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Friday, August 19, 2011

TGIF Actor Spotlight: Tracey Gold

Weight loss has always been a struggle for me over the years.

Although I've been doing quite well with it in recent years, there was a huge chunk of my life where I was overweight, and even obese at one point. A lot of that came from the jeers and taunts of those who were closest to me, be it at school, or with extended family members.

The more they pointed it out, and the more fun they made of it, the more I ate. It's very easy to find compassion and love inside a box of Double Stuf Oreo cookies. The more you eat, the better you feel, at least until the sugar rush wears off. Once that happens, you end up being even more depressed and vulnerable, and more apt to overeat. Believe me, I know from experience that this is true.

It's not until one decides to make that change that the real hard work begins. And for that hard work to continue as planned, you need to have a reliable, POSITIVE, support system to coach you through those cravings and help you see that the goal can be achieved.

Although having surgery six months ago has made me put on a few pounds since my initial weight loss, I'm not as freaked out by it as I was. People gain and lose all the time. As long as one is healthy and fit, and on the right path to health and wellness, what difference should a few extra pounds make?

I may be more of a chunky monkey than a hunky monkey, but at the very least, I am accepting of the person that I am now, and am secure enough in myself to know that others feel the same way.

In my case, I dealt with my pain through overeating. And a lot of people who went through similar experiences have probably done the same.

Then there are those people who have done the opposite of what I have done. Those who see food as the enemy, and have such a distorted image of themselves that they diet excessively, or starve themselves to be the ideal body weight, even though they are killing themselves doing it.

This is the story of one actress who fought the demons of anorexia nervosa for several years, and found her way back again.

Although Tracey Gold has been an actress since she was a young child, and has been in several television productions over the years, most people probably remember her best for her part in the long-running sitcom Growing Pains.

The show (which ran for seven seasons between 1985-1992) was really Tracey's big breakout role.  She started off her career in a Pepsi ad, had appeared in the 1982 film Shoot The Moon, and had roles in two previous sitcoms that didn't last past one season.

In fact, here's a little bit of trivia for you.  In 1981, she had auditioned for and won the role of Samantha in the sitcom 'Gimme A Break!'.  Tracey filmed the pilot episode, but was replaced by Lara Jill Miller when the series went to air.  Four years later, Tracey Gold was cast in the role of Carol Seaver (ironically enough, replacing an actress who was cast for the pilot of Growing Pains), and managed to last the entire run, aside from some absences during the last two years of the show's run.  But, I'll talk about that a little bit later.

Tracey Gold's portrayal of Carol Seaver was quite good.  As the middle child and only daughter (until baby Chrissy was born in the fourth season), of Jason and Maggie Seaver, Carol was the brainy child.  Bright and articulate, she was never at a loss for storylines.  Her character always got good grades, and was fairly popular in school.  She even managed to have dates with boys who were played by people who would go on to Hollywood success of their own (Matthew Perry and Brad Pitt, just to name a couple).

To show just how great an actress Tracey Gold was, here's the last few minutes of the episode where Matthew Perry's character meets a tragic fate...and Carol's reaction to the whole thing breaks your heart.

Wasn't that something?  I admit to still getting chills during that episode.

But that's exactly what Growing Pains did in every episode.  Looking back on it, those episodes (especially the ones during the first few years) really had top-notch acting from all the stars.  The ensemble cast worked really well together, and in my opinion were one of the better television sitcom families of the 1980s.

What was also interesting to see was just how much Tracey Gold matured over the course of the seven year run of the show.  Above is what she looked like when the show debuted in 1985.  For her to transform from a plain Jane tomboy like child to a beautiful young woman was remarkable to see, and even now at the age of 42, Tracey Gold still looks youthful and full of life.

Alas, that wasn't always the case.  During much of the filming of Growing Pains, Tracey Gold kept a secret from everyone around her.  A secret that only she knew.  A secret that was exposed during the last two seasons of Growing Pains, which caused her to seek treatment in order to help save her life.

Tracey Gold had been battling anorexia nervosa...a disease that she was first diagnosed with having at the age of eleven.  Tracey said herself that her obsession with body image started at an early age, and became obsessed with the 1981 made for TV movie 'The Best Little Girl In The World'.  That movie also featured a woman who struggled with anorexia nervosa.  After the initial diagnosis by a pediatrician, she underwent some counselling, and by the time she was a teenager, she managed to get back up to a healthier weight.

When Tracey started acting on Growing Pains, the first three seasons went off without too much trouble.  The beginning of the fourth season however was also the beginning of Tracey's relapse back into anorexia.  And unfortunately, the producers and writers of the show weren't exactly all that helpful.

When season four kicked off in the fall of 1988, viewers and production staff had noticed that Tracey Gold had gained a bit of weight during the summer hiatus.  Her peak weight was 133 pounds.  Certainly normal for any average nineteen year old woman, and certainly nothing to get concerned about on an average day.  Everyone nets gains and losses at some point of their lives, and still manage to live healthy lives.

Unfortunately, in the world of Hollywood, an actress being 133 pounds is considered to be almost 'morbidly obese'...a statistic that I find incredibly disgusting, in my honest opinion.  The situation was made even worse when the scripts for the fourth season called for Carol Seaver to be the subject of 'fat jokes'.  It was actually written in the script that Mike and Ben (played by Kirk Cameron and Jeremy Miller) were to make jokes about Carol gaining weight, and making fat jokes that ran for several episodes in a row.

I don't know about any of you, but I would be plenty pissed off if I knew that the writers and the producers were taking advantage of my weight gain just to get a few cheap laughs for their show.  Looking back on it, it almost seemed like exploitation, and it was rather cruel to both Tracey Gold, and to a lesser extent, the character of Carol Seaver.  Of course, back in 1988, nobody except her closest loved ones had known that Tracey had battled anorexia as a youngster.  In many ways, it was her most guarded secret.

Still, you really had to feel for Tracey.  It wasn't like she had gained a hundred pounds over the summer...if anything, it was more like ten.  And, so what?  She was still a beautiful young lady no matter what her end weight was at the beginning of season four.  It's bad enough that she was forced to deal with body image issues from an early age.  Worse still would be coming into work to play a role, only to have your television siblings making fun of you for gaining a few pounds.

Regardless of whether the production staff had known about Tracey's situation or not, it's still pretty shameful to do, and I didn't think it was funny at all.  As someone who has also had weight issues in the past, it's not easy to have to deal with.

In the fall of 1988, Tracey made the decision to lose some of the weight that she had gained that summer.  She was on a medically-supervised diet, and ended up shedding a little over twenty pounds as a result of the diet. 

Honestly, I didn't even think she needed to do that, as she looked better than fine, but like I said...Hollywood is a strange place where everyone is at least a size two.

Unfortunately, despite the weight loss, producers and writers still dropped the occasional joke directed to Carol in regards to her weight, and over the next few years, Tracey's body image and obsession with food intake went from bad to worse.

By 1991, her anorexia was out of control, and she actually developed signs of bulimia as well.  She kept losing more and more weight, eventually ending up at a dangerously low weight of 80 pounds by the first part of 1992.  By then, people were taking notice of how skeletal she looked, and Growing Pains had actually suspended her from the show so that she could seek recovery for her anorexia.  By then, the tabloids got wind of the story, and ended up outing Tracey on their front covers, posting pictures of her at her lowest weight, and proclaiming that she only had weeks to live.

I can't even imagine what was going through Tracey's mind during that period of 1991 and 1992 where it seemed that she hit rock bottom.  It was bad enough that the pressure for her to look thin for the cameras eventually took over her whole life, but for the tabloids to intervene on top of about making a bad situation worse.

Tracey Gold was absent for a large chunk of the 1991-1992 season of Growing Pains, which happened to also be its last season.  She did manage to make it to the two-part series finale, though viewers who were keen enough could tell that Tracey's battle was far from over.  In fact, if you watch the scene very closely where the Seaver family are gathered around eating pizza on the last show, Tracey never takes one bite of it.

After the show wrapped up in 1992, Tracey Gold spent all of her energies attempting to beat anorexia once and for all.  It took a while for her to come to terms with the disease, and it was not an easy fight for her to come out of, but by 1994, she was well on the way to recovery.  It all started with an interview with People Magazine in January 1994, talking about the struggles she faced, and still continued to deal with.  The cover of the magazine where the interview took place is above, and while Tracey was still in recovery mode, she did look a lot healthier and happier than she had been just two short years earlier.

1994 was one of those years that proved to be life-changing for Tracey Gold.  Not only did she find love with her husband Roby Marshall (who she has four children with), but that same year, she starred in the television movie 'For The Love Of Nancy', which also starred Jill Clayburgh and Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

Although the movie had fictionalized characters, the main character was based on Tracey Gold herself and it showed the same struggles that Tracey herself had to deal with.  I remember watching this movie back in the day, and all I will say is that the film is very graphic, and doesn't pull any punches.  It really opened up people's eyes about how dangerous a disease it could be, and how it can affect a person's body, as well as the loved ones of the person struggling with it.

In the years since, Tracey Gold has had her highs and lows.  Although Tracey Gold has bounced back from the depths of her eating disorder, it has not been an easy struggle.  Tracey has also had her own brushes with the law, including being arrested for a DUI in the fall of 2004 (she rolled her SUV down an embankment on a California freeway with her family inside, but thankfully nobody was killed).  On the flipside, Tracey continues to act, and goes to various speaking engagements educating women about the dangers of eating disorders and how they can seek help for them.

Tracey Gold is a survivor of anorexia nervosa and has managed to take her pain and turn it into something good.  Sadly, for every Tracey Gold that has survived, there is a Karen Carpenter who sadly has lost their lives to it. 

Just know that there is help out there for you, and that with hard work and a loving support system, you can and will beat it.

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