How 'Bojack Horseman' Forced Me to Face My Body Image Issues
"The Judge" brought back the pains of growing up in a world obsessed with image and size.
I recently found myself crying at an episode of Bojack Horseman. This is not news: The show is famous for its nuanced portrayals of depression, anxiety, sexual identity, addiction, and all sorts of heavy topics that are guaranteed to fuck you up. I am not the first person to cry at the horse cartoon.
My tears started immediately at the end of the episode "The Judge." Bojack's brought his newly discovered teenage daughter Hollyhock to the set of his new TV show, where she starts dating an intern. While on set, she admits to feeling like a "blob" compared to the other women—not so much a value call as a recognition that they have different types of bodies. While she knows the actresses are considered conventionally attractive, she doesn't really feel bad about herself because of it.
Bojack eventually uses this word against her, suggesting that there's no way the intern could be attracted to her and that he must be using her for something else. He apologizes and assures her that she's beautiful, but something's off; to atone, Bojack suggests they get ice cream, and she says no. He then offers pizza, to which she cheerfully but firmly replies that she's just not hungry. She turns back to the TV, face in a neutral half-smile, as Bojack realizes she'll never quite be the same.
Cue the tears.
I was floored by how matter-of-fact Hollyhock's turn away from food was. The show has poked fun at unfair body standards for women before (Bojack's grandmother calling a slice of lemon with sugar on it a "girl snack"), but until now they haven't turned much of their crushing commentary toward body image. The way Hollyhock absorbs Bojack's comments is all too real. For many women, the change in how they view food comes that immediately. One day, you're cracking jokes about your body and confident about the future. Then, you're just Not Hungry.
I've never had an eating disorder, but here's what I've done: checked anorexia forums for snack tips, made myself throw up when I felt too full after a meal, refused food when I was hungry, ordered something different than what I wanted because it seemed healthier, and cried when I looked at a menu and thought there was nothing on there I "could" eat. The reason I'm so casual about this is because on some level it still seems "normal" to me. I'm sure if you asked any girl or person raised as a girl in America, they would cop to performing a handful of these actions—and they would've gone about it like me and Hollyhock: Casually, no sweat, brushing off food like a nagging mosquito.
I remember not being like this. I remember gleefully announcing to my family whenever I had gained weight. I remember learning my own boundaries with how many Cheetos I could eat before I felt sick, but not having it turn me off Cheetos altogether. I ate when I was hungry, ate until I was full, and saw my body as mine. But even during those happy days, I knew those thoughts couldn't last. I had seen the local news saying the average supermodel weighed 120 pounds. I had seen the episode of Jesse (why was I watching this?) where Christina Applegate lies to a man about her weight, noting that even if you were skinny, that's a thing you should do. Friends were beginning to share their weights and sizes like they were Baseball stats. One day, soon, I would not allow myself to eat like this.
I said as much to my dad when I was nine. We had stopped for bacon cheeseburgers after visiting a museum, and he complimented me on my lunch choice, saying that other girls would be too conscious about their bodies to ate what I was eating. (Little did he know he was sowing the seeds.) I responded, and I still can't quite believe it, that I wanted to eat as many bacon cheeseburgers as I could before I started worrying about my weight.
A year later, in a skit performed in front of my 5th grade class, I made sure my character ordered a salad instead of a burger, just in case anyone thought I was fat.
Bojack did not give Hollyhock an eating disorder. She's not starving herself or exercising to the point of passing out. But in her blank stare back at the television, she's accepted how the world sees her. The moment comes quickly and easily, which is why it's so hard to see. It feels natural to refuse the comforts of pizza and ice cream after your boyfriend stops texting. It's barely even a choice, just a sunny "no thanks!" to something you don't want. Because at some point, you've learned you don't want it. And even if you did, even if you remember so clearly what it was like, you have no idea how to get back to the way it was before. You are, forever and always, just not hungry.