The Crown’s Diana Portrayal Puts the Spotlight on Bulimia

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The Crown’s Diana Portrayal Puts the Spotlight on Bulimia
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Netflix’s The Crown has captivated audiences with its in-depth portrayal of one of the most public royal families, and their new season promises a deep-dive into a particularly fascinating royal: Princess Dianna.

The show’s fourth season explores all facets of her personality, exploring her relationship with food and the eating disorder bulimia.

L-R: Late Princess Diana and British actress Emma Corrin plays the late Princess
(Photo: The Quint)

British actress Emma Corrin, who plays the late Princess said that glossing over her bulimia would be a mistake, especially since the Princess was vocal about it in her time.

In fact, she publicly spoke up about it and told the BBC in 1995 in the famous Panorama interview,

“I had bulimia for a number of years. And that’s like a secret disease. You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable.You fill your stomach up four or five times a day — some do it more — and it gives you a feeling of comfort. It’s like having a pair of arms around you, but it’s … temporary. Then you’re disgusted at the bloatedness of your stomach, and then you bring it all up again.”
Late Princess Diana

Corrin told Hollywood Reporter, "I thought to do her justice, it should be included."

Diana struggled with what she called her “secret disease,” for years, revealing that it began after she and Prince Charles were engaged. She took almost a decade before she was able to get over the disease. The pressures of her marriage were one of the main reasons for her bulimia, and she said, “It was a symptom of what was going on in my marriage. I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger: they decided that was the problem - Diana was unstable.”

Netflix is no stranger to difficult storylines - think 13 Reasons Why - and they have committed to adding a trigger warning to the episodes with graphic depictions of Diana’s bulimia. Corrin added,

“I also think that it’s just really important that these things are shown on screen—obviously treated in the right way and with trigger warnings and that kind of thing, to be done sensitively—but I think if you can include these things in an honest way, you should.”
Emma Corrin, actress

In episode three, a newly engaged Diana finds herself alone in Buckingham Palace. Her to-be-husband, Prince Charles is overseas, her future-in-laws seem distant and uninterested in a non-Royal like her, and there are rumours of a love triangle with Charles’ ex Camilla Parker Bowles. Diana waltzes around the house, and finds the kitchen fridge stocked with delicious deserts. She takes a spoonful, and when the audience thinks all is well, the scene cuts to her doubled over the bathroom pot, puking out the treats she just enjoyed.

“The Crown producers worked closely with the eating disorder charity, BEAT, to ensure that their portrayal of Princess Diana’s bulimia was both accurate to the disorder and sensitively handled. When viewers watch the series on Netflix they will see warning cards at the beginning of the episodes giving details of how to seek help if required," a Netflix spokesperson told HELLO!.

A scene like this is powerful in its honest portrayal of the disorder, and actress Emma Corrin told Vanity Fair felt it was her responsibility to be truthful to Lady Di and also to herself, as she dealt with mental health issues as well, “I have struggled with my mental health, and I know what it is like to want to make your emotions tangible, to want to exercise some control over things that feel out of your grip…so it made me empathize a great deal with this character.”

Princess Diana spoke about the mental toll her relationship was taking on her, the public pressures, the rumours of infidelity, that led to her eating disorder. “I could dive into bulimia, it was an escape,” she said in 1995.

Bulimia Nervosa: Exploring the Mental Health Disorder

Bulimia is often not regarded, at least in popular culture, as a serious mental health disorder, despite it being a “serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder,” as per MayoClinic.

People with the disorder usually binge on large amounts of food, and then try to regain control by purging the food right after - either by vomiting, by taking weight-loss supplements, laxatives, excessive exercise or fasting.

“You have to know that when you have bulimia you’re very ashamed of yourself and you hate yourself, so - and people think you’re wasting food - so you don’t discuss it with people.”
Late Princess Diana

Diana added that people would tell her she would be wasting food, not realising the reasons behind the action, and that would worsen her mental health condition and bulimia. She told the BBC’s Martin Bashir, “Well, it was just, `I suppose you're going to waste that food later on?' And that was pressure in itself. And of course, I would, because it was my release valve.”

People with bulimia are often obsessed with their body image, and Princess Diana added that the pressures from the media and even her husband pushed her towards bulimia. She told biographer Andrew Morton.

“My husband put his hand on my waistline and said: ‘Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?’ and that triggered off something in me — and the Camilla thing, I was desperate, desperate.”
Late Princess Diana

Reportedly, as early as her honeymoon, Diana was vomiting three or four times a day. “By then, the bulimia was appalling, absolutely appalling. Anything I could find I would gobble up and be sick two minutes later.”

Bulimia is intricately linked with self-image and mental health problems, it’s not just about the food. That’s what often makes it so hard to overcome. It’s important to treat people with bulimia with sensitivity and seriousness and seek professional help as untreated, it could have devastating effects on your health.


Risk Factors

Women and girl are more predisposed to the disease, but that’s in large part due to immense gendered societal pressures to look a certain way. The media has a large responsibility to show healthy women of all shapes and sizes, and to discourage purging as a way to attain your ideal weight.

Princess Diana added,

“When no one listens to you, or you feel no one’s listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen. For instance you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it’s the wrong help you’re asking for. People see it as crying wolf or attention-seeking, and they think because you’re in the media all the time you’ve got enough attention, inverted commas. But I was actually crying out because I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother, Princess of Wales.So yes, I did inflict upon myself. I didn’t like myself, I was ashamed because I couldn’t cope with the pressures.”
Late Princess Diana

Another linked risk factor is mental health, emotional and psychological issues. Depression, anxiety disorders or substance use disorders are closely linked with eating disorders, says Mayo Clinic.

People with a biological predisposition are those who have family with an eating disorder or depression. Overweight children are also likely to develop this disorder.

People who diet are also at risk, as many may want to speed up their progress by harming themselves and exercising too much, eating too little and purging. Poor body-image issues can also contribute.

Symptoms of Bulimia

According to MayoClinic, some signs to watch out for are:

  • Being preoccupied with your body shape and weight
  • Living in fear of gaining weight
  • Repeated episodes of eating abnormally large amounts of food in one sitting
  • Feeling a loss of control during bingeing — like you can't stop eating or can't control what you eat
  • Forcing yourself to vomit or exercising too much to keep from gaining weight after bingeing
  • Using laxatives, diuretics or enemas after eating when they're not needed
  • Fasting, restricting calories or avoiding certain foods between binges
  • Using dietary supplements or herbal products excessively for weight loss

Regular purging of food indicates a severe issue, and its best to seek medical help. If you know someone who is going through this, offer support and help them get the help they need.

Bulimia can cause health complications like dehydration, kidney issues, heart problems like an irregular heartbeat, tooth decay, irregular periods and more. Another worry with bulimia is that is can lead to other self-harm behaviours like acohol or drug abuse, self-injury.

Princess Diana told Bashir,

“Well, I just hurt my arms and my legs; and I work in environments now where I see women doing similar things and I’m able to understand completely where they’re coming from.”
Late Princess Diana

She said no one understood the reasons behind the physical act.


Bulimia Prevention

There’s growing concern that the rise of unrealistic body types of social media can push children, especially young girls, towards the disorder. Now, there is no sure way of preventing the disease, but increased mental health awareness and increased representation and awareness of healthy body types can help.

Parents have a huge responsibility to reinforce a positive self-image in children, and encourage a healthy, happy relationship with food. Many people with bulimia eat in secret or avoid eating in public, so parents can make meal times an important part of family time to discourage any shame associated with food.

Bulimia is about much more than food, so parents and friends can help prevent the disorder by normalising mental health discussions.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Princess Diana   Eating Disorder   bulimia 

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