Can you really be 'semi-rexic'?


Caught between the rocky road and hard-boiled lollies it seemed only natural that the topic of dieting would come up.

“She’s into the sixth week of a sugar-free diet,” my friend, let’s call her Francesca, announced as we loitered in aisle four. “She has no energy, and yet goes to the gym three or four nights a week and really punishing herself. I mean, she used to look forward to her little sugar treat. She’s denying herself.

“I really do think she’s semi-rexic,” she intoned with purposeful gravity.
It was obvious that Francesca’s friend was going through some sort of existential crisis, but it wasn’t just her futile attempts to keep the kilos at bay that stopped me in my tracks; what struck me was the swiftness with which ‘semi-rexic’ had entered our lexicon.

A few days earlier I’d written on an Australian university report looking into the attitudes to eating disorders among young women in which one in three young women saw bulimia and anorexia as “desirable ways to stay slim”. Almost as an aside La Trobe University researcher Rachel Gold reported an explosion of “websites and blogs carrying tips on how to live a ‘semi-rexic’ or ‘part-time bulimic’ lifestyle”.

Francesca and I became quickly intrigued by this so-called new dieting phenomenon, not least because there seemed something patently absurd about it. Semi-conscious consumption we could easily accept, but a semi-eating disorder? It just didn’t wash. And don’t even get me started on ‘part-time’ binging and purging.

Moreover, using a prefix to adapt a serious medical condition seemed lazy, tactless and, well, half-arsed. I was pleased to have an ally in Urban Dictionary, which had semi-rexic pinned as the go-to word for “skinny people that look anorexic, but aren’t really for [sic] sure”; you know, like models and “Lindsay Lohan” and “Paris Hilton”.

Okay, so now we were getting somewhere. As with pretty much each one of our many modern-day insecurities we again had a couple of empty-headed celebrities to thank. But that’s not to say we should lay the blame solely at their well-heeled feet, either. Magazines and advertisers have long sung our (skinny) siren song.

Keeping up this not-so fine tradition is the UK’s Red magazine, which recently reminded us that there’s still plenty of mileage left yet in the negative body image debate.

The magazine’s Rosie Green starts out innocently enough: “I do not consider myself to be suffering, or to have ever suffered, from an eating disorder,” she writes, “but here are some of the things I have done in the quest to stay thin and slim.”

Green cites refusing to “drink a Coke someone paid good money for because it was full sugar, rather than diet”; spending “10 minutes every day of my working life trying to figure out the least fattening option for lunch”, saying no to cake because of pigging out the day before and—most disconcertedly—throwing out “perfectly good food” so she wouldn’t be tempted to “pick at it later” and “helping” herself throw-up after an “indulgent night of Pimms and barbecue sausages”.

Of course, we’re being made to feel that Red is providing a sympathetic ear and understands what we’re going through; after all, aren’t we, too, just semi-rexics at heart? Don’t buy it. What we’re being fed here isn’t a new truth, but a indecent helping of manipulation with a side order of “You’ve got to be kidding?”.

I also can’t help thinking that some of Green’s bad eating habits sounds confusingly like, well, good advice.

Putting aside the issue of waste (I don’t condone throwing out good food for any reason, let alone to avoid temptation) and the self-help hurling (ditto), there’s still plenty to take on board from Green’s “confessional” list, such as keeping tabs on your junk food and sugary, fizzy drink intake.

Come on. There’s already enough spin in the disquieting thinspiration movement, so why further grease the wheels turning our insecurities and anxiety?

No, I’ll not be wearing one of those ‘ironic’ Urban Dictionary-sanctioned ‘semi-rexic’ T-shirts anytime soon and there’ll be no ‘part-time bulimic’ magnet on my fridge door. I’ll not promote anything that makes light of eating disorders; and I’ll not be part of a ‘community’ that grows in direct proportion to the deflation of a woman’s self-esteem.

Go on, keep counting your kilojoules, berate yourself for having that second serve of ice-cream, go for that extra mile, avoid those scales, and steer clear of the mixed lollies aisle—at least for another day, but don’t bother giving it all a new name. Call it what it is. Life.