Idol Chatter

The HBO documentary “Thin” aired last night, telling the story of four women struggling with anorexia and bulimia. A film directed by Laura Greenfield (also the author of “Girl Culture”), “Thin” introduces viewers to Shelly, a nurse who has been in and out of clinics many times; Polly, a photographer also with many prior experiences as an in-patient; Brittany, the youngest, at 15; and Alisa, a mother of two–all of whom are so broken by their struggle with eating disorders that the audience will sense they are at the point of life and death. In fact, Alisa says flat out that being thin is more important than anything else in her life, including her children, and Brittany’s fear of becoming “fat” is so utterly potent that she regularly expresses the wish to die in lieu of gaining any weight.

These are four women who have lost all faith in themselves. It’s awful to encounter the severity of their brokenness.

“Thin” is ultra-heavy on the drama, the intense emotion, the “I’m being watched by cameras” over-reactions by the women featured. (Though, granted, living with an eating disorder is dramatic by nature.) Regardless of this, for those unfamiliar with eating disorders, “Thin” is sure to prove eye-opening about the sad realities of the distorted body images so many women live with, which drive them to desperate measures in their eating, exercising, and purging. Ideally, this set of viewers will decide to look beyond the documentary’s melodrama to see the story that needs to be heard, and the terrible reality of women crushed by societal pressures to fit a certain body type.

For those who know eating disorders all too well, however, I am not sure that watching “Thin” is a good idea. Yes, it could serve as a cautionary tale, a “this could happen to you” warning to get off a destructive path if you are already headed down this particular road. But “Thin” lacks hope overall–it sends a message, and perhaps truthfully so, that it is almost impossible to conquer an eating disorder, that next to no one recovers fully to live a normal life, and that once broken, the bodies of these women are broken forever.

If you still have hope for yourself or your child, if you still have faith that it is possible to conquer this struggle, you might consider skipping “Thin” when it re-airs or comes out on DVD. It could shatter your faith in the possibility of recovery. It is really the story of four women at the end of their ropes–and it does little to show that any of them find a way out of this deepest of dark places.

To HBO’s and the director’s credit, the official site for “Thin” has links on its page for “Recognizing and Dealing with Eating Disorders” and resource listings for “Getting Help and Learning More,” which include hotlines and help centers for parents and specifically Dads as well.

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