Today, I wanted to talk about some of the problems I find in movies about eating disorders. Enjoy!
A few days ago, I was watching Starving in Suburbia while I was straightening my hair, and many questions about the movie came to my head. Now, this is certainly not the first time I’ve watched this movie. I’ve watched this film many times, but I’ve never thought about the film other than for entertainment purposes. I never noticed just how much of a terrible depiction of eating disorders this movie portrays.
For those of you that have not watched the film, it features a teenage girl that visits a thinspiration/pro-ana site and shortly after falls ill to an eating disorder (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified-EDNOS). The movie shows how Hannah (the main character) deteriorates after discovering the new site. The creator of the site pushes Hannah to starve herself and do what she says. This is who she calls “Ana.” “Ana” is an actual character in the who she meets at the end of the film.
Now, for entertainment purposes, the film is interesting. There are some intense scenes and a scary plot twist. It’s a Lifetime movie, so viewers pretty much know what to expect. If you love Lifetime or interested is this movie genre, then Starving in Suburbia has a lot to offer for you. However, in terms of realism and appropriate portrayals of eating disorders, the movie couldn’t be worse.
For starters, Hannah starts to develop an eating disorder directly the day after she visits the pro-ana site. Hannah has no real deterioration because she goes downhill at a lightening speed. One day she’s perfectly fine and happy and the next she’s starving herself and a total bitch. Also, the way in which the website controls her and ‘Ana’ dictates her entire life through messages is quite ridiculous. It’s flat out entirely inaccurate.
The inaccuracies in this film brought me to think about the many other films I’ve watched about eating disorders. I’m not saying that all films about eating disorders are horrible because they’re not, however, many of them use the same stereotypes that are inaccurate. Some of the common issues I’ve noticed with these films include:
A fast downfall out of nowhere. I see this with so many movies about eating disorders. One day the teenage girl is fine and the next she’s anorexic. The developing of anorexia is cut short and it’s as if she is just given this mental illness out of nowhere. There’s very little story to their development.
A miraculous recovery. In almost all eating disorder movies, the patient recovers very quickly after she realizes what she’s doing to herself. It’s not a slow recovery at all, they just start eating again and go back to their ‘normal’ life after they realize their situation.
The emphasis on being fat. Eating disorders and body image are completely related. Most people with an eating disorder do indeed suffer from a negative body image, however, this aspect is over-emphasized in films. There’s a ton of other issues that go into developing an eating disorder that movies seem to neglect.
The same narrative. All eating disorder movies seem to be very similar: they’re all about a teenage white girl with perfect grades and a great personality who develops an eating disorder and pretty soon her life turns into a disaster. This leaves out so many people struggling with eating disorders: older folks, men, people of color, etc. Also, not everyone who has an eating disorder fits this narrative.
Now, not all movies about eating disorders show these stereotypes. I’ve seen some great movies about eating disorders that I would highly recommend. As a matter of fact, I recommend most for entertainment purposes. However, if you’re trying to learn about eating disorders and want more of real life situations, most movies won’t give you that.