A part of me fears the following post might be too sensitive or hit too close to home for some readers. I say this because I know my audience ranges from people without any eating disorders and weight issues; people with eating disorders and weight issues; people trying to lose weight; people who have lost weight and kept it off; disordered eaters … friends, family … my readership is all over the place and I love the variety.
I deeply respect and admire the women in this film who sought help, whether it was for the first time or the fifteenth time … and I wish everyone with an ED could do the same: get help. It takes a ton of courage to make that call or visit, and so I have utmost respect for these ladies. And so the readers I’m mostly concerned about in this post are those currently in the throes of their eating disorders; I don’t want to upset anyone — hence today’s pre-post note.
Personally, I don’t know what it’s like to starve myself, and I don’t know what it’s like to binge or purge … I don’t pretend to know what it’s like; for all my disordered eating behaviors, I’ve never dealt with anorexia or bulimia. Though I am coming at this film more as someone perpetually struggling with her weight/body acceptance more than as someone with a clinical eating disorder, I do realize just how serious these diseases are.
Please know I’m not judging anyone; I simply care. My blog is about transparency and being honest, and I can’t sugarcoat how I felt after seeing something so moving.
That said, here is my review of the HBO documentary THIN (2006) which I finally saw for the first time Wednesday night.
THIN: The Documentary
Lauren Greenfield’s gut-wrenching, raw glimpse inside an eating disorder clinic (Refrew Center, in Coconut Creek, Fla.) was enough to make my head spin, my heart ache and my breathing labored.
When it was over, all I wanted to do was cry — seeing such pain and agony these women are dealing with every day, every minute.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s one of those films you just “have to” sit through; it’s like a car crash that you don’t want to see, but can’t take your eyes off.
If you’re currently battling an ED, you might love or hate this film and its characters — you might empathize with them, you might find them out of control. If you know someone with an ED, you, too might cry watching it — it might inspire you to reach out. And if you don’t know much about EDs, you might come away from this movie feeling completely overwhelmed … or numb.
In THIN, we meet Shelly, Polly, Alisa and Brittany, the four girls whose lives are documented as they move through various levels of treatment at Renfrew.
Shelly is in her mid-20s and is so sick that she has had a feeding tube for the past five years — her feeding tube viewed as “a badge of honor.”
Alisa is a single mom in her 30s with two kids who has battled EDs for decades.
Brittany is a 15-yr. old battling her ED that has been fueled by the behaviors of her mom (who has an ED) –they used to chew-and-spit together for “fun.”
Polly, who is the furthest along in her treatment and is maintaining her weight when we meet her, is the “ring-leader,” if you will, of the group.
The four women are the primary characters, but we see lots of faces we aren’t introduced to, lots of women looking on the brink of death. This is not an exaggeration; people die as a result of prolonged anorexia and bulimia. And many of these women look a heart-beat away from it, draped in loose, sagging clothing, wrapped up in blankets galore (mind you, the documentary is filmed during summertime in Florida).
We watch these girls weigh in each morning (80, 90 lbs) … and see their faces, the wrinkled noses as they see the numbers going up. (I found this particularly hard to deal with, realizing that, at my heaviest, I was almost double their size).
Some are progressing and stabalizing their weights but for the most part, they look so frail, so sad, so angry, so empty … so anything but happy. Anything but healthy.
Some of the girls claim death would be welcome; my heart lurched at that one.
And the plain truth is … I just don’t get it. No matter how hard I try to wrap my head around it, I just don’t understand what makes one person go down this path and not another. I know it happens all the time, but I just can’t fathom it. I just don’t have the brain for it … and maybe that’s ok. (Please don’t flame me for that; I genuinely can’t imagine it.)
I’m not here to question the “whys” — that’s up to the experts to ponder, as every person’s situation is unique. But I do want to put it out on the table that, for all my disordered eating behaviors, I just can’t imagine getting to that point where death would be welcome. Psychologically, it just doesn’t compute.
In the Director’s Interview, Lauren seems to share my inability to comprehend anorexia or bulimia.
HBO asks Lauren, “You said there’s something “unfathomable” about eating disorders. What did you mean by that?”
Lauren Greenfield responds, “I feel like one of the things about an eating disorder that makes it hard to understand by family members and friends and by the culture is that it looks so similar to what we see every day, which is this kind of obsessive dieting that many, many people participate in. And I think sometimes it gets trivialized as an illness. And that’s what I hope people really get out of the film and the book is how serious it is. And the reason I say it’s “unfathomable” is because it makes no sense. I mean, within the framework of the values of our culture, it makes sense to want to have a better body, or want to be in a smaller size.”
She then goes on to say (and I’m leaving it all here for context, bear with me):
But what you see with the women at Renfrew, and the women who are suffering with a true eating disorder, is that they are committing a form of suicide. And that for many, it has nothing to do with the way their body looks or vanity; it really has to do with control, and it’s really a coping mechanism for whatever they are going through. And that people may come to an eating disorder for a lot of different reasons, and may have it because of many different things in their lives. But for all of them, it functions as a kind of coping mechanism; allowing them to numb out to their feelings and to the things that they don’t want to think about.
It’s really impossible to understand unless you are inside the illness. And that’s why I really wanted to spend a long time at Renfrew, and film it cinema-vérité style, so that you really could kind of understand what is so hard to understand.
As a photographer, one of the reasons I was interested in making the film was, it’s a kind of unique situation where the mental illness has a physical manifestation, and recovery has a physical manifestation, because as they recover, they gain weight if their illness is anorexia. If it’s bulimia, maybe it expresses itself in different ways. But you do see the body shape change as recovery happens. And so for me, that was a really unique opportunity, and one of the things that intrigued me about making a film about this.”
Lauren doesn’t shy away from what is really going on in these womens’ lives. As viewers, we’re shown an insider’s perspective of what life is like at an in-patient clinic: the weigh-ins and vitals, the meals, the “resource” shakes given to the girls when they aren’t gaining weight, the therapy sessions, the family therapy sessions, the community meetings, the nutritionist meetings, the profound impact the diseases have on their families who feel so helpless, the girly antics in their bedrooms that make us giggle, the friendships and alliances … and the mistrust among staff and the community.
We witness the agony of patients forced out before they’re stable, simply because their health insurance ran out and they couldn’t afford Refrew’s costs. (Having just watched SICKO, this resonated immensely — these women needed treatment and wanted it, and couldn’t continue because of insurance. THAT’s sick, that we turn people away like that).
Toward the end of the film (spoiler alert!), the director journeys with Alisa back to her home after she leaves treatment. The cameras roll: after a good-bye dinner out with Shelly (who is moving back to Utah) Alisa purges in the bathroom … with her young children watching TV in the next room.
It made me want to hit the screen; I was so sad, so mad, so frustrated. I wanted her to succeed; she’d come so far! I wanted her to beat this!
But life isn’t that easy … it doesn’t necessarily fit into the confines of a 2-hr documentary. Through the THIN site, we learn that Alisa relapsed but she went back to Renfrew for a time and has been in recovery ever since.
Over the course of Shelly’s treatment, we see her get better … and learn from a post-film interview she, too goes home and relapses.But fortunately, like Alisa, she is in recovery now.
In fact, Shelly guest-blogged about her progess and recovery at MamaVision in February 2008, following Polly’s death (at age 33), and what she has to say is really remarkable.Check it out here; Shelly’s a true inspiration.
I am so happy to hear these two women are doing so well. Likewise, I know there are plenty of bloggers out there talking about their recovery, and plenty of people who keep their struggles private but are taking action, too. Keep up the good work and fight the good fight — you’re absolutely, positively worth it!
She says, “… you can get better, and some people do get better; one doctor told me “around 50 percent.” But you do have to want to get better.”
So there is hope, but it’s up to the individual … and hopefully a lot of support from loved ones. But most importantly, the desire to change has to come from within: a desire to heal, to get better, to confront their ED head on.
The film left me with a ton of questions. If there’s someone you care about, how do you reach out to them? What can you do? What makes recovery “click” for someone, like Shelly said it did for her, and why do others, like Polly, lose their battle? It just seems horribly unjust that someone so full of life would be robbed by her ED.
And the million dollar question: Is one ever truly cured?
How about you? Have you seen THIN? What were your thoughts?