There’s a memorable scene in “The Sopranos” where the boss of the New York family – Johnny Sack – is in prison and his wife and kids come to visit.
Johnny Sack’s wife is obese. His eldest daughter is just as big. And his youngest daughter is rail thin. She angrily accuses her mom and sister of talking about nothing but food.
This three-minute scene contains more honesty and insight about eating disorders than the entire documentary “Thin.”
It seems like the socially appropriate, politically correct thing to say is that people with anorexia and bulimia are sick. The unpleasant truth, however, is that the society around them is sick.
Low self-esteem is the root cause. Unhealthy obsession with food is the problem. Compulsive overeating and reckless undereating are just two sides of the same coin.
“Thin” is a troubling documentary about people who are earnestly trying to help young women with eating disorders but don’t seem to actually understand the problem at all.
“Thin” takes us inside the Renfrew Eating Disorder Clinic in Florida for a few depressing weeks. We never hear from the doctors who founded the Clinic, but we certainly see their odd strategy for trying to cure anorexic women.
The Clinic seems to be modeled after basic training. Or prison. There is an endless list of rules that the young women must follow; most of them appear to be arbitrary. And when one of the many rules is broken, the staff cruelly pressures the women to rat on their friends to expose who did it.
Instead of helping the women transition from troubled childhood to healthy adulthood, the Clinic does the opposite. The Clinic works to infantilize the patients and makes them feel even more powerless and unable to tackle their self-improvement goals.
“Thin” is interesting, but it is a lousy documentary. The filmmakers don’t make it clear whether they view the Renfrew Eating Disorder Clinic as a legitimate treatment center or as a counterproductive scam like I do.
Now, I don’t claim to have the one cure to save all people with eating disorders. But I sincerely believe that I have a better plan than the Renfrew Clinic. I’d write a self-help pamphlet. And this is what it would say:
“You are very thin. I know that it doesn’t always feel that way when you look in the mirror, but I promise that it is true. You set a meaningful goal for yourself and you made it happen. Congratulations!
Now, I want you to take your proven talent for hard-work, discipline, and dedication and use it to get just as great at school. Or your career. Or your relationships with the people you love.
Before long, you will be thin AND successful. And happy. And then one day you’ll wake up and discover that you can eat without feeling so much shame and guilt. You really can do this. I believe in you.”
One thing I would not do in my motivational pamphlet is call the reader sick.
I honestly don’t think anorexic women are sick. They are just trying to make it in this crazy, food-obsessed society like everyone else.