Revisiting Demi Lovato, misogyny, and my daughter’s stomach bug.

Update: This post is one of my most consistently visited.

If you’re here because you’re dealing with cutting, an eating disorder, or bi-polar (any/all) click here for a list of phone numbers and Web resources, and click here to read Ms. Lovato’s comments on her post-rehab experiences and the documentary she’s made.


In November 2010, singer/actor Demi Lovato began a three-month stint in rehab for what was termed “emotional and physical issues” — it was widely speculated that these issues included an eating disorder and self-injury (cutting). In the meantime, Lovato has completed rehab, and is going public this week with her story. The cutting has been confirmed, as has the eating disorder, as well as depression and bi-polar disorder — in short, this very, very young person has been struggling for years with some truly horrifying demons.

Sometimes a complete stranger’s tale resonates particularly powerfully for me, and Lovato’s was one of those tales. I wrote about it when the story first broke, and have decided to re-up the post, because it touches on some issues that I feel to be far more important than we like to admit — in no small part because these issues are associated with women, and we still don’t value women very much.


The girl — my sweet, funny, round-cheeked and whip-smart little girl — is home sick today, the poor mite, throwing up and congested at the same time. A horrible thing, if you ask me!

It might not be every worried mom whose daughter’s illness makes her think of our shared social ills, but God help the girl, I’m the mom she got. So, given where my thoughts have been lately, in cleaning up after one particularly unpleasant bout of whatever-the-hell she has, I flashed pretty easily on how often women (myself included) respond to bad digestive troubles with: “Maybe I’ll lose weight!”. (It’s almost a reflex at this point. I push against the self-hatred I see preached all around me, and yet when the food comes back up, it’s very hard not to think: “Score!”).

These thoughts then led easily to thoughts of the increasingly rail-thin girls who appear on my little girl’s TV screen, which led in turn to one who has lately been on my mind more than might seem to make sense: Demi Lovato.

Demi Lovato, 18 year old star of Camp Rock, Camp Rock 2, and Sonny with a Chance (all Disney productions), recently entered treatment for what are said to be “emotional and physical issues” (is there really any other kind of “treatment”…?). She’s rumored to have an eating disorder, and she’s rumored to cut. I’ve read both rumors in a few places, and I’ve seen pictures of scars on the inside of her arm, and People quotes “a source close to Lovato’s family” who says the same thing — and when it’s People doing the quoting, it may well be something that’s none of our business, but it’s likely a reliable source.

But of course, rumors, pictures, and “sources” all add up to me knowing exactly nothing, other than that this apparently picture-perfect young lady has had to seek help. Indeed: That a young lady whose entire future rests on the image she presents to the world has reached the point wherein her image is less important than that she get help — a fact which suggests to me that however her pain has chosen to express itself, she’s been struggling with it for some time. One thing I do know about people who go into any kind of rehab: They generally get there after protean efforts to to hide their struggles have dramatically failed.

And truth be told, this is as true for Charlie Sheen as it is for Demi Lovato (anyone who thinks that Charlie Sheen is enjoying his crazy-times life has never spent any time with an addict) — but there is something particularly heartbreaking to me about the Demi Lovato case.

Maybe because I have a little girl, and she will be Ms. Lovato’s age before I can blink. Maybe because I believe that our society, and our continuing failure to grapple honestly with our disregard for women and girls, as well our relentless drive to convince them/us to adapt to an ever-shrinking ideal of female beauty, makes us complicit every time a woman or girl hurts her body in response to psychic pain. Maybe because I remember being 18.

I hope that Demi Lovato is getting the kind of care she needs right now, the kind that will allow her to find a way to health and joy. I can’t help but think of the fact that she, too, was once a round-cheeked little girl, and I find I want to tuck her into the couch with my own girl, and feed them both soup.

But I suspect that giving soup to one suffering young lady will solve neither her problem, nor the larger, shared problems that society is still not willing to admit to. When we treat all women as less-than, when we tell women and girls that they are only valuable when they are beautiful, and that they are only beautiful when they have the build and physical fortitude of a match-stick (with breasts) — women and girls are hurt.

Does misogyny explain or define eating disorders and self-injury? No (not least because men and boys suffer from these issues, too). But does misogyny play a part? Certainly. And while I can’t do anything about the brain chemistry of anyone else, I can surely play a role in trying to inch my society closer, closer, closer, to the day when beautiful, talented young women — and their Plain Jane Doe sisters — do not feel a need to punish themselves for failing to meet a set of goals that are as ill-defined as they are impossible to achieve.

The day when women, of any stripe, description, or age, will never think “maybe I’ll lose weight!” when they catch a stomach bug.


I’ve almost never talked/written about the phenomenon of cutting, because I’ve never had any personal exposure to it and feel I’m out of my depth.

Having said that, some lovely people on the internet have helped me to understand a bit better (such as the crucial fact that whatever we may feel about emo culture, the “emo kids cut!” meme is not true, and never funny), and I recently picked up a excellent book called Cut, because I saw my 11 year old boy reading it.

Intended for a young adult audience, I found Cut gripping, touching, and (I think) very honest (with the understanding that one novel cannot possibly tell the whole story). I’m glad my son read it, and I would recommend it to anyone who feels they would be served by learning more about self-injury (of course, if you’re in SI recovery, bear in mind that it may be triggering).

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

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  1. stephen matlock

     /  April 20, 2011

    Thanks for posting this very thoughtful and sensitive essay. I know some people who have similar issues and experiences, and telling them shouldn’t do this because they are so “talented” or “beautiful” or whatever doesn’t help them. As you point out, it’s something inside them that’s driving them to this pain.

    • Thank you – I’m always so glad when men chime in on the conversation. It’s crucial that we have everyone involved in grappling with these issues.

  2. Stephen Matlock

     /  April 21, 2011

    I watched in – well, a sick kind of awe – at a recent thread over on the Atlantic site where the discussion of addiction and addictive behaviors came up, and the emotional response in anger to people telling how they were helped in dealing with their addictions shook me. Why such anger? I don’t know.

    It took me being in a recovery program to get a better insight into why people can’t help themselves in their addiction (well, that’s my opinion, anyway), but I think that insight was in me already – just needed someone to help unlock it.

    But meeting people who seem ordinary and normal and adjusted who then tell how they hurt themselves – cut themselves or even do worse – that was astonishing to me, because I could not comprehend how someone might inflict more pain on themselves.

    I’m not a mind-doctor, so my opinions are based upon my own thoughts and feelings, but here’s what I think: people who do this kind of stuff do it because by doing it themselves they show that in this small area they are in control of what causes them pain. I know it doesn’t seem rational, but it still makes sense. It seems counter-intuitive – why not do something to remove the pain? – but it makes sense as I listen to these people describe their anguish. In their world, there is nothing but pain and rejection, and nothing seems to stop it.

    It’s awful, too, to listen to it & to realize there is nothing you can do to stop it or fix it besides listen, and be silent, and try very hard to understand. It’s not much, but it’s about all we can do if we’re not trained professionals.

    I’m glad that the people I’ve listened to are in programs to get help, because I wish them well and want them not just to stop hurting, but also to become alive and to enjoy life.

    Wow. Longwinded post and I was just going to type “me, too!” and leave it at that.

  3. Julia

     /  March 7, 2012

    Hey, I’m so thankful for your essay… Iz insane, the digital way I’ve gone this night till I stumbled upon your blog… I just want to say, I got BPD, I’ve been cutting since I was 15 and have had eating disorder too for past 6 years… Usually, I hate what I call the “perfect people” (for obvious reasons and quite unsensibly), so I was just stunned when this bulimia-and-cutting-line concerning Demi Lovato (who in my eyes was just one of those stupid, plastic, clean, perfect “Disney-chicks”) caught my attention while I was surfing for something completely different… I couldn’t resist but read some more about her & google around, only to find once again that my hatred (which is indeed only self-hatred) was rooted in prejudices. When I see so beautiful successfull people, especially when they’re young, I automaticly assume they don’t have any kind of problems beside the perfect-make-up- or matching-shoes-issues… I think that’s why it is so immensly important and brave what she did by admitting her problems. And it was a valuable lesson to old cynical me, again. Also, your essay was very encouraging, just tonight I once again almost choke on anger about sexism and how women are raised to despise their bodies… Iz a subject that bears as much intelligent texts as possible. I sure will come back to read some of your other posts. Best wishes,


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