GWAS Notes: Farewell, beautiful Brittany

By now, you are probably aware of actress Brittany Murphy's death from heart attack over the weekend. She was 32, married to screenwriter Simon Monjack, hopeful of having a child in 2010 and has been described by her father (from whom she'd become estranged) as "an absolute doll... everybody loved her... she was just a regular girl."

She and her mother were very close, with Murphy crediting Sharon with her success: "I was really grateful to have grown up in an environment that was conducive to creating and didn't stifle any of that. She always believed in me." She also felt "blessed to have a really great loving husband." My heart pains for her family and her husband.... and also for my own. Because Brittany's tragic fate could have easily been mine.

While, like most girls who were teens in the 90s, I will always think fondly of Murphy for bringing the adorable Tai to life in Clueless, Murphy's death resonates with me for another reason. There is already speculation that she suffered diabetes, a condition which may have contributed to her death, as well as drug use (typical of most Hollywood death scenarios). I'm going to speculate some more, which is not a terribly good journalistic practise, but as I have garnered a little perspective in recent years, and can quite confidently put two and two together (four! the answer's four!), what I have to say might prove to be corroborated by the coroner's report.

A picture, as the saying goes, tells a thousand words (Madonna and Guy miserable one day, divorcing the next, yadda yadda). And, having been exposed to more than a few pictures of Murphy because of the nature of my work, it's fairly plain to see that she had been battling some body demons since she rose to fame via Clueless. In fact, the changes in her body shape and size have very nearly reflected my own (go here for a handy retrospective look). The drawn, exhausted look of some of her close-up pictures? That's me looking in the mirror 12 months ago (and, yes, the odd day even now – choose your face over your butt, ladies, think face over butt!).

In 2005, Murphy told one magazine, "I had a publicist...who told me that I should cover my arms up in photos. She felt that if I did that, they would stop picking on me. She meant well, but it made me really self-conscious." How helpful. In 2005, she also told Jane magazine: "I love food. I don't know, God gave me hollow legs or something." Then, in 2006, she hit back at tabloid suggestions of an eating disorder saying she's "always been the same size", which clearly she has not. Classic defensive eating disorder talk.

I can only imagine the pressure Murphy must have felt to maintain a svelte figure in Hollywood. And that pressure was felt by her little body and her poor little heart. Unfortunately, both can only take so much torture before they throw their hands up in the air and say, "I just can't take what you're doing to me anymore. Over and out."

There are days now when I'm tempted to gun it on a run – it's a legacy from my eating and exercise disorder that has been hard to shake; even more so when the lifestyle is validated by glossy magazines, Madonna and the girls I see flogging themselves on the beach-side streets whenever I head back to Sydney.

Every time I see a picture of a shrinking personality in the media who's clearly succumbed to the powerful persuasion of over-exercise, I feel sad; even moreso when someone in my personal circle of family and friends sheds a few kilos and gains that wiry, hard-bodied look sported by the likes of Madonna, Renee Zelleweger, Victoria Beckham, Sarah Jessica Parker, et al. I feel sad because exercise addiction is like any other – it robs you of the richness of life and the energy to fully enjoy it. In Brittany Murphy's case, quite literally.

If it does transpire that an eating and exercise disorder are to blame for Murphy's cardiac arrest, I hope her death is not in vain: that it might open up more eyes to the damage girls are doing to themselves all around us, every day. And maybe magazine editors will come to realise that they can do something positive to help circumvent this sort of compulsive behaviour – i.e. soften up on the diet and weight loss stories and encourage your readers to GO EASY ON THEMSELVES and their bodies. As Tai said: "Cher, I don't want to do this anymore. And my buns: they don't feel nothin' like steel."

R.I.P., Brittany. You were a beautiful girl.

See also: Media Body Obsession and Extreme Role Models

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

A beautiful and thought provoking post. It's very sad, all of it.

Anonymous said...

Brittany was so beautiful. It would be very sad if her death was related to an eating disorder (which is a very complex illness & can be hard to treat). Very tragic. It worries me when I see young hollywood women drop lots of weight over a short period of time. I am especially worried about Rumer Willis - she has dropped a lot of weight recently & Jamie King (from Gary Unmarried). Thanks for the post Erica - very thoughtful & thought-provoking.

Julie said...

So incredibly heart breaking. Thankyou for your thoughtful post Erica.

Couture Cookie said...

I can relate to all of this a lot, as well. Thank you for writing so tactfully, yet thought-provokingly about it.

Gillian said...

I have to admit that I am unaffected by stories of celebrities dying but Britany's passing really resonated with me. I thought she was very talented and the world has lost a star. Thank you for your beautiful post Erica.

Anonymous said...

ooh - a LOT of speculation here. as you said, erica, not terribly good journalistic practise.

Madmother said...

It is human nature to link what we witness back to our own life experiences.

I guess we will all know the truth once the autopsy results are in.

RIP Brittany.

Adelaide dj hire said...

Awesome post, very insightful, I think everyone feels that pressure to look "perfect" nowadays more than ever, since the world is so totally connected.

Death Wears Diamond Jewellery said...

i definitely believe her heart attack was a result of complications due to an eating disorder. That plus years of drug abuse would have just worn away the resilience of her organs too.

such a tragedy. i hope her death isn't in vain either

Vesper said...

Your post made me so incredibly sad. I wish that more people understood how serious eating disorders are, and that the pressures put upon young women in the public eye can drive some of them to death. Taken with a grain of salt, the quotes and unsourced comments associated with Ms. Murphy's tragic death -- her eating issues, fears about her career and body image -- just drive home that another person's happiness and well-being have been flattened by unrealistic and utterly ridiculous expectations that were unreasonably put upon them. As the survivor of a disorder you've been very public about, I can only imagine how hearing this sort of news resonates with you. thank you for taking the time to post this, especially from the perspective of someone who knows what it is to go through the hardship of depriving yourself just to look according to a certain standard. Seeing Brittany in the "Faster Kill Pussycat" music video and recent images reveals just how beautiful she was when she was healthy, and how scary some of her swings might have been. It's so terribly sad.

Dexter Nicholson said...

What's up with all the celebrities who passed away in 2009. Britany had a lot of good movies and one of my favorite movie is the Ramen Girl. The movie wherein she went to Japan and got heartbroken.