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Eating Disorders, the Entertainment Industry, and the Body Diversity of Trees

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California crushes it when it comes to unique tree shapes. Prior to moving to LA, I’d always thought Dr. Seuss had invented the trees he drew in his books, but nope – he was just a California native. I love trees. All kinds of trees! Tall trees! Fall trees! Wide, warped, and small trees! Bifurcations, whorls, even well-manicured mall trees!

At the same time, towering above this natural SoCal flora are tall blades of grass that were imported from other regions, planted EVERYWHERE in Los Angeles, and given the misnomer of TREE. Palm trees are scientifically NOT trees. Now, there’s nothing wrong with palm trees, if you like that sort of thing. But keep in mind, no one’s telling the other wonderful trees, “ Hey, your entire value as a worthwhile entity depends on how much you look like a palm tree.

Sensing where this metaphor is going? Like the carefully curated palm (not) trees in LA, “women” are plastered on every available surface in this town. Digitally altered “women,” composites of ten different “women,” and quite simply are NOT HUMAN WOMEN. But unlike the trees, every message women get from the time we go through puberty onward screams: “Do everything you can to look like these (not) women!!

Enough with the lies. For Eating Disorder Awareness Week, let’s embrace all body shapes as readily as we do tree shapes. An easy enough task when it comes to the bodies’ of other women, but when it comes to our own bodies this can feel impossible, whether or not you’ve lived with body dysmorphia. Myself, I’ve toured the world with a solo show all about my eating disorder, I’ve begged strangers around the globe to REMOVE SHAME around the subject and share their stories…and yet I still struggle to write publicly about it. Why? In part because I know eating disorders are grossly misunderstood and that announcing them often garners judgment. In part because I still spend a great deal of my brain space sitting in a body I needlessly hate.

Here’s what I will say. They’re everywhere. They’re life-hindering. They’re deadly. They’re usually invisible. And you have much more in common with people who suffer from them than you think. They reshape your brain in what – at least for me seems to be – an irreversible way. I’m heavier than I’ve been in my adulthood because, after years of exercise addiction, my body started snapping. Two ankles last year. Now something in my rib cage. I cannot work out. I have to – *shudder* – rest my body. I HAVE to. I just gotta sit with it and convince myself every day that it’s okay to eat even though I’m not working out… and like, that’s a HARD ARGUMENT to win. (Even though I’d be SO MAD if a tree were hiding from the sunlight or rejecting water because somehow nourishing itself would slow down its progress towards a palm tree physique.)

Putting my demons on display for the world does not mean I’ve conquered them. The Universe had to FORCE me to sit down and chat with them, like, FOR REAL. And we’re having a hell of a conversation. (“But photosynthesis is REALLY important.” “Yeah, but, ya know what happens when you photosynthesize… you get FILL OUT.” “So I get healthier, you mean?” “You get WIDER.”)

If you’re neck deep in an eating disorder, you’re not alone. Cliché, but true, and it needs to be said. It’s a lonely disease. You have a secret at all times. You’re extremely self-sufficient in that you are your own source of absolute validation. Of course, you can also skewer yourself like no one on earth. You have a kind of wall around you that can prevent truly close friendships. I walked around with a constant sense of “otherness” for 20 years. I’ve been freed somewhat by the show, through the simple act of sharing my story. So even though it feels safer to keep it to yourself – to cling on to your secret with all you’ve got – know that life only gets better when you share it.

We talk a lot about improving diversity and representation in Hollywood – a crucial conversation that is happily witnessing real change, slow though it may be. One area not discussed enough is body diversity on screen. As a ten-year-old round child who dreamed of being an actor in the 90s, I thought actresses had to be rail thin as a prerequisite for the job. It was all palm trees except for the one or two exceptions of a fat funny oak tree (who could just never keep her trunk small!)

But it’s not just young thespians who are fed these lies. Young girls are taught their looks should be the top priority in ANY profession. We hit puberty and bombarded everywhere we turn by pictures of glamorous, sexy, successful palm trees in all lines of work… and all those other tree shapes? Used to be we never saw them anywhere. It’s still rare… but it’s changing. I’m truly grateful to every TV show or film that features body diversity without the theme having something to do with that body diversity. The change is good, but we have a long way to go.

We have to teach little ones not to let go of their love for all tree shapes. Especially their own. And we have to forgive our younger selves who believed what we were told. That was a TOUGH JOURNEY for me. To forgive that little girl for buying into the lies at a time when my brain was pruning itself for adulthood. I took all blame on myself and spiraled in circles of self-hatred for years because of it. But I forgive her now. I love her! I’m trying to remind her how much she loves all the different trees. Round trees, brown trees, uprooted upside down trees! Whatever tree she winds up in, we’re working together to love it.

Kate Huffman

About Kate Huffman

Kate Huffman is an LA-based, Indianapolis-born actor/writer whose work in film, TV, and theatre has won her an LA Weekly Theatre Award, an Encore Producers' Award, a Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle nom, a Soaring Solo nom, and a Valley Theatre Award nom. She has written and performed sketch comedy at ACME Comedy, Upright Citizens Brigade, Second City, San Francisco Sketch Fest, Austin’s Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, Los Angeles’s Funny Women Festival, the Hollywood Fringe Festival, Comedy Central Stages, improvOlympic Chicago, and countless other venues and festivals.
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 She’s had works published by Two Sisters Publishing and the Applause Monologues That are Actually Funny series. Her award-winning solo show, I'm Too Fat for This Show, has been seen in cities across the US as well as in Ireland.