In news that we’re solidly conflicted about, Lifetime will premiere Starving Secrets, a reality show about eating disorders hosted by Growing Pains sitcom star and recovered anorexic Tracey Gold, on December 2.
While we’re always happy to have attention drawn to an illness that affects millions of men and women around the world, we can’t help but wonder where Starving Secrets will fall on the Teen Mom / Intervention / Hoarders spectrum. The idea of a show that might sensationalize eating disorders is undoubtedly controversial. Gold, for her part, is confident that the show will have a positive impact.
Gold assures that the show is handled tastefully, and the women featured are not exploited. “It’s not an easy show to watch, but it’s riveting and it really lets you know what it’s like,” she says, in her first interview about the project. “When we first started, every story tore me apart. I had such a close relationship to the subjects. As we got further along, I was able to get some distance.”
Gold, in addition to her Growing Pains fame, is also known as the first actress to ever admit to suffering from an eating disorder. She spoke to The Daily Beast about the impetus behind her disease.
She recalls sitting at script readings, pleading with the writers to cut the nastier lines (they countered with, “But it’s funny!”) “I think the fat jokes did a disservice to young girls in America, because I was never fat,” Gold says. “It was really hurting my feelings. It wasn’t about Carol Seaver. If you’re making fun of Carol Seaver’s body, you’re making fun of Tracey’s body. It was a personal kind of thing at a vulnerable age. I didn’t know how to really process that.”
It’s an eerily prescient message and one that rings true even in 2011, which is why we hope the show manages to be informational and not voyeuristic. There’s also a question of the patients it features. Gold told The Daily Beast that going public with her disease forced her to get help. “It actually helped me get healthier,” she says. “It gave me some strength to know other people relied on what I was saying.”
Rivka, a 28 year old anorexic featured on the show, has high hopes but some reservations about revealing too much. “I don’t want to be associated with an eating disorder. It’s not something that I feel very proud about.”
Hopefully the show helps Rivka, and millions of other sufferers who might be watching, get to a place they do feel proud about. But the question remains: is reality television really the best way to go about it?