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'Sexy anorexia' Halloween costume controversy
October 7th, 2011
07:26 AM ET

'Sexy anorexia' Halloween costume controversy

It’s hard to imagine a deadly disorder being translated into a Halloween costume, let alone a sexy Halloween costume. Just when you thought it couldn't get any more inappropriate than sexy Cookie Monster, a costume has come along that reaches a whole new level of just plain wrong.

Anna Rexia.

The Anna Rexia costume features a black bodysuit style dress with a glittery, silk-screened skeleton print, bone headband, heart name tag, measuring tape ribbon belt, and the most shocking accessory of all - a matching measuring tape choker! We're not sure if the costume manufacturer intended for the choker to be a pun.

Critics say the costume makes a joke out of a deadly eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Up to 10 million females and one million males in the U.S. suffer from diseases such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa.

CNN spoke to Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, about the controversy surrounding Anna Rexia. Grefe was disturbed to hear that some retailers had actually sold out of the costume, but she's relieved that some stores are not selling it anymore.

"I find it just appalling," said Grefe. "Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and to think that someone that understood an eating disorder would actually buy this costume is an outrage."

Grefe said that only someone with a "sick mind" would purchase the costume, likening it to dressing up as a war veteran missing arms and legs or someone afflicted with melanoma.

"To me they're all the same," said Grefe, who pointed out that anorexia, like melanoma, is not a choice. "Talk about the ultimate in poor taste. That costume represents a sick perspective on this illness."

While the costume is still being sold - albeit by scant few vendors - the manufacturer, Dreamgirl, discontinued it a couple of years ago. Anna Rexia was initially designed back in 2007 and Dreamgirl’s director of marketing, Alicia Brockwell, told CNN that the designer is no longer with the company.

“We understand that some people will not find the dark humor funny,” said Brockwell. “Or that they are sensitive to the topic it addresses. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and would never want to cause harm to anyone. Dreamgirl is a company run by women for women. Halloween is an eccentric and irreverent holiday for people to express themselves in a myriad of ways. While some people may not like a particular costume - it is a matter of taste and personal discretion.”

Grefe said that even if the costume was meant to be a joke, it is no laughing matter.

"There is absolutely nothing funny about anorexia," continued Grefe. "If you saw an 8-year-old kid on a feeding tube you'd be surprised. Anorexia is not a choice - at all. The wrong people go on a diet, they lose five pounds but they like it too much and they lose another five pounds and lose all sense of reality."

Grefe also pointed out the physical consequences of anorexia.

"Eating disorders are mental and the consequences are physical," she said, pointing out that related health issues can include early osteoporosis, kidney failure, digestive system ailments, renal disease, and more. "If you're not feeding yourself, you're not feeding your brain and your body - and your body needs the fuel."

Grefe also urges anyone with an eating disorder to dial the helpline at 800-931-2237 or visit www.NationalEatingDisorders.org

Multiple costume retailers have pulled the costume from shelves and online stores amid complaints, but several vendors still carry Anna Rexia – one online description of Anna Rexia includes the phrase “You can never be too rich or too thin.”

Another online shop’s description reads, "If Anna Rexia doesn't want to put it in her mouth there is nothing you can say to change her mind. You can stop trying to sell her on the point that there aren't any carbs and it's all protein because Anna Rexia just doesn't want anything to do with it. Make no bones about it this girl is as disciplined as they can get. Anna Rexia costume is anything but bare bones! Costume includes headband, choker neckband, removable ‘Anna Rexia’ badge and ribbon tie belt. If you're starving for attention, this costume will be sure to put you on top of the world."

As Eve Vawter from XOJane.com puts it, "Yep, you too could have been a sexy girl with a disease with a super high mortality rate for Halloween."

What do you think of Anna Rexia? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Filed under: Mental Health • Mind and body • Nutrition

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.