In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 25-March 1), I wanted to compile a long list of films that address the complexities of eating disorders and the oft-fraught issue of body image. I was surprised, actually, and saddened to find myself hard-pressed to find them. It's an issue that few filmmakers are focusing on, especially in recent years (note to filmmakers: please make some poignant films about body image). Nonetheless, here is a list of the top 9 (I couldn't find a 10th!) films about eating disorders. (Unfortunately some of the made-for-TV-films are hard to find but are worth seeking out.)
Thin (from HBO.com): Eating disorders affect five million people in the U.S., and more than 10% of those diagnosed with anorexia nervosa will die from the disease. Seeking to put a human face on these sobering statistics, acclaimed photographer Lauren Greenfield went inside a Florida treatment center to tell the stories of four women who are literally dying to be thin. The devastating HBO documentary THIN reveals what she found there - and explores the issues underlying their illness.
Killing Us Softly (from Media Education Foundation): In this documentary Jean Kilbourne surveys the contemporary advertising landscape to critically examine how, why and to what effect corporations and their advertisers use images of girls and women to sell their products. Deconstructing advertisements with the same kind of care and thought that went into constructing them, Kilbourne pushes the discussion of media and advertising beyond the realm of pure market values on the one hand and pure aesthetic values on the other. She sets mass media images of femininity against social reality, advertising fantasy against the actual experience of girls and women, and encourages us to consider the relationship between the stories advertising tells about girls and women and the actual lives girls and women lead.
Dying to Be Thin (from NOVA Online): This NOVA documentary introduces us to individuals from all walks of life who have eating disorders: dancers, gymnasts, students, sisters, daughters, friends. Examining the causes behind, as well as the experience of, anorexics and bulimics today, this program also goes behind the scenes in the research labs and medical facilities where possible treatments for these debilitating illnesses are being studied.
Perfect Illusions (from PBS.com): Narrated by Lauren Hutton, this PBS documentary follows the experiences of four families whose lives have been irrevocably altered by eating disorders. The signs and symptoms of eating disorders are presented side-by-side with the real-life stories of those who suffer. Along with in-depth interviews with bulimics 16-year-old Suni and 20-year-old Annie, the film features 26-year-old Marya Hornbacher, author of the groundbreaking memoir "Wasted," the chronicle of a 15-year battle with anorexia and bulimia.The girls' families also speak out about the emotional and financial toll their loved ones' eating disorders exact, as well as the strength they found, and still find, to make it through the ongoing recovery process.
When Friendship Kills [TV]: (from IMDb): When two friends, Lexi and Jennifer try and get in shape, they start to get rid of their food by vomiting it up. Lexi is then taken to a bulimic center by her worried mom. When she recovers she tells her mom that Jennifer might still have the same problem. Lexi's mom confronts Jennifer's mom and Jennifer gets mad at Lexi. Lexi tries to reason to Jennifer at a beach party while Jennifer is drunk and Jennifer refuses and runs away from her. She is then hit by a passing car and Lexi becomes depressed and the vomiting starts again.
For The Love Of Nancy (from IMDb): When Nancy graduates from high school, she is apprehensive about the future. She goes to college and becomes withdrawn. She starts to obsess over her weight, exercising all the time and hardly eating. Her parents ignore the changes in Nancy, until one shocking moment at Christmas when it becomes apparent to everyone that Nancy has a serious problem--she's anorexic. The parents try to get Nancy treatment, but she resists attempts to help her. At last, her father decides to take her to court and win guardianship of Nancy so he can force her into treatment.
Hunger Point [TV] (from IMDb): Obsessed with the belief that a slender figure is the most important thing on earth, domineering mother Marsha Hunter forces her two daughters Frannie and Shelly to adhere to rigid diets and exercise regimens. Any extra poundage is subject to cruel ridicule by the manic Marsha, while her passive husband, as cowed by his wife as everyone else, offers no comfort or solace for his beleaguered daughters. Marsha's well-meaning but tragically short-sided view of feminine attractiveness drives one daughter into a mental hospital with a psychosomatic eating disorder and the other into a desperate act of self-destruction. Based on a novel by Jillian Medoff.
Sharing the Secret [TV] (from IMDb): By rights, child psychologist Dr. Nina Moss should be pleased and proud that her daughter Beth is a slim, eternally upbeat overachiever. But Nina suspects that all is not well with Beth--and she's right. Desperate to be accepted by her family and friends, and determined to be fully in control of her own destiny, Beth has become bulimic, "binging" and "purging" whenever things threaten to get out of hand in her life--or whenever she gains a single pound beyond her "ideal" weight. The winner of a 2001 Peabody Award.
Kate's Secret ( TV) (from Fandango): In this made-for-TV movie, Meredith Baxter plays Kate, a homemaker who suffers from the eating disorder bulimia. On the surface, slim, attractive Kate's life seems perfect but secretly, Kate binges on junk food and then purges by vomiting. Any stressful situation can set off these bulimic episodes. One afternoon, weak from lack of food and too much exercise, Kate crashes her car, almost killing herself and her daughter Becky. Soon an eating-disorder specialist, Dr. Resnick reveals Kate's secret to her husband and mother, and Kate must enter a clinic to face her demons in the company of the other bulimics and anorexics.