Life Update

I have been working with the same dietitian for almost a year. I’ve attend every single meeting of my bi-monthly eating disorder support group. I recently started working with a job developer, which the state is thankfully funding. I might be taking a break from therapy. I typically go every other week, but sometimes in turns into every 3 or 4. I don’t feel like it’s doing much for me at this point, and I have other resources  to address my specific problems. I also scheduled my first dentist appointment in 5+ years. I am anticipating at least one cavity, one impacted wisdom tooth, and some enamel damage in the BEST CASE SCENARIO. It has been at least 5-7 years since I’ve seen a dentist, and about two of those years, I was actively bulimic.

I am probably about due for another thyroid ultrasound, but I am not in a position to dish out the $50 copay. The two I had done in 2018 were completed past my deductible. And I still haven’t paid off the biopsy that followed, or my 2018 inpatient and php hospitalizations. (It’s all gone to collections.) I am hoping I can delay this ultra sound until I have more income.

Being on vyvanse as a daytime alertness medicine has changed my life. My anxiety got a little worse at first, but I have adjusted. It does change my appetite however, and that’s probably the most significant factor holding back up from starting an intuitive eating program.

It’s been almost a solid year since I was discharged from Eating Disorder IOP. Which will soon mark a year since I have needed any type of formalized eating disorder or general mental health treatment (at the intensive outpatient, partial hospital, or inpatient level). There were times between 2014 and 2017 where I needed it but was either too stubborn to go, or didn’t have the resources. 2017-2018 became somewhat of a revolving door phase. But I actually am doing well enough that I haven’t had to consider it for almost a year.

Even though nothing significant has changed in my daily life, I am in the very early stages of a job search. And it’s uncomfortable to be on the “precipice” of the next stage of adulthood. Much of last year I was adjusting to not being in school, basically for the first time since preschool. And while school felt like my worth and identity, being out for the time was excellent for my health and healing process. All change is difficult. But right now, I am working on leaving the job I’ve been at 4 years and 4 months. Even though I’m underpaid and unsatisfied, this is a job where every day is the same, the procedures are clear, and I always know exactly what’s expected of me.

Since a job change could occur within a week or two (but hopefully no later than 3 months from now), I want to take advantage of the time I have now. I typically work 25-32 hours a week. I started part-time because I was in graduate school and remained part time after leaving due to multiple health issues and spoon shortage.  But they do hire new workers to be full-time, and after sometime to recuperate, I asked for more hours. Despite being employed by this company longer than four years, they refuse to schedule me full time unless I am willing to work until close. (Midnight). This is impractical, and unrealistic given my reliance on public transportation. And the pay is hardly worth it.

I am looking for a job where I will be working 35-40 hours. And I’m concerned I won’t have the time and energy I’m used to having for hobbies. Especially since two in particular, reading, jewerly making, and crafts, are things I can do while on the clock at my current job. I also hope to update this blog more regularly, get my living space in order, and several other things I don’t dare list because I don’t want to set my expectations too high.

I’ve spent the last year working on my health and recovery. I have scheduled regular appointments, gotten several tests. (Biopsies, ultrasounds, a sleep study.) And I want to continue to follow up with providers while they fit in my schedule. Like I mentioned, I don’t feel therapy is beneficial right now. But I am also concerned when I do need it, there won’t be time. I am worried I will have to quit my support group. I go because it’s less than three miles from where I currently work. My dietitian currently sees me on Saturdays, but I know she hopes to one day have Saturdays off.

At my current  job, I don’t work Thursdays or Fridays, unless I pick up someone else’s shift, and I rarely have to work on a Saturday. I enjoy that I get to work almost every Sunday, and most potential employers are not open Sundays. In a typical week, I have 1 or 2 business days to go to appointments, contact my insurance company, or conduct anything else that needs to be done during normal hours of operation. Frankly, I don’t understand how nuerotypical and/or able bodied people are able to accomplish their “personal business” around a Monday-Friday, 9-5 work schedule, much less how others with chronic illnesses do it. I feel like I need at least one business day a week to take care of things, but I am not crazy about a job where I would work every single Saturday.

I am also concerned about being isolated at a new job. There was time my current job was isolating, because I barely knew anyone, and my daily tasks involve talking to computers, not people. But today I know many coworkers, and the one I’m closest to has had a profound impact on my life. This partially because we frequently take our breaks at the same time, we would eat together, and she was extremely supportive of my recovery. I live a ways away from the majority of my friends and cannot drive. (This is also a barrier to employment.) And it will take months, possibly a few years, of saving to be able to move into the city.

Finding balance is a lifelong challenge. But this is nothing compared to when I was in graduate school, working, and trying to either shadow therapy groups or tutor English as a second language. If I had secured an internship and been able to finish my degree, I would have been trying to work at my current job, intern at a clinic, and take graduate level classes- without addressing any of my mental health concerns. And I doubt my hypothyroid and chronic fatigue would have been diagnosed and properly addressed. I kept going until I crashed and burned, and the choice to stay or go was taken from me. I didn’t get to leave with my dignity, I was kicked out.

Another thing I like about my current job is the lack of dress code. I can wear almost anything, dye my hair unnatural colors, and wear my facial piercings. The tips of my hair are currently green to match the dress I am wearing to my best friend’s wedding. As soon as I start interviewing, it will be a dark brown. I anticipate business casual wardrobe. A progressive employer may allow a stud in my nostril, and a smaller septum ring can be flipped up inside my nose. A clear or flesh colored retainer may work for my lip, but some fit weird, some looks conspicuous. And that’s a piercing that likes to close or shrink in a matter of hours.

Not having as much freedom of wardrobe is challenging in part due to the high cost and limited choice of plus size clothing, my body image issues, and my sensory sensitivities to certain fabrics. When I wear business casual, especially with natural hair colors, I think I look middle aged. (There is nothing wrong with looking your age, but I am still in my quarter life crisis. I am not ready for the midlife one!) Piercings and colorful hair help me feel at home in my body.

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On a happier note, my best friend is getting married tomorrow, and I will be heading to the rehearsal dinner shortly. I am in the wedding party!

There is a little bit of pressure on me (nothing compared to what the grooms and the wedding planners are experiencing), but I look forward to catching up with so many people. I am also, sincerely curious to to see how a bunch of young queer people and middle aged and elderly Catholic people will interact at this wedding. I of course, want it to go off without a hitch. But it sounds like a social experiment.

I am proud of the bachelor party I co-hosted last weekend. The co-planner provided the funds and the venue (her home). I came up with the theme (Halloween! My best friend’s favorite holiday), made a playlist of his favorites, chose the decorations, and came up with the activities. A good friend of mine who is amazing at what she does read tarot cards for everyone. And I created a custom version of Cards Against Humanity that pertain to my friend and his fiancee.

This is most of what’s new and chaotic in my daily life. I don’t know what is coming next.

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Disfigured (2008): Unpacking The Racist Subplot

I’ve given a synopsis of the 2008 Independent film, Disfigured, which centers around the friendship between a fat woman and a woman with Anorexia who meet in a Fat Acceptance Group. I discussed how the film depicts both Fat Acceptance and Eating Disorders.  I also talked about the romantic subplot between the protagonist, Lydia,and a man named Bob .

There is a little more about Disfigured that needs to be unpacked, and none of it directly pertain to fatness or eating disorders. I may not be the right person to do it, but I will try my best.

Spoilers for Disfigured (2008). The MPAA did not rate this film. But it would likely receive an R for language and sexual content. Content warning for ableist slurs, racism, antisemitism, discussion of street harassment, and some discussion of eating disorders.

POC in Disfigured

There are a handful of women of color with minor speaking parts in the during the scenes of the Fat Acceptance Group.  I believe there were a few more WOC cast as extras, in both the Fat Acceptance Group at the beginning of the film and the Body Image Group at the end. (Those credited include Sonya Eddy as Pam, Juanita Guzman as Roxanne,  Mercedes Castro as Mercy, and Shant’e Reese as Shant’e. I would not know the name of any minor character in the film without looking them up on IMDB. None of their names area actually spoken in the film.) The main cast  (Diedra Edwards as Lydia, Staci Lawrence as Darcy, and  Ryan C. Benson as Bob) are white.

The person of color with the most lines and screen time in this movie is a skinny, black homeless man named Hilliard (Teebone Mitchell). He carries his belongings in a stroller full of plastic bags. He harasses Lydia three separate times when she walks on Venice Beach. On my first viewing of the film, I didn’t realize he was meant to be homeless until his last scene. But even in his first scene, in which , I wondered to myself why they felt the need to cast an older black man for this role, and not a 18-22 year old white frat boy. Or maybe a group of teenage boys. Skateboarders? I don’t know. Being body shamed by black men or homeless people has not been my experience as a fat woman. I work downtown, frequently take buses and walk the last of the distance to work. And I encounter a lot of different people, and I have experienced extremely different forms of harassment. Rather than being insulted for my size, it’s usually strangers complimenting my size in uncomfortable ways (“plump and juicy”), asking for my phone number(I gave someone the rejection hotline once), or saying “Hell, yeah, I like big women!” (Well, me too, sir, but I don’t go shouting it on the streets.) I realize my experiences may not be typical. But what I see in this film are multiple harmful stereotypes, rolled into one character.

The first time Hiliard is on screen, he shouts insults at Lydia and Bob, and ask them obscene questions about their sex lives. The third time Hilliard harasses Lydia, she confronts him. He insists he’s abiding by his first amendment right to free speech. And I am thinking, yes. This role really should have been played by a young white anti-SJW. This is racism, and it’s a terrible stereotype of homeless people. There are ass holes of all economic backgrounds. But the media only wants to show you homeless people who are rude, violent, and belligerent.

Lydia completely tears into him. This occurs shortly after an argument with Darcy, so she’s taking those issues out on him. She may be taking out her break up with Bob on him. And she may very well be irritable, because she’s been restrictively eating at this point in the movie, if she’s eating anything at all.  (See Anorexia Lessons sub plot). She calls him “a smelly, broken down, homeless, drug addicted, alcoholic, stinky, scabby…human disaster area” who “lives on a cardboard box.” And I can’t help thinking. Okay. True, he’s a jerk. But at the end of the day, Lydia can go home to her small but cozy apartment. She is the one with privilege here. She is clearly  hurt by his words. But would these things have have come out of her mouth if she wasn’t prejudiced? And I believe these scenes are evidence that writer/director Glen Gers has some prejudices to work through as well.

The next day, Darcy is stretching on the side of the road, when Marcus a, white homeless approaches her. He tells her “Hilliard…the man that used to yell at you” died. The cause of death is not explained. “He just woke up dead.”

“He was an ass hole,” Darcy says. Marcus agrees, then says that he’s taking up a collection to have a memorial service for Hilliard. Lydia makes a contribution. And that concludes this subplot.

Lydia doesn’t appear to grow as a person or change at all from this experience. Obviously, people of color, homeless people, and people struggling with addiction and/or mental illness shouldn’t be props in movies simply for the protagonists to learn a lesson or have a personal epiphany. But I was definitely expecting something transformative to come of this.nThis is another extra subplot the film didn’t need, and the screen time could have given to Darcy, Darcy and Lydia’s relationship, or even the Fat Acceptance Group.

In the audio commentary, Gers explained a “more well-known actor” was originally cast to play Hilliard, but backed out due to a scheduling conflict. (Gers does not name the actor.) Teebone Mitchell was hired the day before shooting. All of his scenes were filmed in one day. So he was directed to shout at Diedra Edwards for several hours straight on Venice Beach. According to Gers, onlookers realized there was a film in production, but didn’t realize Mitchell was a part of if it. So people kept asking the cast and crew to get him off the set. They thought he was an actual homeless man harassing Edwards, and that the crew was just standing idly by. I feel like these events alone should have caused the cast and crew to pause and reconsider these scenes. Who am I to say we should be taking roles away from black actors?

This film came out more than a decade ago. It is entirely possibly in 2019, perhaps sooner, Glenn Gers would look at this scene and realize it wasn’t right.

Ableism

Darcy has trouble socializing and making friends. Her eating disorder has lead to isolation. At one point in the film, she refers to herself as “socially retarded.” As a person with autism, I feel like I could relate to Darcy’s awkwardness, and occasional missteps, in trying to make friends. My personal head canon is that Darcy is a asexual, lesbian woman on the autism spectrum. But Gers doesn’t get credit for the representation, because these are my fan theories. (Autism is not an intellectual disability. And that is what we say instead of the “R word.” If we are talking about someone with the disability formerly associated with that word, we say Intellectual disability.)

In the opening scene, when Carol and Pam are telling Darcy she doesn’t belong in their Fat Acceptance group, a woman named Gwen chimes in. She repeats “This is a fat….acceptance….group.” And she does so in a tone people unfortunately use when they are speaking to someone who they perceive has having an intellectual disability.

When Bob and Lydia are arguing about Bob’s decision to undergo gastric bypass, he says it his crutch. He is “weak” and needs his “crutch.” Bob asks, “What would you think of a crippled man who doesn’t use his crutch?”

First and foremost,”Crippled” is a term some disabled people are reclaiming. And it’s better that able bodied people leave it alone. Additionally, comparing an accessibility aid (such as an actual crutch for walking), to a metaphorical crutch, is pretty damn ableist. Relying on something like a crutch, a wheelchair, a ramp, elevator, medication, stim toy, etc. is not a sign of weakness.

I am also not crazy about this film’s title, “Disfigured.”

Antisemitism 

In the opening scene, Gwen also states, that fat people not feeling welcome at the gym is like saying “the Jews didn’t feel welcome at the Nuremberg rally”

I don’t expect every movie to be 100 percent politically correct all of the time. But we don’t need to be using slurs like the r-word. And some of these topics need to be further explored or subverted if you want to include them in a film. Disfigured was a film created to challenge the status quo and address social topics.

Disfigured (2008): What About Bob?

Recap: Disfigured is a movie about friendship between a fat woman and a woman with Anorexia, who struggle with body image and food. Lydia (Diedra Edwards) tries to start a Fat Acceptance Walking Group, but when her own community won’t support her, Darcy (Staci Lawrence) steps into help. The dynamic of their relationship changes when Lydia asks Darcy to give her Anorexia Lessons.

Content warning: Sexual content. Discussion of eating disorders, intentional weight loss, and weight loss surgery.

lydiaand bob

Today I want to address the film’s romantic subplot. Bob (Ryan C. Benson)is the first person to join Lydia’s Fat Acceptance Walking Group, and almost immediately, he expresses interest in her sexually. He talks about how difficult it is to have casual sex as a fat man. This is an important topic, but the fact that Bob thought a Fat Acceptance Walking Group was a good place to talk this, with a woman he just met, is kind of a  s a problem for me. (And later on, Lydia does call him out on this.) Bob tries to be smooth about it, but his intentions are very obvious. Lydia sees right through it, and shares it when Darcy calls and asks about it. The film tries to get us to sympathize with Bob. Early on there is a scene where he rents a hotel room, hires a sex worker, and she tells him he cannot be the one on top. I do not take issue with the sex worker scene on principle. But in the context of this movie, I don’t think Bob deserves the extra screen time. He kind of strikes me as someone who tried to date women as a Nice Guy, and has since given up on the idea in favor of casual sex. Please don’t misinterpret this. There is nothing wrong with casual sex. I just think Bob’s kind of an ass.

sex worker

In spite of this, the sex scene between Lydia and Bob was powerful. It is important to show different types of bodies engaging in pleasurable sex. Our culture depict sex between conventionally attractive people whenever possible, while devaluing sexual relationships between people that don’t fit the ideals of Western society. (Sadly this is a white, heteronormative, able bodied example.)

Immediately after sex, Bob tells Lydia he is going to have gastric bypass surgery. The issue of weight loss surgery raises important questions about bodily autonomy. Weight loss surgery is not body positive, but respecting the individual choices of fat people is. If this were given more time to develop, Lydia may feel caught between her relationship with Bob and the culture of her Fat Acceptance Group.Instead the story does this to create tension between Lydia and Bob. They needed a reason to fight and break up, to drive Lydia to her low point. Weight loss surgery was an extra sub plot the film did not need. Rather than playing Fat Scattegories, and trying to depict as many hot button issues as possible, I wish the film was more focused.

Bob notes that his genetics play a role in his weight. He says that his family is fat, and since he lives with them, they pressure him to eat. (I deserve props for getting this far without mentioning that Bob does, in fact, live with his parents.) But he also states his weight is a result of him “being weak” and “eating too many french fries, and candy, and soda pop”. I don’t know if this  was in Ger’s script or Ryan C. Benson’s improvisation, but it sucks. What a one dimensional view of weight issues.

Bob fakes a knee injury to excuse himself from the walking group.  Lydia comes to his work to check on him. He admits he is trying to gain weight because he is slightly under the requirement to be admitted for weight loss surgery. Bob made it clear in the beginning he wanted to have a sexual, no strings attached relationship with Lydia. But he insists that Lydia is too needy for him, and they break off their arrangement.

In the Behind the Scenes Documentary, Glenn Gers shares that he originally envisioned a film about a fat couple. But once the character of Darcy was conceived, Lydia’s love interest “fell aside”. The friendship between the two women became the central story, and that’s how Disfigured came to be.

I understand the ways Bob drives the plot. When Darcy calls Lydia to ask about the walk, she also asks about Bob, and this is where Lydia begins to open up to her. Lydia’s break up with Bob is what triggers her to binge and want to give up her Anorexia Lessons. (But if we base this film in reality, the binge would have happened eventually.)

It would have taken some serious rewrites, but Disfigured could do with even less Bob. In the audio commentary, Gers notes the film was originally 2 hours. (I am not sure if he is referring to the script, or an earlier cut of the film.) The final release was an hour and thirty six minutes. Ryan C. Benson notes that all of Bob’s scenes remained in the film. Gers also stated that at screenings of the film, Bob was a popular character. Gers received feedback from people that wished Bob had more screen time.

There are two deleted scenes between Darcy and Lydia included on the DVD that I feel were more important than many of the Bob scenes. And since the film was originally going to be about 30 minutes longer, I am sure more valuable content was cut to include Bob.

Having a romantic, or purely sexual, relationship between fat people is a strength of this film. Disfigured could have worked with a romantic or casual sex subplot that didn’t dissolve. I understand the decision to end Lydia and Bob’s relationship with a fight. I understand why the gastric bypass subplot was introduced. But I would have loved if the movie simply allowed Lydia and Bob to have casual sexual encounters they both enjoyed, and allow the rest of the film to focus on Lydia and Darcy’s friendships. I like that Lydia, the fat woman, is the main protagonist. But the film could have benefited with more background information on Darcy. 

I also want to mention that Ryan C. Benson was the first winner of The Biggest Loser. He noted in Disfigured’s audio commentary, “And I’m one of the first people to gain it all back.”  He went on to say the show was “great”, but not a “realistic” way to lose weight, and that it was impossible to maintain the weight loss afterward. But he didn’t seem to have any qualms with The Biggest Loser itself. I was disappointed to read as of 2017, Benson was still working with one of the show’s former executive producers to try and lose more weight. (I am not including a link.) Considering his involvement with this project, and how many former contestants have spoken out against The Biggest Loser, I was surprised to hear he still supports it. (I highly recommend episode 133 off the Food Psych Podcast, in which former contestant Kai Hibbard talks about being a contestant on the show and her current life as a Health at Every Size Activist.)

Disfigured (2008): Depiction Of Eating Disorders

To recap: Disfigured (2008) is an independent film about a fat woman and a woman with Anorexia who meet in a Fat Acceptance group. Lydia (Diedra Edwards) belongs to the group, but is ambivalent about her weight and size. Darcy (Staci Lawrence) is ambivalent about recovering from her eating disorder. She tries to join the Fat Acceptance Group, but is denied membership because she is not fat. Darcy continues to reach out to Lydia, and they form an unlikely friendship. Darcy helps Lydia promote her Fat Acceptance Walks. Then Lydia asks Darcy to teach her how to be Anorexic. Buckle up.

Spoilers for Disfigured (2008). Content warning for fatphobia, discussion of weight loss and weight loss surgery, eating disorders, brief discussion of suicide and incest. The film isn’t rated by the MPAA, but consider it rated R, both for use of the word “fuck” and actual fucking.

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Darcy’s Anorexia

Lydia is the main protagonist of the film, but we do get glimpses into Darcy’s life. Darcy refers to herself as a “recovering anorexic” at the beginning of the movie It is quickly revealed she has no medical supervision and actively engages in behaviors. Her life is consumed by her job and her Anorexia. She has a tense relationship with her parents, and no close friends. An exchange between Darcy and her mother suggests she has a history of micromanaging her life. Darcy insists that she is eating and stuff an Hors d’oeuvre into her mouth out spite. When she’s in private, she spits it. Darcy is also shown exercising to the point of exhaustion, sometimes in the middle of the night. The movie also includes some of the most realistic body checking I have ever seen on screen.

Lydia and Anorexia Lessons

When Lydia asks Darcy for “Anorexia Lessons”, Darcy tries to explain,”I am not on a diet. I am sick. I have an eating disorder.” Lydia insists that she has an eating disorder too, and complains that she can’t stop eating.

There is perhaps one indication, early in the film, that Lydia may have a binge eating problem. Shortly after Darcy and Lydia meet, we see a montage of their daily activities. We see them both at their respective jobs. Darcy exercises at the gym. Lydia serves herself a very small portion of food for dinner. Darcy continues to exercise. We cut back to Lydia, who takes a pint of ice cream from the freezer. She gets a bowl out to, considers it for a moment and then figures, fuck it, and walks out of the kitchen with just the pint and the spoon. You know, sometimes I do eat the whole pint of ice cream, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But just because I am eating from the pint, doesn’t mean I am going to polish it off each time. I am sure Lydia is the same way. Maybe she just didn’t want to wash another dish? But for the sake of argument, let’s say Lydia ate all 16 oz of ice cream. When you compare that to the multiple scenes of Darcy working out, body checking, spitting out food, and never once swallowing more than a slice of cucumber, I didn’t think Lydia had an eating disorder. The film doesn’t  take a definitive stance on it either. (It’s also important to remember that  when Disfigured came out, Binge Eating Disorder was not it’s own diagnosis in the DSM. It was still categorized under Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.)

lydias plate

Darcy tells Lydia Anorexia is different from her problem. “You eat a lot and you think you’re never going to stop, but sooner or later, you do. Anorexics don’t stop.” This is insensitive of  Darcy. Of course people who binge eat eventually stop. It is one part of the cycle. Often, binge eating is a direct response to restriction. People who binge eat don’t binge eat every minute of every day, but they get caught in an infinite loop. They restrict their eating, which leads to binging, and then they try to restrict again to compensate. I tought of a YA book called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (By Sherman Alexie). In it, the protagonist learns one of his friends has Bulimia. She explains that the difference between Anorexia and Bulimia is that a person with Anorexia is always Anorexic, and she is only Bulimic when she is throwing up. The protagonist then thinks of his father, who is “only an alcoholic when he’s drinking.” These arguments do not hold up. 

“I’ll trade you. I will teach you how to eat,” Lydia says, and Darcy responds, “No thank you.” That was presumptuous of Lydia. Darcy has probably been hearing this crap as long as she’s had Anorexia. She has probably had doctors, dietitians, and therapists, people more qualified than Lydia, “teach” her how to eat several times. In this scene, Darcy tells Lydia she seen four therapists over the course of 12 years. (In a deleted scene on the DVD, Darcy reveals she developed her eating disorder when she was 11 years old. Darcy reveals she has never been inpatient, but had strict dietitians, plural.) At the core, this movie is about two women who probably should’ve told each other “go fuck yourself”. But instead, they became friends.

Darcy, coming from a place of privilege, assumes Lydia has been to therapy herself. Lydia explains she never sought professional help for her weight or eating problem, because she knows what she needs to do, she just has to do it. And to be honest. I hear this all the time from people with eating disorders. I have certainly said it myself. But instead of weight loss, we are talking about recovery. We say we don’t need dietitians because we know what we need eat, how much we need to eat, and how often we need to eat. We state that there’s no point paying someone to tell us to do what we already know we should be doing. Sometimes we have a point. We just need to buckle down and do the work. Other times, we are completely full of shit. Due to the high cost of treatment, sometime we don’t have a choice in the matter. I would argue that the right therapist could help Lydia through body image issues and teach emotional regulation, if she truly has issues with emotional eating. A Health at Every Size dietitian might be able to help her develop a better relationship with food.

For her first Anorexia Lesson, Darcy takes a brand new scale out of the box, and tells Lydia, “This is going to be your new best friend.” Next comes the kitchen clean out. Darcy tosses everything in a garbage bag except for some lemons, declaring, “Sugar, sodium, fat, syrup, fruit- the biggest deception, you are what you eat.” Next comes the drawer full of take out menus. They sit at a table, and Darcy explains to Lydia how to count her calories. Lydia insists she knows how to do this part, because she has dieted . Darcy responds, “But you gave up. You were weak.”

Darcy notes that if someone “pisses you off” or “hurts your feelings”, she deals with it by cutting more calories or exercising for longer. (“It’s emotional. You are the one in control. It’s power.”) We cut to footage of people walking down the street, which is nearly identical to the stock footage you see on any news report about “obesity.”  But the clips include a variety of different bodies, not just the fat ones you would see on the news. Lydia and Darcy sit together on the beach. Quietly, Darcy makes terrible, body shaming comments about the people walking past. Lydia insists these are “normal people” in “average bodies”. “Do you want to be average?” is Darcy’s response. Lydia asks Darcy for her honest opinion on her body. Darcy is reluctant, but after being pushed she responds, “I think it’s disgusting.”

For the purposes of this film,  the Anorexia Lessons are a way to get inside Darcy’s head and gain a better understanding of her illness. We also can learn about eating disorders and chronic dieting from Lydia’s perspective. At one point, Lydia tells Darcy, “I am in the bathroom every ten minutes, I am irritable, I am sleepy, I  am grouchy, I can’t concentrate, and did I mention I was irritable?” She notes that she’s become more preoccupied with food than she’s ever been before.

During Lydia’s free trial of Anorexia, she calls Darcy periodically for support. After she and Bob (her sexual partner) fight and break up, she calls and notes, “this is a time I would normally eat.” When Lydia inevitably binges, the movie frames it as emotional eating. And while the break up might have been a trigger, at this point Lydia had been following Darcy’s Anorexia advice for an unspecified amount of days. She set herself up for this by restricting. She doesn’t binge eat just because she is upset. She binges because she’s upset and starving.

 

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Darcy catches Lydia in a lie and finds out about the binge. She offers to stay with Lydia a few days to monitor her more closely. Lydia tries to cancel Anorexia Prime, but Darcy convinces her renew it.

The real life implications of  someone requesting, or providing, lessons on developing an eating disorder are terrible. In one of their videos Dorian, OfHerbsandAltars, talked about the Pro Anorexia movement. Dorian explained that most people in Pro Ana communities already have eating disorders and wouldn’t wish them on anyone. They go to these communities in search of support and human connection. The exception, according to Dorian, is insecure teenage girls that feel their eating disorder is the only thing they are good at. They take pride in offering “tips and tricks” to others. Darcy has a lot in common with both sides of the Pro Ana community. She is isolated and starved for human contact. When she befriends Lydia, she is interested in building her up and supporting her projects, until she becomes overly invested in Lydia’s Anorexia Lessons. Perhaps for the first time, Darcy has the opportunity to connect with someone using the very illness that isolates her.  I obviously don’t condone Darcy’s behavior. But in the beginning, Lydia asks Darcy to treat her this way. When Lydia wants to stop, this becomes a separate issue.

During the sleep over, Darcy asks Lydia if she eats a lot in the middle of the night. Lydia responds,”I graze. That’s what you are supposed to do. I used to restrict and binge, really compulsive eating, so now instead I just give myself permission. You know, take away the panic of not getting what you need…”
Evidently, Lydia has struggled with periods of restrictive and binge eating in the past. Potentially, she dealt with full blown Binge Eating Disorder. (Or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, back in 2008.) While she apparently still struggles with binging to some degree, Lydia has more awareness than she let on. Eating periodically and “giving permission” are principles of intuitive eating. It’s strange this wasn’t explored earlier. If Lydia has struggled with restrictive eating and binge eating in the past, why is she asking Darcy for Anorexia lessons? Clearly, she knows what happens when she restricts. Why should now be any different?  Does Lydia have an eating disorder, or doesn’t she? If Lydia truly struggles from Binge Eating Disorder, or some other form of EDNOS, these Anorexia Lessons are simply replacing one eating disorder for another. The film as a whole also implies that binge eating disorder is not on equal footing with Anorexia. There is a major disconnect in what Lydia says and does, and I blame the writing. Ambivalence towards her body is a major component of Lydia’s character arc, but these inconsistencies are a result of poor story telling.
Lydia may or may not have Binge Eating Disorder/EDNOS. I am willing to level and say she struggles with disordered eating. At the very least, she perceives herself as someone who binge eats.  Diet culture pathologizes the things our bodies due to protect us.  Diets fail because we’re programmed to overcompensate after a period of insufficient food intake. This may lead people to believe they have a problem with emotional eating or “food addiction”, when the problem is simply deprivation. Eating disorder treatment programs and clinicians frequently misdiagnose people in larger bodies due to assumptions and stereotypes. (I’ve linked to this before, but here it is again. A weight stigma researcher named Erin Harrop discussed this at length on the Food Psych Podcast. Episode 178.)
The Best Scene
YouTuber, AMFGVideos,released a video compilation titled, “Eating Disorder Scenes That Get It'” (Content warning for eating disorder behaviors discussed and depicted on screen). The first scene, is my favorite scene in “Disfigured”.
Darcy and Lydia are on the beach, and Darcy asks what Lydia will do when other people try to force her to eat.

“You would be amazed how free people feel to comment on what you eat .”

“I would be amazed? Excuse me, it happens to me all the time.”

The two compare notes and realize they both receive unsolicited comments about their bodies and eating habits. Seeing this scene in the video compilation is what made me finally buckle down and watch the movie. And the chemistry between the two actresses here is amazing.

Deleted Scenes

In one deleted scene, Darcy and Lydia speak over the phone. Darcy talks about developing her eating disorder at 11 . Both women discuss their relationships with their parents. We learn that Lydia’s mothers constant dieting had a negative impact on her when she was  growing up. It’s revealed that Lydia used to be a production manager on the sets of commercials and music videos, but left the industry because she felt like she didn’t fit. This is pertinent exposition that belonged in the film! In a future post, I will be discussing what scenes I would have cut to give Darcy and Lydia’s friendship more screen time.

Additional segments were cut from the sleep over scenes. Darcy thanks Lydia for coming over, which makes the whole arrangement seem more consensual, and not a result of Darcy forcing Lydia to keep starving herself. While they watch a movie together, Darcy shivers under a blanket, and comments that she is always cold. Later, Darcy and Lydia play cards, and compare notes on what disease they are at risks for due their body sizes.

Eating Disorder Featurette

As I mentioned in the previous post, Glenn Gers, the writer and director of Disfigured, actually got a panel of psychologists and activists together to critique how both Anorexia and the Fat Acceptance movement are portrayed in his film. Then he included it as a special feature on the DVD. Ideally, he could have consulted with these people BEFORE making the film. But better late than never. I have tremendous respect for Glen Gers now. In the Behind the Scenes Documentary”he was using words like”overweight”. But in the featurette, he uses more neutral and affirming language.
Gers prefaces, “If in any way, this movie makes you think Anorexia is attractive or appealing…please find out the facts…It does not solve problems, it makes them much worse. There is a lot of information out there, online and in libraries. There are a lot of people who can help. Please reach out to them, keep reaching out to them until you find someone who can help you.”
In the segment titled “Anorexia”, Dr. Ellyn Herb states that since Darcy is played by an actress, she appears “too healthy” Dr. Herb feels since Staci Lawrence looks attractive, this film doesn’t show the true horrors of Anorexia. There is some validity to this. But let’s consider To the Bone (2017), in which a thin Hollywood actress, Lilly Collins, was cast to play a woman with Anorexia. Collins herself had a history of an eating disorder. Nobody asked her to lose weight for the role, but she chose to. Makeup, lighting, and wardrobe were used to make Collins appear as gaunt as possible. In at least one scene, she had a body double who was an actual eating disorder patient. I heard a rumor that Collins also wore prosthetic cheekbones in some scenes. (Think Angelina Jolie as Maleficient.) I can’t find a source to verify, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
cheek bones
I give Disfigured credit, because it doesn’t get caught up in the “aesthetics” of Anorexia. Darcy is played by a thin actress. But we don’t get the gratuitous shots of visible bones I’ve come to expect from these films. Documentaries and educational films are extremely guilty of this, as well. It is all about shock. I am glad the film didn’t focus the movie’s entire budget and resources into making her look like the physical embodiment of death. (Or worse, ask Staci Lawrence to lose weight for the role.) 
Dr. Debora Burgard noted Darcy would be cold most of the time, and Dr. Herb explained the tendency many people with Anorexia have to hide the shape of their body under several layers of clothing. Darcy never wears anything truly revealing, but her clothes do hug her body. Dr. Burgard explained Darcy would likely experience weakness and dizziness, which we don’t see at all in the film.”Darcy looks so functional in this movie that you don’t always get how really, really, bad this experience can be…and how much of a prison it is…She is medically doing too well in the story.” 
It is true that Darcy has struggled with her eating disorder more than a decade. But it is stated in the film that she has received treatment in the past. It’s entirely possible that Darcy doesn’t appear “sick enough”, because she had a reasonable period of abstinence, and is now experiencing a relapse. And while yes, eating disorders “ravage” the body, not all eating disorders are visible. Many people go without treatment because they appear healthy. I can tell you from personal experience, I have had abnormal lab work and deficiencies at times that no one would be able to tell just by looking at me. If as a society we learn to recognize eating disorders early on, hopefully people can be helped before they begin to experience health complications.  

Dr. Herb talks about clients she has that don’t work or go to school because their eating disorder has become an all encompassing part of their life. To some degree, we see this with Darcy. True, she preforms well at work, but she didn’t appear to have any meaningful relationships in her life before meeting Lydia. I take issue with this one statement, also from Dr. Herb, “It’s the college, you know, sorority girls, that are kind of doing it for fun. But if you really have an eating disorder, you’re going to be doing this by yourself and you’re going to be hiding it.” 

In the segment called “Fat and Eating Disorders”, Lisa Tealer, a NAAFA board member from prior segments, brings up Lydia. She does not appreciate that the fat character was depicted as having a problem with emotional eating. The interview doesn’t delve much deeper than that, but at least the stereotype is addressed. Dr. Burgard states that Lydia doesn’t appear “wounded” in the way Darcy is. 

Dr. Herb states, “This is a huge question in the eating disorder field as to whether people who are large actually have an eating disorder.” *Finger quotes around eating disorders*. In this context, she’s referring to the assumption that people who are fat, got there by emotionally eating. Dr. Herb asserts that often, this is not true. 

None of the panelists mention that people with Atypical Anorexia (EDNOS, at the time of the film) or Bulimia, may be considered “overweight or obese.” Even back in 2008, this was a an oversight! I cannot blame the panelists, because we only see 20 minutes of footage. Gers may not have asked them questions pertaining to other disorders. Perhaps Gers did have footage discussing people in larger bodies, or diagnoses different than Anorexia Nervosa, but cut it for time.

A film should speak for itself. But I strongly encourage people to purchase Disfigured on DVD. That is currently the only way you can access special features, like these interviews. There are copies of the DVD on Amazon, Ebay, and in the Barnes and Noble market place. The film itself can be streamed on Amazon Prime. I recently learned that Gers, sadly, does not profit from Disfigured anymore. 

Disfigured is a conversation piece that was created to present a number of different topics. It was an ambitious project. The film took on a lot, considering, it’s run time and budget.

Purge by Sarah Darer Littman

This was my second time reading “Purge”. I received a free, uncorrected proof from an independent book store that was closing. Since I’m too cheap to buy the finished product, I’m operating under the assumption that the corrected proof is functionally identical to the published version. (Even though there is a disclaimer inside telling me not to.)

Content warning for eating disorders, alcohol use, sexual assault, incest, rape, suicide, homophobia, and homophobic slurs.

Summary

This book is a solid example of The Formula. A teenage girl named Janie Ryman  is admitted to an inpatient eating disorder program after an “incident” at her sister’s wedding that alerted her family to her condition. (Throughout the book there are teases about what happened at the wedding, but we don’t find out until nearly the end.) Janie is resistant to treatment. To her, purging is just a dieting technique. She struggles to acclimate to the unit, which has so many rules, it’s easy to break them without meaning to. The program is also a constant a war zone between “barfers” and “starvers”. At the time of Janie’s admission, the only ED patients are girls and women with Anorexia and Bulimia. They are segregated at opposite ends of the table, and constantly at odds. From observing how the patients with Anorexia dispose of their food, Janie figures out how to secretly purge on the unit.

While making a phone call, Janie witnesses another patient’s seizure. Helen, who Jane called “The Starver in Chief”, is a girl around Janie’s age. She is taken to an emergency room. Days later, the group is informed that Helen died in the hospital. Unable to process her emotions, Janie sneaks away to purge again and is caught by a nurse. The nurse tells Janie she is risking her life by continuing to engage in behaviors. Helen’s death causes Janie to come to terms with the seriousness of her Bulimia.

In her diary, Janie reveals what happened at her sister’s wedding, and the true reason for her admission to Golden Slopes. Before the wedding, Janie’s crush, Matt invited her to his parent’s pool house. He offered her alcohol, and once she was intoxicated, he persuaded her to have sex with him. Janie had never had sex before. The wedding was a week later. Matt ignored Janie and flirted with her cousin instead. 

Heartbroken, Janie drinks to the point of intoxication at the wedding. She is caught purging. Her sister was angry at her for making a scene at the wedding, and her best friend was angry that she lied about her Bulimia. Following the incident, Janie attempted suicide by swallowing a bottle of pills. Her parents didn’t realize she had taken pills. They thought she was sleeping off her hangover. Her younger brother knew better, and called 911. Janie received medical attention and was then admitted to the eating disorder program at Golden Slopes. Janie shares what happened to her with the group, her psychiatrist, and her family. The psychiatrist decides Janie is ready to leave Golden Slopes, and she is discharged shortly after her confession. Everyone is sympathetic to Janie, but no one acknowledges that she was date raped. 

Throughout the book, it’s mentioned that Danny, Janie’s lifelong friend, has romantic feelings for her. Janie was aware of those feelings prior to her hospitalization, but was only interested in Matt. The book ends with this picturesque scene on a beach, after Janie leaves Golden Slopes. She hangs out with Danny and her best friend, Kelsey. When she and Danny are alone together, she realizes she has feelings for him too. I suppose there is always time to shoehorn a last minute romance into your YA book. Janie and Danny almost kiss, but Kelsey interrupts them. The book ends with Janie saying that she isn’t cured of her bulimia, but she is optimistic about her future.

Eating Disorders and Treatment

The book has a pretty “binary” view of Anorexia and Bulimia. (The “barfers” vs. the “starvers.”) The unit consists mostly of people with Anorexia or Bulimia. Tom, who has Anorexia, later reveals to Janie he purges on occasion. Royce, another male patient, restricts in anticipation for wrestling meets, and then compensates by binging afterward. I am unsure whether this would be Binge Eating Disorder, Atypical Anorexia, or something else entirely under the Otherwise Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder category (OSFED). The characters with Anorexia are described as very thin. The characters with Bulimia have more varied body types, and at least one of them is described as being fat. Royce is described as athletic and muscular

I have never heard of a program separating patients at meals by their eating disorder behaviors or diagnosis. I have also never heard of someone being punished for using behaviors. When Janie is caught purging, she loses her phone call privileges. I touched on this in my Skin and Bones review, but patients are usually discouraged from discussing sexual trauma in group based treatment. But it wouldn’t surprise me if there are hospitals that engage in these practices. 

Otherwise, the book is an accurate portrayal of life in an inpatient eating disorder treatment program. My own experiences at each level of care have been similar to Janie’s. There were a lot of rules, and at times I was scolded for breaking them accidentally. I have been in at least one partial program where a staff member had to listen at the bathroom door to make sure I was not purging. I’ve had to stomach foods I hate because 100% compliance was the rule.

“Purge” disproved my theory that eating disorder fiction takes place in a world without dietitians. The unit is well staffed. The patients attend multiple groups in a day. Meals are supervised. At one point, the patients do a mindfulness exercise with a raisin I’ve had to do in a graduate school class.There is a therapist named Helene (not to be confused with Helen, the patient who died. Janie refers to her as “Grandma Hippy Chick”, and the description reminds me of a lot of middle aged white women therapists I’ve met over the years. (“Indian print skirt, Birkenstock sandals, funky earrings”. In my experience, this type of therapist also wears a piece of jewelry bearing a symbol associated with an South East Asian Religion, but Helene does wear an armful of bangle brackets.) Little details like this gave the book a certain charm.

The author is clearly knowledgeable about the topic. At the end of the book, the author notes having body image issues at a teenage. In this interview, Littman shares that she struggled with Bulimia in her 30’s and was hospitalized for a “breakdown”

Possible Triggers

The book describes methods that the patients use to hide food or purge in secret. There’s a scene in which Janie walks in on her roommate self-harming. There is mention of  a character experiencing both incest and sexual assault.  An entry in Janie’s journal vividly describes being raped by Matt. And as I mentioned before, Janie attempts suicide but survives.

When Tom is admitted to Golden Slopes, he is ostracized by other patients who perceive him as gay and effeminate. They use homophobic slurs, ranging from “Tinkerbell”, “Sissy”, to “Faggot”.

Janie never body shames anyone intentionally. But she certainly has opinions about other people’s bodies. I am not expecting Janie, a teenage girl with bulimia, to be 100 percent body positive all he time. But I would prefer books to depict body positivity and health at every size as part of eating disorder treatment, because these are approaches that competent treatment centers use in real life. When an fat character is depicted in a book about eating disorders, usually the book talks about how they are beautiful despite their size, and they lose weight while they are in treatment.

“She can’t stand the Anorexics. Missy thinks they look down their nose at her because she’s- let’s be blunt overweight. It doesn’t matter to them that she’s got long honey-blond hair and Caribbean-blue eyes, and radiates energy like a nuclear reactor. If you ignore the extra seventy-something pounds, Missy could be on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, or modeling underwear in the Victoria’s Secret catalog…”

“It looks like [Missy] lost a few pounds since she’s been in here, not that we’re supposed to care about stuff like that. But seriously, who wouldn’t?”

At one point. Royce boasts about his body fat percentage, because he’s an ass hole. There is an uncomfortable scene where Tom basically flashes Janie, because it’s difficult to admit his problem out loud. But it’s a moment that breaks my suspension of disbelief, because people do not behave this way in the real world.

“Instead of finishing his sentence, he just lifts up the Mets shirt and I swear, you can see the outline of every single rib. Damn. I was hoping he was one of us…”

“Purge” depicts the consequences of eating disorder and the experiences of treatment in a ways that are appropriate for a teen audiences. But due to it’s mishandling of Janie’s rape, I hesitate to recommend this book to it’s target demographic.

 It is important to explore heavy issues like suicide and sexual assault in literature. But I don’t feel the author is justified in using them as plot twists.  But what truly disturbed me is how the book brushes off rape. Matt is framed as a scummy guy for having sex with Janie, and then flirting with her cousin at her sister’s wedding. But no one will call him a rapist. He pressured a girl to have sex with him while she was under the influence of alcohol. Anything other than an enthusiastic “yes” is a “no.” And someone under the influence of alcohol cannot consent. Three times, Janie started to tell Matt she didn’t want to have sex with him, but he kept insisting. I am not going into the gritty details, but the language Janie uses to describe both the experience and her feelings are those of someone who was violated . It’s troubling that a book aimed at teenagers fails to understand consent.

Diversity

I don’t believe any of the characters are people of color.

I can only recall one other fiction book (Nothing by Roary Friedman), about a person with an eating disorder, in which their Jewish identity played a significant role in the story. The accomplishment Janie is most proud of is playing Anne Frank in her school play.

There are two male characters with eating disorders, Royce and Tom. Tom is perceived by the other patients as gay, and Royce is an example of toxic masculinity. Janie sticks up for Tom and calls out bigotry when she sees it, even when the hospital staff won’t. She doesn’t comes off as having a  straight savior complex, at least not to me. When Royce calls Tom a homophobic slur at the dinner table, Tom comes out to the group. “And then everyone stood up and clapped”. Literally, this happens in the book. Tom says that he is gay and everyone sitting at the table (except Royce) gives him a standing ovation. “Purge” doesn’t deserve a Stonewall Book Award, but it has a sympathetic gay character in it, and that counts for something.

Closing Thoughts

Despite the serious subject matter, the book is written at a level for preteens. I was probably 17 when I first read it, and it didn’t leave much of an impression on me at the time. As an adult, I enjoyed reading something that mirrored my own experiences in treatment. 

The Not-So Secret Formula of Eating Disorders in Fiction

I am going to be referencing it a lot, so I figured now is a good time to I lay out the basic formula for the majority of fictional books and movies that center around eating disorders.

Includes spoilers for every book and movie about eating disorders. The bigger spoilers are in white text. If you  don’t mind spoilers, highlight the text between parenthesis to see more specific examples. (Like this)

 

The protagonist is almost always a white teenage girl (rarely a boy) or 20-something woman with Anorexia (occasionally, Bulimia). Usually the character comes from a middle class or wealthy family, and has at least sibling. Often, their parents are divorced, or having marital problems. The character is usually, but not always, a perfectionist or overachiever.

Frequently, this protagonist is involved in a competitive sport like dancing, gymnastics, or cross country. (Examples include both the movie and book versions of The Best Little Girl in the World,  Starving in Suburbia, A Secret Between Friends, The Perfect Body, and Letting Ana Go. In Wintergirls, Lia has a ballet history but it isn’t a major part of the story.)

The plot consists of one of the following:

  1. The protagonist begins dieting and develops an eating disorder. The story covers their dissent into sickness, and ends with them going to treatment. While a handful of examples follow the person through treatment, many stories end when treatment begins.
  2. Basically the same as number 1, but the character may start and stop treatment a few times during the story before fully committing.
  3. The protagonist has struggled with an eating disorder for a significant period of time. The story begins as they enter an inpatient or residential treatment program, usually involuntarily. They are resistant to change. The story centers around their gradual progress towards choosing recovery. In most works, this is the protagonist’s first time in eating disorder treatment. But like with everything else, there are exceptions. (Examples include To The Bone, Skin and Bones, and Purge. Paperweight may not technically have the formula, but it comes close, so I am counting it as an example.)

tot-he-bone-1

Usually accessibility to treatment isn’t an issue. If the cost of treatment is mentioned, often it’s to acknowledge how wealthy the protagonist’s parents are. (Rare exceptions include Letting Ana Go, where treatment access is a real problem, and Wintergirls, where treatment is accessible, but Lia’s parents have to take out a second mortgage on their home and sell stock to accommodate her afford it.)

The middle of the story is where most films and books are unique.

Then a tragic event happens. Usually a different character with an eating disorder dies as a direct result of their illness. This inspires the the protagonist get serious about recovery. Sometimes the sacrificial lamb is a close friend of the protagonist. If the story takes place in a treatment setting, it’s usually another patient.

The protagonists that are in treatment fully commit to recovery. The characters who have not been to treatment yet, or who have tried it in the past, either return to treatment or seek it out for the first time.

There are some rare examples of plots 1 or 2 where the protagonist actually dies at the end. But usually these stories have happy endings. Most works imply that the protagonist fully recovers.

(I haven’t seen the lifetime movie, “Kate’s Secret” yet. But I know a patient death is part of Kate’s epiphany.In the book, Purge, Janie witnesses another patient having a seizure that eventually results in death. In Skin and Bones, Alice falls into a coma. And while we don’t know her fate, the prognosis is not good. In the lifetime movie,  A Secret Between Friends, the protagonist with Anorexia loses her best friend to Bulimia and a car accident. It’s complicated. Starving in Suburbia is unique in that the protagonist loses her brother to an eating disorder. In the film version of The Best Little Girl in the World, Casey meets another eating disorder patient that completes suicide just before being discharged. To the Bone is more complex than most formula examples. It has more original elements, because it’s based on the director’s experiences, but in my mind it still follows the formula. Another patient, Megan, has a miscarriage caused by her eating disorder. This is one of several factors that cause Ellen/Eli’s to leave treatment. Ultimately, it leads to her epiphany. The book Wintergirls deviates from the formula in a lot of ways I love. But the book’s entire premise is that  Lia is supernaturally terrorized by the ghost of her best friend until she chooses recovery.)

This tumblr text post is another solid take on the formula:

anamcanna

In the future, I will be discussing which works do and don’t follow the formula, and highlight examples that use it well.

Did I leave anything out? What would you include in the formula?

Disfigured (2008) Fat Acceptance and the Main Story

Lydia is a [fat] sales clerk in a trendy home furnishings store, nearing 30. Though she is a member of a Fat Acceptance Group… she is still struggling with complex feelings about her body and its place in the world. Darcy, a recovering-anorexic real estate agent in her mid-20s, is struggling with the same issues from a very different perspective. Her attempt to join the Fat Acceptance Group (since she sees herself as fat) is quickly rejected – but it introduces her to Lydia. Lydia is initially wary of Darcy’s efforts to become friends, but Darcy’s hunger for emotional contact breaks through the wall of apparent differences and they begin an unexpected friendship. At the same time Lydia gets involved in a sexual relationship with Bob, a [fat] man who joins her in walking for exercise early mornings at Venice beach. Stirred emotionally by this new romance and by her conflict with the Fat Acceptance Group, Lydia decides to ask her new friend for an unusual favor: she wants anorexia lessons. When Darcy lets Lydia inside her secret inner world, it forces both women to confront buried feelings about their bodies. Sexuality and fashion, anger and femininity, trust and fear, hunger and satisfaction: there are things that women can only talk about honestly with other women. But they never seem to find a way to do it. This is a movie about two women who do.

Spoilers for Disfigured (2008). Content warning for fatphobia, discussion of weight loss and weight loss surgery, eating disorders, brief discussion of suicide and incest. The film isn’t rated by the MPAA, but for language and sexual content, I am sure it would have received an R rating. 

The opening scene is a montage of people talking about hot button issues commonly discussed in fat acceptance and body liberation. The writer and director, Glenn Gerr, hired a group of fat actors, mostly women, to play the roles of the Fat Acceptance Group. He asked them to discuss topics pertaining to living in fat bodies, and filmed a day’s worth of these discussions. While, unscripted much of the dialogue is done in character. But the improvisation makes many these conversations feel these true and authentic. The footage is used throughout the film. The opening credits play over the first scene, a room of fat people of different races and ages sitting in a room discussing the meaning of the word “fat”. The group consists primarily of women, but at least two fat men are present. One woman talks about growing up hearing the word, “gordita” (fat or chubby in Spanish) and believing it to be a positive thing, but then feeling differently about the word as she got older. A black woman speaks about reclaiming “fat”, in the way black people reclaim the “n word”. 

The spirited discussion pauses as the protagonist, Lydia, announces that she is starting a Fat Acceptance Walking Group. At that same moment,  Darcy, a thin woman enters the room. Members of the group stare at Darcy at with pursed lip and furrowed brows as she takes an empty seat in the back. Lydia continues to discuss her idea.  She describes her group as a “non competitive, low pressure, non judgmental, atmosphere” where “anyone can walk as little or much as they like.” I believe Disfigured (2008) predates Fat Girls Hiking. But the group Lydia creates is  similar. Fat Girls Hiking group is based in Portland, Oregon, but chapters are opening all over the United States.

Nobody in the group shows the slightest bit of interest or enthusiasm in Lydia’s idea. Carol, the group leader, asks, Lydia “Are we doing weight loss now?” A woman named Pam chuckles then tells Lydia, “You can’t just slap a fat acceptance sticker on whatever you’re trying to make acceptable. Like low carb shampoo.” Pam describes exactly what companies today are doing when they try to market diet or weight loss products as body positive. Or when thin social media influences try to brand themselves as body positive without understanding what the movement represents. But that is not what’s happening here. Lydia is trying to create a safe and accessible walking group for herself and other fat people. She says that doesn’t feel comfortable in public gyms. Alice, another group member, interrupts her  and says, “That’s like saying the Jews didn’t feel comfortable at the Nuremberg Rally.” (I would consider that a false equivalency. )

I am young and relatively new to the body liberation movement. Most of my interaction has been online. I am sure this is a discussion that’s taken place in, Fat Acceptance circles. Exercise can be a sensitive topic, because it’s something diet culture deems compulsory. Body Positivity, Body Liberation, and Fat Acceptanc are about individual autonomy. Having a thin body does not make you a better person. Being healthy does not make you a better person. Most people do indeed aspire to be healthy, but they don’t owe it to anyone else to pursue health. But for the most part, the Fat Acceptance and Body Liberation movements want to make all spaces and all activities accessible to people of all sizes. 

Carol tells Lydia, the purpose of the group is to fight the discrimination and exclusion fat people experience. She implies that Lydia’s fat walking group is somehow in opposition to these goals. Carol is a straw man. She is meant to be an outrageous, exaggerated portrayal of the Fat Acceptance Movement. 

Carol’s focus shifts to Darcy, and asks, “Can we help you with something?” Darcy responds she was hoping to join the group. Pam gets straight to the point, “But this is a fat acceptance group, and you’re not fat.” Darcy introduces herself as a recovering anorexic.  She explains that she views herself as fat, and feels constant pressure to lose weight. She confesses that she hopes to learn to “accept herself as fat”. Darcy says she is effected by the “same cultural conspiracy”as the members of the Fat Acceptance Group. She begins to spout statistics. “Three quarters of American women are on some form of diet, and yet every single study shows, not only is dieting harmful to you body but it simply doesn’t work…There has to be more than one kind of acceptable body! We have to celebrate our fat!” Out of context what she says is valuable, but she is clearly appropriating the phrasing from fat activists.

Carol chuckles a little, and then explains to Darcy her group is an activist group for fat people, (“not just for anyone who wants to use us work out their personal issues”), then asks her to leave. Darcy nods and heads for the door, until Lydia asks Carol if there is a weight limit on group membership. Carol instructs the group to vote by show of hands whether “Darcy’s issues are [appropriate] to the agenda of this group”. Everyone, with the exception of Lydia, votes for Darcy’s dismissal. Carol speaks to Darcy in a condescending tone, but in this particular case, I understand where Carol is coming from. All of the emotional labor, and sometimes hand holding, that goes into to educating people about your oppression can be exhausting. And in any movement, there are privileged people that speak over oppressed people, and take up both physical or metaphorical space in a discussions. Darcy, to her credit, leaves when asked. The film tries to paint Carol as in the wrong here. But truthfully, Darcy tries to co opt a movement that was not meant for her. She was stepping into a space made specifically for fat people, and hoped that she could work on her own body image issues. Of course, there should be body image groups open to people of all sizes. But the Fat Acceptance Group, as Carol stated, pertains to Fat Activism. And while Darcy is is struggling in a significant way, her’s is a completely separate issue. There is a difference between struggling internally with your own body image and being marginalized by society for your size. It was appropriate for the group leader to ask her to leave. If Darcy had instead come to the group with the intention of being an ally, her presence may have been appropriate. It would be different if Darcy came into the group and said, “I am not fat, but I want to know how I can help spread Fat Acceptance”. But Instead, she said, “We have to celebrate our fat!” It’s also important to remember that marginalized people need spaces of their own. Often groups are designed only for women, people of color, or LGBTQ+ people, specifically for the safety and comfort of the members. When it comes to certain mental health issues, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have both open meetings- for anyone who wants support those in recovery-and closed meetings only for those in recovery. Carol’s group is meant to be for fat people only, but there are numerous groups and organizations who welcome allies.  Both types of group have their place. This movie does not focus on Darcy as a thin ally. The director did not seem to have that awareness at the time of writing the script. But throughout the course of the film, Darcy still manage to find ways of supporting the Fat Acceptance movement.

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Darcy and Lydia meet for the second time before the first walking group. Darcy thanks Lydia for “standing up for her” at group, and tells her she thinks the walk is a good idea. She offers to help promote it, but Lydia declines her help. Darcy manages to persuade Lydia to take her number so she can help get her in touch with a graphic designer. She does not stay for the walk, because she realizes her presence may make others uncomfortable. Only one other person show up, a young man named Bob. After the walk, he initiates a discussion with Darcy about casual sex.

The next time Darcy and Lydia meet up, Darcy shares with her a logo designed specifically for the walking group. Lydia asks Darcy, “What do you want from me?” Darcy insists she just wants to help Lydia promote her walk. Darcy remains suspicious. (“What am I? Some kind of project for you or something?”,”What is it, with you trying to hang out with fat girls? I’m not some sort of accessory…”) Darcy expresses that she wants to be friends with Lydia, but that she finds befriending other women difficult. Lydia levels with her and thanks her for helping. Darcy does not appear to have any friends. Her life consists only of her job and her eating disorder behaviors. It makes sense she would continue reaching out to someone who was kind to her. What does not make sense to me is why Darcy went to the Fat Acceptance Group in the first place. I am assuming in Venice, California, there are probably several eating disorder support groups Darcy could have chosen from.

In the second meeting of the Fat Acceptance Group, Carol brings Lydia’s walking group to the forefront in order “resolve” it. Lydia pleads her case, sharing that one one of the priorities of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), is “fitness at any size.” Carol retorts that her group is not NAAFA. “I am not letting it devolve into a bitch session about how we all feel. We are not a self help group, we are here to get a screwed up world to accept us. And every time we talk about what we need to change, we are muddying the water.” Carol is speaking out of anger here. But from listening to the conversations of group members in other parts of the movie, I would argue the group is a support group, and that many of the members do discuss their feelings in group. Gwen, the woman sitting next to Lydia asks, “What about accepting ourselves?” Carol responds that if a group member is struggling to accept themselves, they have internalized the prejudice. Rather than acknowledging that everyone internalizes prejudice to some degree, she speaks as if doing so is inherently wrong. Carol tells Lydia, in front of the entire group, “You are trying to change your bod..and that is self-hatred, plain and simple.” It is true that Lydia struggles with her body image in this film, and later engages in some unhealthy behaviors. But the fact remains, she is advancing Fat Acceptance by creating a walking group for fat people. Carol, as a straw woman, only sees Fat Acceptance in black and white. Rather than encouraging people to define health or fitness for themselves, Carol rejects it as a whole. This sends a harmful message about Fat Acceptance, Body Liberation, and Health at Every Size.  (Carol is to fat activism, what these straw feminist characters are to real feminism.)

There is a bonus feature on the DVD where the writer and director explains that the fat acceptance group in the movie does not represent the truth of the fat acceptance movement. Glen Gerr never uses the term “straw man”.But he openly states that in order to create conflict in the film, Carol takes it “too far”. He recommends the book, “Rethinking Thin” by Gina Kolata, which was instrumental for me in learning about health at every size. The “About Fat Acceptance and Eating Disorder” Featurette includes interviews with Dana Schusterthe president of ASDAH (Association for Size Diversity & Health)at the time the film was made, Psychologists Deb Burgard and Ellyn Herb, and Lisa Tealer, who was a board member of NAAFA (The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) at the time. 

A film should speak for itself. But seeing this featurette, the deleted scenes, and the audio commentary changed my perception of this film.I strongly encourage people to purchase or find a copy of the DVD so you can view the bonus features, both for educational and entertainment purposes.

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At the second Fat Acceptance Walk, Lydia is surprised that five new people have joined. They include Gwen, from the Fat Acceptance Group, and a sweet older couple that tells Lydia they’re looking for things to do together now that they’re retired. (These two in particular reminded me of people I met at Fat Girls Hiking.) Lydia realizes Darcy has been hanging up flyers and business cards around the city. After the walk, Lydia calls her to thank her for helping to promote the walks. Darcy refuses to accept any money for the materials, stating the graphic designer made them for her as a favor. To make conversation, Darcy asks Lydia about Bob. Lydia opens up to Darcy about the hints Bob has been dropping about wanting casual sex. This is when the two of them begin to bond.

Lydia and Bob do decide to have casual sex. There is a tasteful, thoughtful, sex scene of  interlaced with dialogue scenes of the Fat Acceptance Group. The discussion segments are more of the authentic dialogue between the cast members about sex and intimacy while living in a fat body. Most of it comes from women, but one man speaks on the topic. My one disappointment with this was all of it came from a heteronormative perspective. The film does not include dialogue about queer sex or relationships. But is so rare in film to see the sexuality of a fat person portrayed as anything but comedic.

Immediately after sex, Bob reveals that he’s having gastric bypass surgery, and this drives a wedge between them. In my opinion, this is where the film took on too many issues. The director wanted to explore several topics pertaining to weight and body image, but I think the weight loss surgery was one too many. There is enough going on between the Fat Acceptance Group, Darcy’s Anorexia, Lydia’s body image, and depicting pleasurable sex between fat people.

The next morning, Lydia begins to do her own research weight loss surgery on the internet. Darcy calls Lydia to say “hello”. In the audio commentary, Staci Lawrence, the actress who plays Darcy, notes this is the first time Darcy calls Lydia, as a friend. Lydia asks Darcy for feedback. Darcy is strongly opposed to weight loss surgery. She tells Lydia she is beautiful the way she is. At the end of the call Lydia, thanks Darcy for “talking her down.” In the very next scene, Lydia comes to Darcy’s apartment. She asks Darcy for “Anorexia Lessons.” (“Just tell me what you do and how you do it”.) And appropriately, Darcy responds, “This is a very fucked up thing you’re asking me.” Over the course of one conversation, Lydia wears her down. Darcy asks Lydia if “Anorexia Lessons”are what she really wants. Lydia responds that she needs to know that she tried all of her available options. Even though, Darcy had just finished talking Lydia out of weight loss surgery, she agrees to the “lessons.”

Lydia gives Darcy permission to abuse her, and Darcy shows no mercy. Darcy says terrible things to Lydia. But as a framing device, this is a way to get inside the mind of a person with Anorexia. While not ideal, it is informative for people who have not experienced eating disorders first hand.

Lydia and Bob break up, and this pushes Lydia to her breaking point. Lydia calls Darcy, the way you would a 12-step group sponsor. Only in this case, Darcy is Lydia’s  Pro Anorexia sponsor. Lydia admits when she is upset, she would normally eat. While Lydia never states it outright, it’s implied she’s referring to emotional eating. But we also need to keep in mind, Lydia has been adopting Darcy’s Anorexia “tips” and has been restricting. Lydia tries to distract herself, but ends up binging, and lies to Darcy about it. Darcy catches her in the lie. She shows up at Lydia’s apartment unannounced. Lydia has decided to quit her pursuit of Anorexia. But Darcy encourages her to keep going. (“So you’re just a hopeless loser? What are you afraid of?!”) Darcy offers to spend a few nights at Lydia’s to get her back on track. Lydia describes it as a “weight loss fatal attraction.” Darcy notes that Lydia eats the most when she’s at home alone, and tells her she will be there to watch her. Darcy might be undergoing some form of power trip. Maybe Anorexia is the one thing she’s truly proud of, and she feels accomplished in being able to “teach”it to someone else. Perhaps she doesn’t want to be alone in her misery. When Lydia questions why Darcy wants to start staying with Lydia to watch her, she describes herself as “socially r-word”, and states she doesn’t know how “normal people” interact. She encourages Lydia to  “take advantage” of the opportunity.  Watching the film, it seemed intrusive and controlling. There is a deleted scene in which Lydia thanks Darcy for coming over, which makes this seem more consensual.

 Darcy continues to coach Lydia, even after Lydia says she wants to stop. But Lydia pushes Darcy to confront issues she isn’t ready to deal with. And that’s not okay either.During their sleepover, Darcy finds an old photo of Lydia and a friend. Lydia reminisces about her high school friend Susie, and how they used to “binge” together. She also refers to it as shopping and then “pigging out”, which honestly, sounds like normal behavior middle class and affluent teenaged girls. It’s strange to call it binging. Lydia tries to entice Darcy to binge eat with her. Darcy completely shuts down and closes herself off. For some reason, Lydia is extremely hurt by this.

Darcy experiences a great deal of discomfort around the topics of sex and food, and Lydia is disrespectful of this. Or at the very least, that is my reading of their last two major scenes together. I had hoped the movie’s commentary would help me to understand the final conversations between Darcy and Lydia better. But I still don’t understand. I don’t know a lot abut the process of film making, but the director explained more dialogue was filmed between Darcy and Lydia, and then a significant portion of it was cut. And in these last two exchanges, that really shows.

It is true that opening up may help Darcy to heal. But Lydia shouldn’t be forcing her to. The day after their sleepover Lydia shows up at Darcy’s apartment unannounced. And she completely tears into her. I am not sure if Lydia is upset that Darcy is grossed out by binge eating, grossed out by sex, or the fact that she seems unwilling to make any progress towards recovery. Maybe it’s a combination. From what I could tell, the director and the cast are on Lydia’s side, and this is troubling to me. While I understand Lydia’s frustration, I don’t understand why she tries to force Darcy to do things she is not comfortable with.

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Lydia and Darcy have one more scene together where Lydia comes to Darcy’s work. She apologizes for saying hurtful things, and Darcy states that the things Lydia said were true. (Which I have difficulty following, because I still don’t fully understand what Lydia was trying to call her out on.) Lydia says that she wants Darcy to let out her feelings, but Darcy insists it doesn’t help her. Lydia says she wants to help Darcy, but Darcy insists she cannot be helped. Eventually Darcy breaks down, screaming and then crying. Lydia tries to comfort her. It’s raw. It’s powerful. But I don’t understand why Lydia pushes her to this point, rather than encouraging her more gently. The film focuses more on Lydia than Darcy. But the implication is, Darcy reaches out because she needs to open up to someone. Even if that person follows her around, screams at her, and disrespects her boundaries. Both women infringe upon boundaries. Throughout the film, Darcy does talk about how years of therapy and superficial caring from her parents could not heal her. The idea of Darcy needing love and compassion from another woman has validity. But I wish the film let her come to that conclusion on her own.

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The movie ends with Lydia starting her own body image group, for people of all sizes. It makes sense that Lydia feels better in a size inclusive body image group, than she did in the fat activist straw man group. But I feel like the movie sort of positions these groups in opposition. As if Lydia’s group is the right way, and Carol’s is somehow wrong. Darcy does not attend Lydia’s group. But she does call her old doctor to schedule an appointment, which implies that she is contemplating recovery.