Okay, but what about women who don’t share April’s natural attraction to underweight men? Women like my girlfriend, for instance, who was happy enough to see the first ten pounds drop off my calorie-restricted frame but likes the shape I’m in less and less as my weight keeps dropping?
“You might have to change girlfriends,” Paul quips, though it’s not exactly clear to me he’s kidding. He seems quite serious, for instance, as he barrels on into a brief oration on the beauty of the calorie-restricted male physique and the need to rethink our cultural standards of male beauty. “Men are stereotyped and still associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger and that kind of thing,” he complains. “But to be honest, when I see a man like Michael, I think that’s how a man should be. I think he looks absolutely handsome—intelligent, dapper, sexy. It’s a mark of intelligence, of how a great role model should be: slim, bright, calorie-restricted!”
All eyes now fall on Michael, naturally, and for the first time, I get a good look at his hands. And though I’m sure the light must be playing tricks on me, I can’t help thinking that those hands are actually a vivid shade of …
“I know, isn’t it pretty?” asks April. “I love the orange. I call him the Orange One.”
Michael smiles, just a little. “I consume an enormous amount of carotenoids—beta-carotene and lycopene—which are found in foods like carrots, kale, tomatoes,” he explains. “If I had skin like yours, the effect probably would be barely noticeable, but because my skin is an extremely pasty white to begin with … ”
“So wait,” Adam interjects, “you eat so much kale, tomatoes, and carrots that your hands actually turn orange?”
“The focus is health. The constant thought is, ‘How can I pack more nutrition into my calories?’— that’s not something an anorexic is doing. Anorexia is slow suicide.”
“Yes, isn’t it pretty?” April asks again.
And sure, I’m thinking, maybe it is. And maybe if I look a little harder, I’ll eventually see with my own eyes just how pretty Michael’s orange hands really are. But first, I’m going to need a moment to deal with the slight attack of existential vertigo that’s hitting me just now. All evening, I have let the bubbling enthusiasm and essential reasonableness of my guests carry me past the little weirdnesses that go with being calorie-restricted. But the weirdnesses are starting to pile up, and my guests are looking weirder and weirder themselves, like emissaries from a future I’m not sure could ever feel like home: a world where the food grows in vats, where the porn industry just barely survives on government subsidies, where the physically ideal male has the BMI of Mary-Kate Olsen and the skin tones of an Oompa-Loompa.
I take a deep breath then and think, A world where 80 is the new 40. And suddenly, all those little weirdnesses seem quite manageable again.
At which point Michael, having finished his helping of asparagus and Quorn, picks up his plate without a word and does what any normal person who has not eaten a truly filling meal in years would do: He holds the plate up to his face and commences licking it clean. April looks on smilingly, and though I feel another tingle of vertigo coming on at the sight, it passes soon enough.
For dessert, we get a CR-perfect parfait: organic strawberries, nonfat ricotta, flaxseed oil, and hazelnuts. It’s very good, and it’s gone too fast, and as long as we’re rewriting the book on table manners here, I can’t see the harm in scooping out the last bits of ricotta with my fingers. April sees me and frowns, concerned. “You need to eat more. Like right now,” she says, bringing me seconds.
This of course is just the sort of swift correction any responsible CR veteran would apply to a fellow calorie restricter showing signs of manorexia. But with April, there’s a little more to it than that. She’s a woman, for one thing, which the typical CR veteran is not, and that alone makes her more than typically familiar with the feminine cult of self-starvation and its costs. Beyond that, too, she brings a special knowledge with her from her high-school years, spent at the Interlochen Arts Academy—a peculiarly intense Midwestern boarding school lately prominent in the literature of eating disorders, having served as the central setting for the acclaimed memoir of anorexia and bulimia Wasted, by April’s Interlochen classmate Marya Hornbacher.
“I have a ton of survivor’s guilt for being one of the ones who made it out alive, you know? Because so many of my close friends have been down that path,” says April. “When we were in high school, everybody was doing it. Interlochen was a performing-arts school where dancers were graded down for gaining weight. And we all used to think we were fat and be miserable about our bodies. And, you know, when I started CR, there were questions like, ‘Oh, have you gone anorexic?’ ”