noteworthy name of ‘Zowie Bowie’, and exactly how badly I, as a fourteen-year-old, wanted Z Bowie Esquire to be either my stepson or my husband one day. There was the matter of whether Michelle Monaghan, as Source Code’s love interest, was disappointed that she got to wear only the one outfit; if I were starring in a film, I would want to exhume Edith Head to dress me in, say, a swansdown-trimmed dressing gown or bejewelled turban, even if my character were merely sitting in a commuter train over and over, and then over again. Not insignificantly, there was also the question of whether INXS in their heyday were going to emerge from the extremely long white motor vehicle that was central to the action. Most of all, though, as my gaze roamed over the teenage audience, of both the male and female persuasion, weighed down by vats of popcorn larger than the wheat silo from which Charlie Cousens controversially plunged to his death in Bellbird, I wondered if anorexia nervosa, once so ubiquitous among teens, has gone out of fashion.
Yes, we all know that these days the average dress size for women has gone from a twelve to a twenty-six, or some such, but I would have thought this would have led to the sight of more, not fewer, girls who are the size of a swizzle stick walking ethereally about while clad in muumuu-proportioned school uniforms and staggering under the weight of, naturally, a violin, not to mention producing self-portraits in oils in which a thin version of themselves gazes upon a fatter version of themselves in the mirror. However, teenagers I see in the street are often solidly built and seemingly packing a lot of self-regard and, rather than worry about avoir dupois, unselfconsciously break into song on public transport, unlike in my day, when they essentially just lurked around inarticulately. Even though I left school a quarter of a century ago, the time has gone so quickly that I still feel the same age as the teens I see on public transport, much like Elizabeth Montgomery in Between the Darkness and the Dawn, when she played a seventeen year old who lapses into a coma, only to wake up twenty years later to find that her high school boyfriend is married to her sister. However, imagine my surprise when I was of late sitting on a tram and, due, I assume, to the popularity of Glee, a girl commenced belting out a tune and, what’s more, one of the boys, who had appeared to be heterosexual, joined in with her. Well, in my day, we were exhausted by having to go to the newsagents every afternoon after school and physically hunt for information about our favourite stars in the magazines of the period, not to mention being consumed with self-hatred. This busy schedule left no time for singing. The relatively strenuous nature of our lives was, perhaps, one of the reasons that having anorexia nervosa apparently used to be more ragingly popular than it is now – a popularity that was, worst of all, complete with endless Toetruck Theatre presentations on the subject. To start with, everyone knows that you have to do a whole lot of exercise when you have anorexia nervosa. When I was a teenager playing music in my bedroom, I used to have to walk to my small record player, turn the ‘LP’ over and replace the needle at the end of side one; there’s none of that side-one/side-two business now. We had to move our arms rapidly as we teased our hair into big mops, in the style of Bananarama in their socially aware ‘Rough Justice’ period. We also often had to move quickly so as not to catch our raggedy ‘recession dressing’ clothing items on sharp objects.
After having always been a portly teenager, thanks partly to a mania for pineapple doughnuts, I had a small bout of this, essentially ludicrous, condition when I was sixteen, courtesy of the kind of ‘body image issues’ that Jane Clifton once unsubtly addressed in song while wearing a striped jumpsuit. I’m not saying this merely in a futile attempt to appear more interesting but, rather, in an effort to show that I know of what I speak. I admit that eating as little as I could get away with put me into a foul temper, making me storm hither and yon, clad in what can only be called ‘sloppy joes’, not to mention, most depressingly of all, giving me chilblains. However, I will say that at least anorexia nervosa got me up and doing, and I don’t just mean the effort expended while attempting to extract a Jane Fonda’s Workout videotape that had been eaten by the machine.
During my time with an eating disorder, I went from being a rusted-on underachiever to doing my homework on a more or less regular basis; presumably I did this so that if I read, yet another, checklist of the type of teen most likely to suffer from the condition (namely, one who was a much harder worker than I) I would fit right in with these lean perfectionists. Furthermore, for the first and last time in my life, I engaged in the preparation of food, because, I imagine, I was keen to exhibit the equally famous symptom of the disorder that one does much cooking but does not eat the results oneself, the idea behind this act being to make those who do tuck in feel as utterly repulsive as a feast-demolishing Henry the Eighth in his later years. What’s more, I truly had the best of both worlds because, while, admittedly, I may at that time easily have been the most boring I have ever been in my entire existence, I did all this without ending up in hospital with a tube stuck up my nose so that I could be force-fed Up & Go, or sporting a small beard.
I have to admit that I barely know any teenage girls, so, for all I know, anorexia nervosa is as popular as it ever was and, yes, I do still read the occasional story in the newspaper about eight year olds going on diets, which is clearly designed to give parents yet more to worry about, when they’re not busy panicking at the concept that their tiny tots are somehow going to be forced to enter paedo-friendly beauty pageants without their knowledge. I am just saying that, first, alarm about teen obesity seems to be trumping alarm about teens not eating enough; and, second, that anorexia nervosa appears to have fallen off the cultural radar a little bit. On the upside, this may mean that never again will another tune like silverchair’s ‘Ana’s Song (Open Fire)’ be visited upon the world. On the downside, however, there may be a corresponding reduced likelihood of such telemovies as The Best Little Girl in the World, For the Love of Nancy or When Friendship Kills ever again brightening up a dreary Tuesday night.