September 18, 2012

No Glee at Ipecac joke

A preview for the next Glee TV show episode shows a drill-seargant-style abusive dance teacher recommending "rice cakes and ipecac" for a student. I'm not humorless and the character is meant to be "what not to teach" but still: it's not funny. Ipecac can be deadly. I used to have a bottle, as instructed by our pediatrician, in case of poisoning - but that recommendation is long, long outdated.

Here's the clip:


And here's my letter to Fox. Please consider writing your own: these letters matter. If I don't hear from Fox soon, I will post a Change.org petition and I hope you will join me. Even if the show can't be changed, we can raise awareness about the inappropriateness of associating ipecac with weight loss.

Dear Ms Paez and Mr Grogin,

I just viewed a preview of a Glee episode in which Hudson's character upbraids a dancer for her weight and recommends "rice cakes and ipecac."

Your writers may not be aware of the dangers of Ipecac.. Although it was once standard for parents to have on hand in case of accidental poisoning, it is no longer recommended (http://www.poison.org/prepared/ipecac.asp). What ipecac is now used for is self-induced purging in pursuit of weight loss: a habit-forming and potentially fatal behavior every single time it is done. 

As cruel as that character is meant to be, she would not be saying that line if the public knew the reality of ipecac use. She would not be cavalier about purging if she knew eating disorders are fatal for 10% of sufferers and that the target audience for Glee is the same age range in which experimentation in purging can lead to lifelong mental illness. Try replacing the word "ipecac" with "crack cocaine" and it isn't funny any more.

The line certainly wasn't funny for me, the parent of a former eating disorder patient. Nor are the members of my organization, F.E.A.S.T., amused. Humor shouldn't be censored and illness shouldn't be protected from humor but that line just isn't funny. It's sad.

"Cut off a butt cheek" isn't meant to be real. "Rice cakes and ipecac" is being framed as extreme weight loss advice. Ipecac doesn't promote weight loss and has no appropriate use. Experimentation with disordered purging like this can lead to disability and death.

We are calling on Fox to re-edit this scene or write in appropriate information about ipecac into the series. You could save lives with the latter idea and we hope you will.

Sincerely,

Laura Collins, Executive Director
F.E.A.S.T. (Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders)
www.feast-ed.org

Gaude Lydia Paez
VP of Corporate Communications
Fox Broadcasting
(gaude.paez@fox.com)

Scott Grogin
Sr. VP of Communications
for Fox Television
(scott.grogin@fox.com)

8 comments:

  1. Good luck with that.

    The other approach is to shut your television off, and leave it that way.

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  2. I think it's great and very proactive of you to write that letter.
    I totally agree that that line is out of order.
    Glee is watched by so many impressionable teenagers and why put ideas in their heads.

    I hope your letter is successful x

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  3. I think this is so obviously a caricature of a nasty and abusive teacher - telling this girl she needs to develop eating disorder behavior. It's so obviously an exaggeration that it confuses me why you take it so seriously as to write a letter.

    Would you write a letter if she said, start sticking your finger down your throat? No, because that's so obviously an example of a nasty and abusive teacher, telling a student she should develop an eating disorder.

    Making yourself vomit to lose weight is unhealthy. Are there people who do not know that? Is it somehow more healthy if you don't use ipecac? Would you write a letter to Law & Order for showing a mob boss promoting murder?

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  4. Anonymous 7:00PM, your points are well-taken. I and others have responded to this clip in particular for a reason but it is a slippery slope - villains should not be sanitized for the sake of correctness and humor should not be confused for advice.

    But ipecac is a particular red flag because people have worked so hard to get it off the shelves and many parents don't know that it is used for this purpose - not to mention the young people who find out about it through media like this. And Ipecac purging is more dangerous, actually, than other methods.

    And no, most people don't really know that voluntary purging is dangerous nor do they know it is addictive or that for those with eating disorders it can be deadly. Most people think purging is a bad habit, not dangerous. Most people think it actually works as a weight loss method, which is also not true.

    I initially responded to the calls to protest this segment with skepticism for much of the same reasons you cite. I was convinced otherwise, but I am also a bit concerned that the blowback seems to confuse the issue of ipecac with the issue of promoting weight loss. I would not write a letter or publicly protest the latter because I think it is futile and won't be understood. I will speak up against ipecac use, though, as it is a largely unknown hazard.

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  5. I know that this wasn't your point, but how does purging *not* work as a weight-loss method? I have lost ridiculous amounts of weight that way. My diagnosis sheets say things like 'restriction via purging'. I sure didn't lose over half of my body weight by sitting up eating carrots and air all day. Any of those dumb studies that say that our bodies absorb most of the calories we eat are flawed - they fail to take into account ridiculously efficient purging.

    I've used ipecac exactly twice in my life and I'm incredibly sorry that I did. It's just not worth it. I don't want to die and I'm convinced that just one more time with the ipecac could do it. I don't have a dog in the letter-writing 'fight' but I will say that there are a fair amount of young people out there who don't even know what syrup of ipecac is, and I hope it stays that way. Curiosity could actually kill the cat in this case.

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  6. Tempest, my understanding is that binge and purge aren't associated with weight loss - though the delay of eating and eating less than needed do. Purging anorexia, however, is associated with weight loss and very, very dangerous. There is a good set of data to say that although many people with bulimia are "normal" or "overweight" that they are actually below their own optimal weight.

    But, as you said, that isn't the point. I'm just saying that weight loss may or may not be due to purging and purging is not a weight loss method. All of these are signs of serious, but treatable, mental illness. Are you getting treatment?

    Whatever the reason, living below your optimal weight AND purging are signs of mental illness and imminent medical danger.

    Tempest, you are in great danger, you know that.

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  7. Just to clarify, binging and purging has been associated with weight loss (there is a notable case if you look into the Intervention episode featuring Amy P). It is often not to the same extremes as anorexia nervosa and sufferers of bulimia are *more likely*, from a statistical standpoint, to be of average or over- weight but eating disorders and disordered behaviour are not something to be painted with a broad brush of "box ticked criteria" symptoms.

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  8. I love Glee. I watched this episode and I did not know what ipecac was, so I Googled it. I hope they do not re-edit the episode. I think they are doing a good job at addressing eating disorders at the moment. Kitty convinced Marley that she was fat and to begin purging and using laxatives. They will continue to address eating disorders. Keep it up Glee.

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