Lady Gaga has struggled with eating disorders in the past, so it's indefensible that she's glamourising bulimia in her SXSW set

There is nothing about showing an attractive woman vomiting that is 'art'

Share

Thanks to Lady Gaga, bulimia has a glamorous new poster girl, showing a fresh generation of teenagers that eating disorders are cool.

Two minutes into Gaga's performance of the song Swine at SXSW in Texas, vomit artist Millie Brown trots on stage, slurps up some green liquid, then repeatedly stuffs her manicured fingers into her mouth and vomits all over Gaga’s cleavage. Later Brown crawls on top of her and vomits black goo onto her again. Then they both writhe around in it. 

It’s provocative, grotesque and utterly indefensible. Hundreds of vulnerable people die from eating disorders every year, many of them from conditions they developed while they were teenagers. Around the same age as many of Gaga’s fans, in fact.

Gaga has admitted to suffering from bulimia and anorexia since she was fifteen. She won’t have incorporated Brown into her act without realising its resonance. Yet whatever her reasons, she is wrong to think that showing an attractive skinny woman making herself sick is anything other than misleading, damaging and dangerous.

I lived with people who had eating disorders when I was a teenager. I went to an all girls boarding school and somebody very close to me suffered from bulimia for many years. It’s a much misunderstood disease. Because people who have bulimia don’t lose as much weight as those suffering from anorexia, it’s difficult to spot. But there are signs.

A filmy layer of froth floating on top of the toilet bowl is actually stubborn stomach acid that won’t flush. Thin cuts on the knuckles from where fingers have caught the teeth after being rammed down the throat. Retching sometimes causes burst blood vessels in the eyes. And then there's the crippling anxiety and depression. But if you aren’t watching closely, sufferers will try and explain these symptoms away. Often by the time family and friends get involved, the eating disorder is well and truly entrenched.

It’s likely you will know someone with bulimia. Around one in 100 women have it in the UK. It’s much more common than anorexia (around 40 per cent of people with eating disorders have bulimia, compared with 10 per cent who suffer with anorexia) and is therefore much more of a risk.  It can start seemingly innocently, with people making themselves sick because they feel uncomfortably full, or a bit anxious. Your body releases endorphins when you vomit so it can feel like “purging” releases tension, boosting your mood and putting you back in control. It might feel enjoyable, a release. Soon being sick ‘every so often’ after a big meal turns into a routine after every meal. Then it becomes a duty. And on stage with Gaga, Millie Brown shows us how to perfect this ‘art.’

Brown has said that her vomit art doesn’t affect her health or diet, but is “like a cleanse for body and mind”. I lived with somebody who was throwing up six times a day, crying whilst vomiting, unable to take anti-depressants to get better because they’d be floating in the toilet within half an hour. I found half-digested vegetables clogging up the sink, cups of sick hidden in cupboards and you could always catch the cloying smell of vomit and stomach acid lingering round the bathroom. It is estimated treating eating disorders costs £80-£100million a year with costs of reduced GDP up to £2.9bn, and costs of reduced length of life and health up to £6.6bn. There is nothing cleansing about bulimia, either for body, mind or pocket. Approximately five per cent of bulimia sufferers go on to develop anorexia nervosa. One in five anorexia sufferers die. Eating disorders to one side, Lady Gaga’s latest stunt makes me sick.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - OTE £40,000

£28000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Contracts / Sales Administrator

£19500 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Knowledge of and ability to use...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Engineer - Powered Access

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They pride themselves that they...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence