The Sardonic Copywriter

As a sassy, senior copywriter for a social media company in Manchester, England, Anne knows what’s going on at least five light years before anybody else. Funny, dry, smart and ambitious, she’s stormed through a successful writing career. One night in New York, wearing wigs and silly grins after a few cocktails, I confessed my dirty secret.

‘Weird,’ she said. ‘Me too.’

Nobody and I mean absolutely nobody—not her parents or current partner—know Anne had bulimia, except me. So I felt none too comfortable asking if I could interview her. She did not want to be any kind of bulimic and certainly not a fucking awesome one. I said we could do a written interview which is more her style, and change her name.

‘It has to be a cool name,’ she said. Don’t go calling me Anne or anything.

Please meet the (self-appointed) Lady Gagger. She’s brilliant in every single way but even more so for agreeing to talk about something she has never ever discussed. You would never know if you met her.

Do you know any other bulimics?

No… Only one. By fortunate chance, the only one I drunkenly spoke to about my big bad barfing problem.

It’s so hard to laugh about something shameful like bulimia—because vomiting is pretty icky—but cracking jokes helps me feel over it. Do you ever make light of it?

I honestly have never talked, let alone laughed, about my bulimia. It certainly seems like it should be a good topic for hilarity. It involves pigging-out, self-loathing and bodily fluids—so it would be perfect fodder for a stand-up comedian. I tend to make more jokes about anorexia—out of jealousy I think. (Such self control!)

What started it for you?

I like to eat and I wanted to be thinner. It was pretty much just as simple as that I think. I was dieting all the time, and this was just another attempt for me to lose some weight. I did binge occasionally, but actually I often decided to have a spew just so there’d be nothing in my stomach. I felt better that way. I was about 16 when I started—and I probably spewed my way through a whole decade ‘till I was 26. That’s a lot of vomit.

When did you used to do it?

I did it whenever I ate too much or something with lots of calories in, or if I had some exciting night out planned and wanted to fit into a dress better. Any chance of making out with a boy and I would puke prepare (well in advance so there was no stinky breath!) I actually think I did it pretty often—probably at least once a week. Sometimes three times a day. Sometimes not for a fortnight. It sort of bore a resemblance to the irregular pattern of a casual relationship. (Though without the fun of orgasms.)

Do you know why it showed up?

It seemed like a way to have it all… A stinky, messy attempt at perfection. I remember reading about it in a girls’ magazine and thinking ‘that’s a good idea’. (Obviously not journalism at its finest then!) I wish someone had told me then about the bad things that can happen with vomiting—it can stunt your growth, make your face hairy, give you bad breath etc. If young girls knew that, I think they’d be less likely to take the puke path… I know I would have been.

I have been battling the war on chin hair ever since. I had to eat a Roman banquet table worth of food to throw up. So much waste. Was it like that for you?

Mine wasn’t always based on eating a lot. Sometimes I just wished I’d eaten nothing. But then, if I knew I was going to go for a Roman purge then I’d sometimes eat more, wanting to get ‘my money’s worth’ for the horribleness of having to puke.

I used to get spew on my shoes, rip my knuckles and throat to shreds. Truly horrible and very violent. But afterwards — the next morning — I got a post purge high as I got rid of a whole lot of food, and horrible feelings. Did you get that high?

No. Weird. That would have made it more appealing. I always felt disgusting afterwards. The smell, the taste, the mess, the shame, the guilt, the watery eyes. It would always take me a few hours (and a lot of teeth brushing and mouthwash) to feel good about myself again.

Bulimia zapped my self-esteem because I was so ashamed. Did it screw with your head ?

You know, it’s hard to work out what’s done what over the years… I think it certainly doesn’t help esteem issues. It’s another way you can make yourself feel that you don’t have control of your body.

Red wine aside, it was the biggest addiction of my life. Did it ever feel addictive or out of control for you?

It was absolutely addictive. I couldn’t stop when I wanted to for years. It became almost a natural part of life—which is definitely not a good thing. There’s nothing natural about eating something knowing that in a few minutes you’ll be putting your fingers down your throat, leaning over the toilet and vomiting it up.

How did you stop?

I made the shift to Manchester. I decided that when I moved here, I’d break free of toilet hugging. And I did. In fact I became gloriously not obsessed by weight and what I ate. At all. I had a couple of slips of attempts to purge… but I can count them on one hand. (A non-vomit-chewed hand.) And I hated myself so much after them that I never wanted to repeat them.

I stopped barfing 13 years ago but it has taken me a lot longer to stop bingeing—when I’m feeling gloomy or anxious. I even did it in your apartment when I came to stay a few years ago. Then I frantically searched for a store to replace the food before you came home. I don’t think I’ve ever told you that before…It’s very lonely. How are you with food now?

Ha. I wouldn’t have minded. And probably would have been drunk so wouldn’t have noticed… Anyway, here’s my answer…Once I made the break from vomiting, I really have never felt better. Now I know the foods I put into my body have to work as fuel and come out naturally or stick to my thighs. I feel much more in control through the whole process now. And we all know I like control…

I’m so glad you’re over it and I’m surprised it was as big in your life as it was in mine. I would never have known. You’re great with secrets.

You used to be until you started this site.

Hah. You are a very successful woman. It’s easy to think that people with bulimia must be all messed up but we’re usually ambitious and successful. We’re also, often, slightly obsessive-compulsive (being good addicts). Do you think that hiding something shameful propelled your ambition at all?

No. And I think it’s dangerous to think that this could even remotely be the case. There is nothing good about sticking your fingers down your throat. I wish I’d never done it… But I am slightly obsessive compulsive—but as above, I think you are more in control if you can control the whole process… (one step closer to the world).

Agreed! One step closer to life. How do you feel about images of perfectly proportioned girls in the media? 

For me, I think it’s all about being healthy—and that would be ‘perfectly proportioned’. I’d rather see perfectly proportioned girls than fat ones. I think the whole ‘it’s ok to be fat’ phenomenon is even more dangerous—it’s not ok to be fat. It’s really bad for you. And too many of us are. I think there’s a move away from showing really skinny girls, and that’s good too obviously. I feel like the media is getting better at showing healthy girls. But you’re right, to some extent it’s all kind of lost on me… I’m too old now to look at magazines and want to look like the girls in it—sadly it’s slowly dawning that it’s probably not going to happen now…

How do you get on with your body now? Friends? Foes?

I’ve never been happy with the shape of my body. But when I moved to the UK, I relaxed a bit about mine. And oddly that happiness brought some good years of body shape. Now I’m getting quite old and I have to be more careful with what I put in it and exercising, but I think that’s a good thing really. As you say, it’s good to be kind to your body.

You are so not old.

Oh yes, I’m younger than you.

Can you tell me three things you like about your body?

Eyes. Boobs. The fact that it works.

OK, make it four.

Wrinkles. (Best I embrace them now…)

Thank you.

You’re welcome. I think it’s lovely you’re doing this… And hope this was of vague help.