November 15, 2006

Did anyone else watch the documentary Thin on HBO last night? Man, I haven’t quite been able to get it out of my mind since.

The movie focuses on several woman in the Renfrew Center, an eating disorder clinic in Florida, and follows them through their recovery process. Some girls restrict food, some purge, one has a tube connected to her body that is supposed to force-feed her, which she uses to suck food directly from her stomach.

They all seem, at times, to be normal young women who sneak cigarettes and have screaming giggling fits while they throw themselves onto a bed; at other times they look like prisoners of war, their faces reflect an internal battle they are losing every day.

One girl, Brittany, was only 15 at the time this was filmed. Her eyes are ringed with dark makeup and her hair hangs in lank strings in front of her face. She looks incredibly young and lost, and we learn that her mother has an eating disorder too (when Mom shows up to pick at the cafeteria food in front of her daughter, we see exactly how pathological this is). Brittany says she and her mom used to “chew and spit” bags of candy together, and how it was such a good time.

Later, she sobs uncontrollably, “Why can’t everyone just let me die?”

I don’t know why these types of stories resonate with me so much – I’ve never had an eating disorder, nor have I ever been at an unhealthy weight. I guess because it’s such a pointless tragedy, this self-inflicted harm, and even though I’ve never gone down that particular path it’s all too easy to imagine the slippery fall from our society’s “normal” amount of body obsession to becoming one of those pitiful little girls with bird-bone shoulder blades and fragile, protruding spines who look into the mirror and see monsters, who want to physically peel the imaginary fat from their bodies until they disappear completely.

If the point of this movie is to reveal the chilling reality of people suffering with eating disorders, I think it does an amazing job. There certainly is no happy ending to the film, and I wonder about the filmmaker’s choice with that. It’s true that recovery is an elusive goal, but it is heartbreaking to leave those girls with so little hope for them.

I wish I knew how Brittany was doing now.


59 Responses to “Thin”

  1. sundry on November 16th, 2006 1:08 pm

    Sabine, that video just made me get choked up at my desk. Jesus. We are a messed up peoples.

  2. MATTY! on November 16th, 2006 1:43 pm

    Those documentaries do the same thing to me, too. I think it hits me so hard because, although I’m FAR from having an eating disorder, I know what it’s like to look at yourself in the mirror and to never be satisfied with who you see staring back at you.

  3. Tina Malament on November 16th, 2006 2:33 pm

    Kate —

    I’m so incredibly sorry for your loss… God, it’s so hard for me to even imagine, even after losing several incredibly close friends to the disorder.

    The saddest part about losing people to eating disorders is that they STILL continue to mystify psychologists and have the highest death toll among all the mental illnesses. After all these years we still know so little about them nd as the numbers of sufferers keep rising the death toll hasn’t gotten any better. I try not to think about the number of anorectics and bulimics I love because I can’t stand to acknowledge that one in five of them will die. I don’t want to think about when I lost Jade or Meg or worry that the next time Heather has a heart attack it will finally be her last and she can have some peace after twenty-seven years of suffering.

    I’m sure that whenever I do die it will in large part be due to enduring complications from the horrible ways I have treated my body… Once upon a time I was a really healthy, never-gets-sick little kid who quickly deteriorated into a child constantly in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices. I probably wouldn’t have any of the health problems I do now if it weren’t for my enduring, twisted love affair with anorexia.

  4. fellowmom on November 16th, 2006 2:57 pm

    Great video, Sabine. Thanks.

  5. Emily on November 16th, 2006 4:08 pm

    I didn’t get to see the documentary (wish I had HBO, oh well), but that youtube video was … well, I can’t say it was shocking, but definitely depressing. I’m going to go cook and eat some meatballs now, while continuously reminding myself that all healthy women have hips.

  6. TB on November 16th, 2006 4:45 pm

    Thanks for reminding me. I saw the previews for this and it looked riveting. I’ll catch it on TiVo.

  7. John in Phoenix on November 16th, 2006 8:49 pm

    Heya Linda !

    Thank you so much for bringing up this important and horrifying subject brought out into the open here by this movie. As a teenager I ( the male of the species) suffered from Anorexia from 16 to 23 years old and it was a nightmare everyday of my life. I remember going into the kitchen late at night after the rest of the family had gone to bed, and I would open up all of the cupboards and the fridge and stare at all of the food just sitting there waiting for me to enjoy it, and I would sit on the kitchen floor and cry into a towel so I wouldn’t be heard by anybody. I was soooo hungry yet I would not eat the food. I still don’t know why it happened or even how I broke the cycle, but I can vividly remember the constant pain in my gut and joints from lack of food. I am 5′ 11″ tall and I only weighed 125 pounds at my worst. I would wear two pairs of pants at the same time so that I would look ‘normal’ (whatever the Hell that is) and not stand out in school as a freak. To top things off, I broke my jaw when I was 17 years old and had my mouth wired shut for 2 months. Talk about really having no chance to eat…Jesus.

    Anyway, just wanted to drop a line and put in my two cents worth and applaud all of you for your insightful comments regarding this terrible health issue. I’m still pissed off that Karen Carpenter died from this disease since she will never sing another new song again.

    Cheers to all and have a HAPPY Thanksgiving with all of the trimmings !

    – John in Phoenix

  8. Lesley on November 17th, 2006 8:07 pm


    And Lesley, what do you mean? I mean, I guess I get what you mean, but..wait, what do you mean?

    Re my statement – “Anorexics tend to be extremely narcissistic.” Studies demonstrate anorectics and bulimics suffer from pathological narcissism among other personality disorders. The greatest stumbling block for addicts once they’re on the road to recovery is their mind set. A person who has a strong desire to change – and who realizes she is ultimately responsible for her actions, decisions, choices, etc. – will do it, but what the program demonstrates is that the desire in anorectics to not change is extremely strong. They want to feel better and yet fulfill their desire to be unreasonably thin. It’s significant that the anorectic has little ability to perceive the effect their behaviour has on other people. I mean look at the mom who has the kids and who can’t stop puking in her bathroom…nor can she throw out the weigh-scale. She cries for her kids, but in the end she gives in to her desire. In this respect, anorexia/bulimia is no different from any other addictive behaviour. People who are enthralled by – in the throes of – an addiction have little capacity for empathy. They are completely self-absorbed. All the sadness and pity they feel is for themselves. There’s also very little capacity to realize responsibility. All the self-talk is directed to perpetuating helplessness.

    Google narcissism and anorexia/bulimia. There’s a ton of research.

    What I found most ironic in “Thin” was the obesity of many of the counsellors and therapists. People who are extremely overweight are living the flip side of the eating disorder coin. I’m not suggesting they aren’t nice people, aren’t qualified in terms of their degrees and education, etc, but they are not good role models.

    I was also not impressed by the lunch and dinner trays filled with hospital-cafeteria food. Ugh. These places should be teaching nutrition from the ground up. But North America has serious problems with food production and a lack of consciousness about proper nutrition.

    Also, and this will be my last also…why do the patients have full length mirrors in their bedrooms. Good grief. Get rid of the mirrors for the first while.

    Anyhoo, I hope I cleared up my point!

  9. Lesley on November 17th, 2006 8:11 pm

    P.S. The first novel ever written about anorexia – before the word was coined – was The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. It’s amazing and I heartily recommend it.

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