The Hunger Artist

Episode Report Card
Sobell: D+ | Grade It Now!
Out of the mouths of babes

Gil has since retired to his office, and he's watching his office toy -- those balls that do the perpetual motion thing -- as the balls swing back and forth, concentrating hard on the sound they make. Catherine comes in and asks, "What do you know that's good?" Gil stills the balls, then extends a folder in Catherine's general direction, saying, "Cassie James's psych profile." Catherine reads; Cassie's apparently a classic paranoid schizophrenic. Gil explains that Cassie's mental illness explains why the interrogation room was too hard on her -- "the tighter the space, the more unbearable the feelings tend to become." Catherine counters that it wouldn't have hurt to take a look at the state of Ashleigh James' psyche either. Gil agrees. They puzzle over how Ashleigh got those facial wounds, and come up empty.

Meanwhile, Sara is going through all the stuff found in the car. She's sorting food wrappers by type and the back of a Tweenks snack cake (mmmm...golden brown cake with creamy filling and no unlicensed trademark use, just like the Donuts Donuts boxes!) wrapper catches her eye. We practically see the light bulb go off, then Sara mutters, "T3 1834 BC, 48 BF, 870 S 90 TC." Sara reads the nutritional labels, then writes, "T3 1834 BC, 48 BF, 870 S 90 TC" on a clean sheet of paper. She then turns to the minus side -- "2 EVO'd, 8 g, 1 TU, 7 G." There's a moment where we realize Sara's cracked the code using basic nutrition labels as the key, and then Sara looks shaken as she says, "You must have been so desperate."

Meanwhile, Catherine and Gil are establishing that Cassie's prints place her in her sister's apartment.

Nicky catches up with Liam in the hall; Liam's slurping some Ramen. Nicky, who apparently has made it his goal in life to extract revenge for all those awkward office moments by giving everyone a complex about their dietary choices, comments, "That stuff will kill you, you know." Fortunately, Warrick comes in before Nicky launches into a soliloquy on the perils of sodium and asks if Liam's run tests on the scrapings under Ashleigh's fingernails. Surprise, surprise -- the skin there is her own. Warrick looks a little uneasy at this; he's beginning to put the pieces together.

Cut to Sara telling the staff how she cracked the code: "So what I realized was, bulimia's a zero-sum disease; that's why she has a plus sign over here [on the left] and a minus sign over there [on the right]. Whatever went in had to be exactly cancelled by what went out." Catherine says, "You're talking about BDD -- body dysmorphic disorder." Actually, no, she's not. They're typically considered two very different maladies. In the words of clinical psychologist Steven Pittman, "Body dysmorphic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. The disorder is different from eating disorders because it involves other factors besides one's weight or body size. Physical features or attributes are what provokes the person's anxiety and negative beliefs. Those with BDD have several 'cognitive distortions' about how they look. Cognitive distortions are distorted beliefs about a perceived flaw." According to the DSM-IV, symptoms of BDD include preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance; if a slight physical anomaly is present, the person's concern is markedly excessive; the preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning; the preoccupation is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g., dissatisfaction with body shape and size in anorexia nervosa). It's hard to come up with hard numbers for any appearance-related disorder -- I'm sure I can't be the only one who remembers the dust-up when Christina Hoff Sommers alleged in Who Stole Feminism? that Naomi Wolf had fudged her numbers in The Beauty Myth (Wolf later checked and, sure enough, had gotten the numbers wrong) -- but Katharine Phillips, M.D., director of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Body Image Program at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I., and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Brown University School of Medicine, puts the number at one in fifty people.

Anyway, Sara claries BDD for the rest of her colleagues: "One theory suggests it's neurological, another that it's neurobiological, another that it's psychological -- people with extreme sexual or emotional anxiety unconsciously displace their feelings into the arena of appearance because it's more manageable." Nicky boils it down: "You feel like crap, blame your face." Warrick jumps in with, "Or your skin, or your hair, or that zit on your forehead." Or the sentiment that pops up in commercial media frequently implying that there's nothing wrong with your appearance -- and, by extension, you -- that a little old-fashioned Protestant work ethic can't fix. Sara explains the gouges in Ashleigh's face with, "Meticulous grooming when a person suffers from BDD becomes a destructive compulsion. One line that keeps repeating again in her daybook, over and over and over again -- 'I'm not even.'" Funny, but I've spent a lot of time staring at those Day Runner pages for accuracy's sake tonight and I haven't seen it once. I'll just have to take Sara's word for it. Warrick asks, "So you're saying she knew she was slipping." Sara clarifies: "No -- she literally means even. A large number of BDD sufferers are convinced that they're not symmetric, that one side of their face doesn't match the other." "All animals prefer symmetry in their mates," Gil says, helpfully fanning the flames of self-consciousness among his staff, all of whom are secretly wondering if they're really not all that symmetrical. ["In Gil's defense, studies have been done on this phenomenon, and apparently symmetry does play a huge role in how adults rank the attractiveness of potential mates." -- Sars]

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