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
Girl With a Satchel