Anorexia reality show Starving Secrets slammed by eating disorders group for “putting ill people on television”
Starving Secrets is the latest in “television recovery” reality shows, publicly documenting anorexia”s grip on lives for the education – and entertainment – of others.
Presented by Tracey Gold, who shot to fame in the Eighties for her very public battle with anorexia while filming sitcom, Growing Pains, the new show tells the story of ten women, aged between 19 and 43.
But while the Lifetime series aims to help a group of sufferers, supporting their struggles with anorexia and bulimia, it has met with criticism, even before premiring.
Wasting away: Tracey Gold, right, is seen talking with Rivka, a 28-year-old anorexic. The show”s critics say television recovery is not the way to beat illness
Lynn S. Grefe, CEO of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), told the Huffington Post last week that she believes the therapy offered to the show”s subjects, such as 28-year-old Rivka, from Toronto, is “wasted treatment.”
“We do not support putting people who are ill on television,” she told the news site.
“I really don”t think it”s going to be easy for people to be honest in their treatment, their thoughts, their counseling [while on camera].”
She is not alone – some show insiders still remain sceptical about the dubious “television recovery” process.
Carolyn Costin is the owner of Rain Rock, the residential treatment centre near Eugene, Oregon, that helps Rivka.
She told the site that she understands NEDA”s stance, and that therapists involved in the show remain cautious.
Skeletal: Rivka, half her healthy body wieght, has osteoporosis and dental problems. A doctor on the programme says she has months to live
Body dysmorphic: Emaciated and pale, Rivka is one of ten women on the show, which premired on Friday night and aims to set sufferers on the path to recovery
The former NEDA board member told the site that she and colleagues felt “it”s going to happen – we”re not going to stop reality TV – and hopefully somebody with integrity will do it.”
She said that she “can only hope that it does what we wanted it to do, which was give people hope and show that a) legitimate psychological issues are in play, that it”s not just vain girls on a diet and b) that recovery is possible.”
One such success case is that of Rivka, who, in contrast to Ms Grefe”s concerns, is in recovery and now has a healthy weight.
But it is not simply the show”s subject matter that is a worry.
Purging: Melissa, a bulimic, is shown vomiting – a move that has particularly upset therapists who told producers they did not want clients to be shown purging
Tracey Gold recently told Daily Beast that “it’s not an easy show to watch, but it’s riveting and it really lets you know what it’s like.”
In keeping with this, and much to the dismay of therapists involved, Friday night”s premier showed Melissa, a 22-year-old bulimic woman, being sick.
“TraceyGold told [the treatment providers] that she didn”t want to show clients purging, and that she wasn”t going to do that to clients, so a lot of treatment professionals involved in the show are upset at the producers and the network,” Ms Costin told the Huffington Post.
“We can only hope that it shows that legitimate psychological issues are in play… it”s not just vain girls on a diet”
It was hoped that the actress” well-documented 20-year battle with the disease stood her in good stead to help ten women who are in the throes of dealing with anorexia or bulimia, and, according to the network, “to reach them in ways no one else can.”
In its defence though, the show, as promised, does not fail to show anorexia in an unglamorous, even undramatic light. Its subjects, emaciated and pale, are portrayed as obsessive, lonely and far from sensational. Scenes are harrowing and often disturbing.
Michael Branton, one of the show”s executive producers, told the site: “Every so often there”s a survey piece done asking, “Has television gone too far”
“It”s a good question. It needs to be asked. There are probably irresponsible ways of confronting eating disorders.” But he insists, says the site, that Starving Secrets was not one of them.
Starving Secrets airs on Lifetime network, Sundays at 10pm.