I love Rupaul’s Drag Race. I know that I’m late to the party but I only started watching it after it was added to Netflix last year. I think it’s fantastic how diverse the contestants are. I mean, can you think of any other American reality show that consistently has contestants from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and such a range of body types? Despite this, it’s becoming increasingly disturbing to me that the show promotes eating disorders.
Even though there is always at least one larger queen on each season they are often among the first to be sent home and (at least from the seasons I’ve watched so far) a larger queen has never won. Contestants regularly make comments about each others (and their own) weight and size. There is clearly a huge amount of pressure to conform to an ideal.
The thing that highlighted the eating disorder aspect to me the most is the “lunch” with Ru that the contestants participate in toward the end of the each season. I put lunch in quotation marks because this so-called meal consists of a plate of tic tacs which contestants inevitably make jokes about being far too much food. Like, “oh, I couldn’t possibly!” Or “but I’m watching my figure! Ha ha ha.” I have never actually seen Ru, or any of the contestants, eat even a single tic tac. Generally, this is the only food featured in the show (although there was one challenge in which participants had to design their outfits based on cakes. Naturally, there was an observation made by Ru about the amount of cake gone from one of the larger queen’s cakes and an overwrought admission by a very thin queen to having eaten a slice of their cake). To me, this only serves to glorify eating disorders and disordered eating. Look at us, we’re so virtuous. We never eat. Not even a damn tic tac for lunch.
Given that a number of contestants have openly spoken about their past (and present) struggles with eating disorders on the show I find it really unsettling that disordered eating is being promoted by the show itself. I hope that future seasons, now that more contestants are openly talking about their personal struggles with eating disorders, will stop with the segments that glorify these illnesses.
We know that eating disorder rates are likely higher among LGBTQ+ populations and I can only assume that they are just as high, if not higher given the immense importance placed on appearance, in the drag community.
Given that it’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week I think it’s important to emphasize that eating disorders are not trivial. They are not something to be made light of nor are they something to aspire to. For instance, did you know that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders? Bulimia can lead to electrolyte imbalances that can also result in death. These disorders take an immense physical and emotional toll on those experiencing them and on their loved ones. Sadly, rates of eating disorders appear to be on the rise.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder know that you are not alone. If you need someone to talk to and you live in Canada you can call the National Eating Disorder Information Centre for free at 1-866-633-4220. In the US you can contact the National Eating Disorder Association helpline (at the time that I’m writing this their phone line is down but you can chat with them online).