I know I’ve been writing a lot about eating disorders lately. I wasn’t actually planning to write about them again today. However, as today happens to be the first day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I think it’s kind of appropriate to write one more post. If you’re surprised there’s an actual week in February devoted to fighting eating disorders, you shouldn’t be. This has been an annual event for at least twenty years. I remember being a temp at the College of William & Mary back in 1998 and seeing posters for this week plastered all over the Blow Building, which was where I was working in the office of admissions.
Lately I’ve been passing the time watching old episodes of the 80s era family friendly comedy, Growing Pains, and I’ve finally reached the fourth season. Season four is when Tracey Gold, who played middle child, perfect Carol Seaver, started to become noticeably thinner. We didn’t know, at the time, that she was developing anorexia nervosa and would eventually drop her weight from 133 pounds to about 80 pounds.
Yesterday, I happened to see the episode “Homecoming Queen”, which originally aired on November 23, 1988. I was sixteen years old then, and pretty obsessed with dieting myself. I’m not sure I was still a Growing Pains fan at that point, though. The show had kind of jumped the shark by then, and I had a lot of other things going on at the time. It’s interesting to watch it now. I’m finding that it was a pretty decently written show, even in season four, which was the season in which the Seavers had their change of life baby, Chrissy. Anyone who grew up in the era of sitcoms knows that new babies or adopted kids always end up on the show as the original kids get too old.
The plot for “Homecoming Queen” is centered around Carol, who is nominated by her peers to be in the Homecoming court. Carol is shocked that they would think she’s pretty and popular enough to be queen. She sees herself as fat and ugly, and unworthy to be Homecoming Queen. She even considers refusing the honor, but ends up running when her competition erroneously assume she’s trying to sway people by being falsely humble.
About ten minutes into the episode, we see Carol having a terrible nightmare. Surrounded by her beautiful competition for Homecoming Queen, Carol is dressed in unflattering overalls that make her look huge. She’s wearing glasses and her hair is short and frumpy. As the principal and her peers laugh at her, Carol falls through the stage because she’s so fat. Then, her brother Mike, who constantly rides her about her weight, comes out and humiliates her, saying she’s “merely going through a stage…” as everyone laughs at her literally “going through a stage” because she’s so fat.
Tracey Gold has said that the fat jokes on Growing Pains were one reason why she became so preoccupied with her weight. As I watch that show now, I can see how the fat jokes really ramped up a lot in seasons 3 and 4, which was ironically when Tracey Gold was getting noticeably thinner. I don’t notice them as much in the earlier seasons, when she was legitimately heavier and her character was presented as nerdier and plainer. She gained some weight in 1988, but then lost about twenty five pounds with the help of a doctor, who put her on a 500 calorie a day diet.
Tracey Gold has also said that she had been diagnosed with the early symptoms of anorexia nervosa when she was eleven years old. I remember reading about that when I was in the eighth grade, years before she truly got sick with an eating disorder, around 1990 or so.
It seems especially tone deaf and wrong that the writers on Growing Pains saddled the Carol Seaver character with so many jokes about her weight, especially since she clearly wasn’t overweight at all. They also included “ugly” jokes, but I don’t notice as many of those as “fat” jokes. In fact, on the “Homecoming Queen” episode, Alan Thicke, who plays psychiatrist dad Jason Seaver, is shown offering Carol a piece of cake. When she says something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m not fat enough for you?” Jason starts to say, “Sure you are…” but then stops himself.
By 1991, the producers of Growing Pains, who had originally urged Gold to lose weight, suspended her from the show because she had become so skeletal. They required her to get treatment for her eating disorder before they would allow her back on the show. She did appear for the series finale in 1992, but she hadn’t recovered by then. She says that in one of the last scenes, the family is shown eating pizza and it’s very obvious that she was faking it. She says she’d forgotten how to hold a piece of pizza. I’m sure it was very traumatizing for her. Kind of like a phobia.
Which leads me to an opportunity for a nice segue… I’ve mentioned this before, but I think I wrote about it on my original Blogspot version of this blog. I happen to have a food related phobia myself– mycophobia, which is an irrational fear of mushrooms. I am a lot better than I used to be. When I was a small child, we lived in England, and there were huge toadstools in our backyard. I remember my parents telling me to never touch the mushrooms. I didn’t like mushrooms to start with, but somehow the directive not to touch them really hit home in an extreme way. I got to the point at which I would freeze and scream bloody murder if I simply saw one in the yard.
I remember my dad was pretty exasperated by my adverse reaction to mushrooms. He was kind of an old school disciplinarian and used to try to force me to eat everything on my plate. I actually have aversions to a number of foods, like unmelted cheese and most dairy products. I think this is because when I was very young, I was allergic to cow’s milk and it would make me vomit. To this day, I don’t drink plain milk, and aside from ice cream and butter, don’t eat most dairy products unless they’re in something. Like, I can’t bring myself to taste cream by itself, although I like it in coffee, and I would never eat a piece of cold cheese that hasn’t been melted. The flavor and the texture completely gross me out. Forget about any kinds of strong cheeses. I will vomit.
A couple of weeks ago, Bill made nachos with melted cheddar cheese. I can normally eat melted cheese, even if it’s cooled off. But on that day, the cheddar had a flavor that overwhelmed and ultimately disgusted me. I ended up throwing up. I do like some mild cheeses in things. I love dishes like lasagna and mac and cheese, and I like pizza, although as a child, it took many years before I would eat it. I can even eat cold pizza with cheese on it. I’ve read that some people can’t eat melted cheese, but they can eat it unmelted. Humans are so strange.
Anyway, yesterday, The New York Times ran an article about mushrooms, complete with a photo. I generally hide photos of mushrooms because even though I don’t run screaming from the room anymore, the sight of them makes me cringe and shudder. I imagine my reaction to mushrooms is much like Tracey Gold’s stated aversion to a lump of butter, back when she was very sick with anorexia.
I tried to hide the article, but for some reason, I wasn’t able to. I mentioned it on Facebook, and everybody laughed, which is rather predictable behavior among so-called friends. Now… I can understand why people laugh at this. I have a phobia, and many people think phobias are funny, especially when they are regarding something as ridiculous as mushrooms. So I don’t really blame people for laughing at my trauma. They’re ignorant and insensitive for doing so, but I can understand why they laugh. It’s probably my fault for mentioning it, although I mention it because it’s one of the many things that makes me unique. However, I did point out that people were laughing, but I was being very candid.
The photos on the New York Times piece weren’t too bad. The fungus looked more like sea anemones than mushrooms (to be honest, just typing that word skeeves me out a bit). I really get creeped out by pictures of mushrooms in food or toadstools (again– yecch). Like, they make me very uncomfortable. If sometime tried to make me eat one, I would probably have a full blown anxiety attack. Indeed, I did have them when I was a child and my control freak father would try to force me to eat things I didn’t want. Years later, he would call me a “hog” and shame me for being too fat.
A few years ago, I remember trying to eat a dish that had mushrooms in it at a fancy restaurant and I just couldn’t do it. They had to bring me a version without ‘shrooms. And this issue has come up at restaurants and when I’ve been invited to people’s houses for a meal. It’s always embarrassing to try to explain why I can’t eat mushrooms. Many times, people laugh out loud. I know it’s absurd.
You’d think I could tell people in the restaurant that I have an allergy. However, having worked in restaurants myself, I know that that’s also problematic, because the staff will then worry about my having a reaction. I don’t have an allergy, so I don’t want them to freak out about potentially causing anaphylactic shock or something. I won’t have a physical reaction if something I eat comes into contact with mushrooms. But if I can see, smell, or taste them in my food, the meal will be ruined, and I might end up vomiting or worse. I don’t mind if Bill eats them at a restaurant or something, although out of kindness to me, he doesn’t buy them at the grocery store and doesn’t cook with them at home. He’s also been known to switch plates with me if I order something that has them and his dish doesn’t. We have had situations, though, where both dishes have had mushrooms and I’ve had to get something else.
I once thought about becoming a chef, but ultimately decided not to when I realized that my phobia would probably be very problematic. In fact, sometimes my phobia has even led to embarrassing altercations. Below is a repost of a piece I wrote in 2017 for my original blog on Blogspot. I don’t expect anyone to read it– extra credit if you do– but it kind of illustrates how this issue sometimes pops up in my life. Incidentally, the obnoxious guy who laughed at me because of my phobia was recently fired for undisclosed reasons, and they never did spend all of the money that was left for their “party” at the Biergarten…
Phobias are not funny… (originally posted July 20, 2017)
Have you ever met someone with whom you immediately clash? I think that happened to me last night. Despite my rather funny personality, I don’t actually like parties very much. I have a tendency to get carried away sometimes, especially when I’m in the company of certain types of people. Not everyone can take my sense of humor and I don’t enjoy offending people. Sometimes I do, despite my best efforts.
Last year, the guy who hired Bill moved on to a new job in Hawaii. He left behind a huge collection of euro coins, which he donated to everyone he worked with. The coins were all counted and it came to the euro equivalent of about $800, which was used to pay for last night’s gathering at a biergarten (and, in fact, not all of the money was spent). It was a farewell dinner of sorts, since the company Bill has been working for lost its contract and many of the people who have been working with Bill are moving on to new jobs and/or locations.
We arrived too late to sit at the table that was already started, so we sat at a second table that had been reserved. Soon we were joined by another couple, the male half of whom will continue to be Bill’s co-worker because they were both hired by the new company that is taking over. The first thing that happened was the guy came up, looked at me, and said “Who do you belong to?”
I answered that I am Bill’s wife. He then made some crack about my being the daughter of the other guy sitting across from me. I’m not really sure what that was all about. Bill had told me a bit about this guy being a bit obnoxious and full of himself, so I wasn’t that surprised at his comment. This guy also referred to me as “Jen”, when I introduced myself as “Jenny”. That also happens to be a pet peeve of mine, when someone takes it upon themselves to change my name, especially when they’ve just met me.
I noticed his wife sitting in the corner with their son, whom I had met before. He is a very bright kid for his age and already speaks German pretty well. I could tell he is the apple of his mother’s eye. She was doting on him quite a bit.
As the evening wore on, Bill and I found ourselves talking about different subjects, including one of the Space A “hops” we took a few years ago. Bill told everyone about how we landed in Georgia after an overseas flight from Germany. We were really jet lagged. He’d gone out to get us some dinner. I would have been just fine with something from the nearby Wendy’s, but Bill decided to go the extra mile. He noticed a restaurant across the street and ordered take out. He brought back steaks, not realizing that they had been smothered with mushrooms.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you may already know that I do not eat mushrooms. In fact, I have a phobia of them. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s the truth.
So anyway, I opened the carton he handed me and was immediately confronted by this piece of meat covered with ‘shrooms. They were totally grossing me out. I was pretty exasperated because I was exhausted and hungry. All I’d really wanted was a sandwich, and if Bill had just gotten something at Wendy’s, I could have had a sandwich and gone to bed. Instead, I was sitting there with what could have been a nice dinner that was rendered completely unappetizing due to the fungus. Aside from that, I was annoyed that a restaurant would put mushrooms on a steak without advertising that they were going to do so.
Bill was telling this story and people were wondering why I didn’t just scrape off the mushrooms. And that’s where the whole mushroom phobia story came in. Phobias are, by nature, ridiculous, irrational, and perhaps even funny. However, if you actually have a phobia, it’s not really a laughing matter.
My whole life, I’ve been laughed at for having a fear of mushrooms. When I was a kid, family members even chased me with them and yukked it up when I reacted with fear. I can mostly laugh about it now… and the phobia is not nearly as bad as it used to be. For instance, I no longer scream when I am confronted with mushrooms. I don’t like having them on my plate and I refuse to touch them or eat them, but I won’t freak out or anything. I still have a phobia, though.
I used to think I was the only person with this problem, but then I wrote an article about mycophobia (fear of mushrooms). In my article, I even referenced an episode of The Montel Williams Show that was about phobias. There was a woman on that show who was afraid of mushrooms and reacted the very same way I did when I was much younger. She actually saw my article and sent me an email. I got so many comments and emails from people who have unusual phobias and happened to read my article. In fact, a quick YouTube search turns up a number of videos about mycophobia (mushroom phobia).
I was trying to explain this last night. I will admit, a phobia of something weird like mushrooms sounds hilarious if you don’t make an effort to understand what having a phobia is like. I have been in some embarrassing and annoying situations due to this problem, but I can see why some people think it’s funny.
Of course, Bill’s co-worker thought my mushroom phobia was totally hilarious. He was cracking jokes and hysterically laughing at me, as was his son. I was trying to explain the origins of the phobia, which started when I was a little kid, and he was just having a knee slapper of a time laughing. I had been drinking beer, so I was feeling my oats. And I let loose with some really far out insults involving his testicles being covered with fungus. I’m sure whatever I said was shocking and disgusting. Sometimes, I have no filter, especially if I’ve been drinking.
I could tell the guy’s wife was horrified and it looked like she was trying to shield her son from the insults springing forth from me. I wasn’t sure if she was horrified by my comments, her husband’s comments, or the whole scene in general. But anyway, they made a hasty retreat. I’m sure they think I’m an asshole, now. On the other hand, I thought the guy was being an asshole for outwardly laughing at me and lacking empathy.
Meh… I really think sometimes I should not go to these kinds of parties with Bill. I’m sure a lot of his co-workers think I’m nuts. On the plus side, we did talk to a really nice lady last night. Too bad she and her husband (and their fabulous dog) will be leaving soon. Also, I gave our waitress the stink eye because she told me that putting a wine bottle upside down in a galvanized bucket full of melted ice is “nasty”. That sounded a bit like bullshit to me, but what do I know? She was happy when we left, though, because she was tipped handsomely.
2 thoughts on “Fat jokes really aren’t funny… and neither are food phobias.”
Didn’t the “Growing Pains” producers tell Tracey Gold that if she didn’t lose weight, they were going to have the writers write fat jokes into the script? If so, they seem to have made good on their threat. Prescribing a 500-calorie diet is medical malpractice, period, but especially for a child or an adolescent.
I’ve never eaten a mushroom in my life and don’t plan to do so, but I have no actual fear of them. I am, however, afraid of creams and of most sauces. I can eat ice cream but not pudding. I’ve only recently ventured out as far as hot fudge sauce on ice cream. I threw up immediately after biting into a Cadbury Egg when I was little. I couldn’t eat gravy without throwing up immediately if my life depended on it. I used to have a recurring nightmare (from the time I was two until I was about eight) as a child that Granny from “The Beverly Hillbillies” was forcing me to eat some weird thick white gravy-like cream that was served on a plate and shaped like the bun she wore. I would wake up screaming every time I had the dream.
I hadn’t heard that they threatened her with fat jokes. I noticed that they included other comments about overweight people besides her… fat guy hogging the bathroom, for instance. I have a feeling the jokes were a cheap way to get laughs on a show whose shelf life was dwindling. They continued well after she had clearly lost weight.
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