Anorexia and other, related eating
disorders are one of the ironic curses of our rich and well-fed
civilization. In the midst of available food, anorexics (usually
young women) literally starve themselves, trying desperately to shape
their bodies to meet a distorted image of "thin and beautiful."
No one really knows what causes anorexia; the best theory at the
moment is that some combination of genetic predisposition,
personality, family behavior, and cultural pressure triggers the
psychological disorder. One of the most insidious aspects of anorexia
is its ambivalent position in our culture: while we recognize that
behavior like binging and purging or drug abuse to lose weight are
disordered, we also exalt size-0 models and implicitly associate
obsession about weight with the rich, famous, and emulated. Anybody
who's ever thought that anorexia is no big deal ought to watch Thin.
Frankly, anybody who cares at all about the health and well-being of
women in our society ought to watch Thin: it's a chilling
experience to really see the destructive power of eating disorders.
The documentary Thin
chronicles four women, ages 15-30, as they check into Renfrew, an
eating-disorder treatment center, to get help for their disorders.
These women are not just "too thin." They are in serious
risk of death, having starved themselves to the point that their
bodies are shutting down: erratic heartbeat, liver damage, loss of
hair, and so on. Some have attempted suicide in the face of
devastating body-image problems. But the grip of the disorder is so
strong that, even at a skeletal 80 pounds, a woman could call herself
a "fat pig."
We see in Thin that anorexia
is not just about food: it's about control, about self-image, about
self-hatred. It takes more than a few square meals to set things to
right, because the disorder is not just a disease to be cured, but an
addiction that needs to be healed. One of the most compelling aspects
of Thin is that we see that not all the women profiled here
are even able to work toward their own recovery: the disorder gives
them (in a twisted way) something they don't have in any other way:
control over their bodies. As we follow the women through the weeks
at Renfrew, we get to see some of them make progress, while others
manage (consciously or unconsciously) to subvert their own attempts
to get well. Their lives are extremely complicated: it's not possible
to tell ahead of time which women are genuinely ready to move
forward, and which are not.
Thin is also a powerful
criticism of the insurance industry's practices: more than half the
women at Renfrew are forced to leave before they're ready simply
because their insurance ran out or the insurance company decided that
they'd had enough treatment. It's inhumane but also short-sighted:
still in the grip of the disorder, these women are often hospitalized
again and again, for the physical effects of the disorder as well as
for suicide attempts.
The film is handled in a low-key,
immediate style: the camera follows the women into various aspects of
their lives at Renfrew, into counseling and support sessions, even
into the hospital. (There's a somewhat disturbing scene involving a
stomach-tube operation.) Interspersed with this material are
interviews with the four women whom the film follows most closely,
giving us a better insight into their lives and their struggle.
There's no voiceover or other narration, but we do get informational
captions at times, providing some background information on the
interviewees. The film wraps up with a follow-up on the four women,
letting us know what happened to them after they left Renfrew.
Thin doesn't stand as the definitive
work on eating disorders; it is descriptive, rather than explanatory.
I would have liked to have had some more informational material
explaining what anorexia is, how prevalent it is, what the treatment
options are, and how it can have such a grip on people. But that's
not really the guiding principle behind this particular film;
instead, Thin shows us the human face of the disorder, so that
we can't turn away.
Thin is presented in its
original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The image quality is good
overall; the interview footage is clean and clear, with bright,
natural colors, and the on-the-spot footage within Renfrew is
satisfactory in clarity.
The 2.0 audio track is one of the
weaker aspects of the DVD. The sound is muddy and often hard to hear
There are no special features.
Thin is a powerfully affecting
documentary, showing clearly the horrific effects of eating
disorders... and also their insidious nature. As a woman who has been
under many of the same pressures as these women (facing cultural
pressure to be obsessed about weight, dealing with body-image
issues), I watched this program with the clear feeling of "there
but for the grace of God go I." Thin invites us to face
the complexities of anorexia with a clear and objective eye but also
with compassion and sympathy. While it's not a definitive work, as it
doesn't really explain much about the disorder, it's certainly highly
recommended as an eye-opening experience.