Physical designer Annie Weisman speaks very publicly about her eating disorder
Annie Weisman is the creator of the Apple TV + series Physical, which ends its first season today and was recently renewed. In the series Rose Byrne plays a housewife from San Diego who channels her bulimia and obsession with weight loss into a career as an aerobics instructor. Below, Weisman explains how she drew on her own experience with bulimia to write the show – and what it meant to go public with her eating disorder for the very first time on television.
There is a secret society that I belong to, and it is not the Masons or the Illuminati. It has a wide range of members from all walks of life. Although they are mostly women, men are also a part of it, although less inclined to admit it. And who can blame them! It’s a shit business, to be honest. It offers very little benefit, and it’s incredibly expensive. It can even be deadly … Okay, I’m running out of gasoline on that metaphor. You might as well get clean. I struggled for years with an eating disorder that I kept a secret from everyone in my life until adulthood.
Let me rule out one thing. I hate the term eating disorder. This does not correspond at all to my experience. And that has a very sticky implication for the strengths of the diet and exercise industry: as if eating is the problem. If you fix your diet, you fix yourself! Sign up for our No Thinking Meal System and never feel bad about yourself again! I’m sure even typing those satirical words into my computer I’m prompting the ads for a hundred diet and exercise plans promising to ‘fix’ me… (can someone tell me what mushroom “mud” water and why am I getting so many advertisements for it?) But no solution to my diet would fix me.
My experience is more like this: it is a thought disorder.
It’s more like what drug addicts and obsessive compulsives describe: being forced into a series of increasingly destructive behaviors. When I entered a cycle of binge and purge, it felt totally out of my control. It was as if I was walking down the street and someone pulled over in a car, put a blanket over my head and pushed me into the backseat. I was going for a walk whether I like it or not.
I have to be honest about recovery because I want to be honest about people’s expectations. I did not go from lulling in sadness and shame to jumping through fields of flowers in a linen dress. I didn’t go from an Angelina Jolie vehicle to a Dreft ad. The reality is more nuanced.
I still feel all the bad things sometimes: doubt, fear, anxiety and shame. But I no longer have to act on them with destructive behaviors around food. The car still stops next to me sometimes when I walk through my life. But no one jumps up and grabs me. This time someone rolls down the window and asks if I want to come in. I got a beat to say, you know what? I’m doing well.
It took a lot to get there. A combination of factors involving therapy, medication, love, and hard work.
And there is a lot of heartache in the recovery process. For the days and nights wasted, the work not done, the relationships not maintained, the body not cared for, the friendships not maintained. Admitting all of this was painful for me. And a big obstacle to starting the process in the first place.
But here’s what I can say without any hesitation to anyone with erectile dysfunction who hasn’t come out yet: DO IT. ED is a big liar when he tells you that he will define you forever if you let him out.
My method of doing this was a bit unconventional.
I put it on a TV show. At first it seemed therapeutic. By writing, not just about the behavior I was ashamed of, but the feelings I avoided by committing to it. Ugly and unattractive feelings that found expression on the page. It felt good. But it wasn’t poetry, or a journal. It was going to be a TV show, which meant someone would say those words. And not just someone, but a fabulously famous movie star by the name of Rose Byrne.
Plus, I would soon find myself sitting at meetings with a props master talking about the kind of fast food bags she would take in a frenzy, then watch a decorator set them down at a table, then sit down at a table. a monitor watching Rose go through the heartbreaking process. Not once, but over and over again. I even found myself in an expensive sound mixing studio, giving notes on the level of sound we wanted for the toilet flush. I’m not going to lie, there were times when it was a bit too much. My armor: jeans, hat, boots, sneakers, everything looked ripped and raw. Sometimes I would go for a walk. Sit in my car and pretend you’re on a call as I really hide and try to remember that taking deep breaths actually works.