Singer Demi Lovato is calling out Lady Gaga for glamorizing bulimia, following a performance at SXSW last Thursday where artist Millie Brown vomited green soy milk on Gaga. Both Lovato and Gaga have suffered from eating disorders and have talked about them publicly.
Brown’s vomit art, which she started doing 9 years ago at age 17, certainly seems problematic. She swallows a mixture of soy milk and food dye, then sticks her fingers down her throat to make herself get sick. Often she vomits colors on canvas, but for the SXSW show, Lady Gaga was her medium. To prepare, Brown says she doesn’t eat for a full two days beforehand to maintain the purity of the “paint” colors, but keeps her performances to once a month.
You can watch the video here.
Though shocking, Brown insists there’s nothing unhealthy about her artistic act. “It feels completely different from when you’re ill,” Brown told Elle. It feels quite good in a way, because it’s like you’re cleaning your body out. It’s kind of a cleanse.”
Those familiar with throwing up when you’re not ill–usually linked to having a eating disorder–are likely to call bullshit. “Bulimia is a devastating disease, disrupting families and leading to long-term depression, anxiety, medical illness, as well as suicide if untreated,” says Dr. Robert Glatter, an editorial board member of Medscape Emergency Medicine, a professional health network. Not to mention, making yourself throw up frequently is undoubtedly dangerous. It can inflame and even tear the esophagus, cause swollen salivary glands, and even cause tooth decay from stomach acid. People who throw up often don’t get the proper nutrients their bodies need.
In responding to Lovato’s criticism, Brown insists that she is not promoting eating disorders. “I can understand why people would make that association, but my performance really is not a statement about eating disorders themselves,” she told MTV News. “It’s like using my body to express myself. I think a lot of people understand that I’m not trying to punish myself and my body in that way.”
But chronic vomiting does harm the body. It can mess with hormones, cause dizziness, dehydration, and constipation, and even weaken heart muscles.
Studies have also shown that the media can impact a girls propensity to develop disordered eating. Research shows that children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to messages and images from mass media. While not every young girl who reads magazines will develop an eating disorder, some women, researchers argue, are more susceptible than others. “The practice of inducing vomiting to produce art work sends a dangerous message to the public,” says Dr. Glatter. “While this practice may be perceived to be ‘creative’ by the artist…the potential for people to mimic this practice could be disastrous.”