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Lesbian New York City Mayoral Candidate Christine Quinn Reveals Bulimia Struggles

by Jennifer Peltz
Thursday May 16, 2013
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New Yorkers might have felt they knew about the personal life of Christine Quinn, the veteran politician seeking to become the city’s first gay and first female mayor.

On Tuesday, Quinn disclosed a difficult piece of her past that she had kept private: She was bulimic for a decade in her teens and 20s, went to rehab for it at 26 and considers herself a recovering alcoholic to this day.

"If you reveal the truth, nothing bad can happen, and that when you reveal the truth, good things happen," for both the teller and society at large, the Democratic City Council speaker told an audience of students at all-women Barnard College, where she described an eating disorder that began at 16 as a quest for self-perfection and a sense of power as she cared for her dying mother, and a drinking problem that developed in tandem, as Quinn struggled to contend with the pain and upheaval of her family’s loss.

Quinn said she decided to make her troubles public now - in the talk and a New York Times story Tuesday, both in advance of a memoir she is due to publish next month - both because she was emotionally ready to do so, had been touched by strangers’ responses to her wedding last year and hoped her experiences might ease others’.

"One of the challenges about bulimia or alcoholism or eating disorders is you think you’re the only person" who is struggling, she said, adding that she hoped sharing her story might particularly be "helpful to women and girls who might feel they’re stuck ... and there’s no choice but to stick with the coping methods that have worked for you."

Still, she quickly faced questions about how the revelation fit into her campaign, and whether it was an attempt to capture attention in an era of increasingly personal politics or to add a softer side to a public figure who largely embraces a brassy image. She shrugged off both ideas, suggesting, with a laugh, that having been a bulimic and alcoholic doesn’t much help one’s image.

"It’s about having an opportunity to go be honest for myself about who I am in my totality ... and to help other people, hopefully."

Still, perhaps with voters’ questions in mind, the Democratic front-runner in this year’s mayor’s race emphasized that she had gotten help for her problems and feels "really great and really healthy" now. After leaving rehab, she drank rarely - perhaps a glass of wine a month - for years and then stopped altogether about three years ago, as part of improving her diet and exercise habits, she said.

Quinn said she had dieted and fretted about her weight growing up, but became bulimic only after hearing other girls in a locker room discuss bingeing and purging as a way to lose weight. Still, like many eating disorder sufferers and researchers say, she said the behavior wasn’t about body image so much as striving for perfection and "trying to get a piece of control in a life that was out of control."

Drinking, she said, was "a way to kind of get a sense of relief from all the chaos that I felt was going on - all the chaos that was going on."

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