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“Thin” is Thick with Reality

HBO's documentary <em>Thin</em>
HBO's "Thin"

Brittany started dieting at age 12 because she wanted to look like her classmates. After gaining weight in an eating disorder treatment center, the under 100-pound teen grabs at the skin under her chin, sobbing. She thinks she has a double chin.

Shelly has a tube that runs out of her stomach because she’s so sick, and she’s found a way to push her stomach the right way so the food she’s eaten is sucked out. At just over 80 pounds, Shelly thinks she is “big.”

These women are among those documented in the 2006 film, “Thin,” a powerful and candid documentary I watched for the first time this week. I was immensely moved by it, and recommend every young girl, woman, and woman’s advocate rent it. Director Lauren Greenfield captures the secret lives of those living with this crippling diseases of anorexia and bulimia.

Here is a clip from the documentary with commentary by the director, Lauren Greenfield. Some of the images are graphic.


These women are addicted. They’re addicted to routines. They’re addicted to chewing food as slowly as possible, drinking water between each bite, hoarding away packets of ketchup and mustard to flavor the incredibly small portions of food they do eat. They’re addicted to their under-200-calories-a-day diets, and have panic attacks when presented a birthday cupcake. Seeing triple digits on the scale is the end of the world to them (Shelly says if she reaches 110, she’ll die), but they can’t see that their slow hearts, low blood pressure and damaged livers will be the real death of them. They are prisoners to their eating disorders–the crippling diseases of anorexia and bulimia, which are influenced by genetics but exacerbated by their environment and their insecurities.

As an aspiring documentary filmmaker, I was extremely intrigued by the cinema verité style of this film — where the camera crew act as flies on the wall, capturing everything — and amazed by how comfortable the girls were with the cameras catching them in their most intimate moments — being weighed, crying, even purging. One of the subjects, when interviewed after the film, said she felt misunderstood and wanted to show the world the truth behind her disorder. “Hey, if there is somebody out there who could benefit from this, then I would like to participate,” she said.

These women identify themselves by their ability to lose weight, by their years-long routines of avoiding meals, purging, and shrinking in size. They know they have to gain weight, but it terrifies them.
They’re also terrified they’ll lose the part of them they know, the girl who loses more and more weight. It’s sad because I know they have so much to offer to the world besides their low jean size.

Throughout the entire film, I wanted to jump into the screen and yell at the women, tell them they’re beautiful. I wondered how they could hate their lives so much when they have beautiful children, supportive families, and college degrees. I wondered how they can possibly think what stares back in the mirror at them is ugly.

Which made me think… how often do I look in the mirror and criticize what I see? How often am I hard on myself?

While the girls are dealing with hardships in a treatment center that I can’t imagine, I can absolutely relate to their concern of body image. The film was a wake-up call. Look what body obsession can do to you. Look how much these girls have to offer the world and look how they are, literally, wasting away. Be grateful for all the support that surrounds you and be grateful for the beautiful body you have.

Check out the web site for this film and go see this movie. And if you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s time to seek help immediately. Here are some resources.


3 thoughts on ““Thin” is Thick with Reality

  1. I know that when I was a teenager, I was completely obsessed about my weight, how I looked, what guys and girls thought about my body…then slowly, as I got older, I realized how very unhappy I was. Now, at 31, I’m really just starting to look at myself from the inside and what makes me, me. And yes, I still obsess about my body and weight, and I’m honestly not sure if that will go away, but it’s under control.

  2. It sounded like a good specialised ED health unit for them. The problem with the UK is that there is (I think) only one specialised Eating Disorder unit in the whole of the UK. So within various different countries Ireland/Scotland/England/Wales – there’s only one. Which is something I find very saddening and frustrating, that young/old men and women can’t get the help they need.

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