The Truth About Eating Disorders: Hungry For Control

Society has created a monster, a monster that is the need to both lose and gain weight. Nearly, 20 million women in the United States alone will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Every 62 minutes at least one person dies due to an eating disorder. Throughout history there’s been the belief that women are merely an object of men’s sexual desires. A woman is suppose to be perfectly beautiful and intelligent, while being not too loud or opinionated; essentially she is supposed to be perfect in all aspects of life. The demands of womanhood have taken its toll on millions of women throughout the world. The toll of having to be perfect. The simple truth is the best way to be perfect is to not exist. A woman starves herself in hopes of fulfilling one of the seeming qualifications of being a women, to be skinny. The hope is if she’s skinny, the world will ignore the rest of her flaws, since we as a society deem being skinny as being beautiful. So when a woman or young girl feels incomplete, they could turn to a wide range of eating disorders in search of love, control and ultimately self acceptance. However, the regulation of food isn’t the only way to disappear; sometimes a woman might feel most invisible when she doesn’t fit society’s thin mold. A woman may gain weight in hope that the world will ignore her and allow her to feel safe for the first time in her life. When you think about an eating disorder, you think about a young girl obsessed with looking like a beautiful model, not an obese middle age black women or a biracial teen who is apart of the upper middle class. Eating disorders are more about being in control than they are about being skinny. In world filled with chaos sometimes the only control someone has is what they do with their bodies. In the memoir, Hunger., and the film, Feed, we are shown a different side of eating disorders. A side that isn’t filled with rich white girls obsessed with becoming beautiful. We are introduced to the stories about the true trauma and the heights one goes in order to gain control of life.
In the 2017 film, Feed, high school senior, Olivia Grey deals with the loss of her twin brother in a car accident. Matt , Olivia’s twin, is the student body president and future frat boy, while Olivia is destined be valedictorian and attending Yale in the fall. After Matt dies, it becomes clear the amount of pressure Olivia is under and how close she was with her twin. The moment Matt dies, Olivia starts to destroy her relationship with food. At Matt’s wake, Olivia stricken with grief refuses to eat. Weeks after her twin’s death it comes to Olivia’s attention that she might not have the highest GPA, she then proceeds to throw herself into her schoolwork. Olivia is so focused on school and obtaining the highest GPA that she forgets to eat. As time progresses, Olivia deliberately stops eating dinner and lunch, only eating an apple or banana in the morning. During one of her late night study sessions, Matt appears in her bedroom ready to ease his twins pain. He offers to help her study and promises after they finish, they’ll pig out of ice cream like old times. Olivia is overjoyed at seeing her deceased brother. The appearance of her brother, drives Olivia over the edge by leaving everything to her brother, even eating. She brings bags of food for her brother by their old treehouse. Olivia believes if she feeds her brother, he won’t leave her.
It becomes clear to the audience that Matt is not having a positive impact on Olivia’s life when after a long night of studying Olivia becomes frustrated and distracted. Matt becomes aggressive and demands Olivia to get up and go for a run. A couple of days later, Olivia goes to Julian’s house. When she and Julian are about to kiss, Matt decides to interrupt and starts to speak to Olivia. “ Do you want me to go Liv, so you can be alone. Don’t let him distract you Liv.” Olivia stops and Julian becomes concerned. Matt then proceeds to say “ His gonna go to college, going to meet other girls, smarter, prettier girls who aren’t messed up in the head like you. He’s gonna leave you Liv. He’s gonna hurt you Liv, he’s gonna hurt you I know it. I’ll never leave you because I love you.” During Matt’s speech Julian is talking to Olivia , asking her what’s wrong and trying to make sure she’s alright. Julian then tells Olivia he loves her. After hearing Julian’s confession Olivia ignores her brother and proceeds to try hook up with Julian. Julian leaves to grab what the audience can infer is a condom. Olivia asks Matt to leave and Matt responds by saying “Let’s see how long you last without me this time.” Olivia and Julian proceed to hook up, in this moment when Olivia is only in her underwear the audience can vividly see how sick she has actually become. While they are hooking up, Olivia starts to panic after she begins to replay the car accident in her head. She accidently screams her brothers name, scaring Julian causing him to ask her to leave and tells her she needs help. The scene shows how much control her trauma and her brother have over her. The new Matt is not like the brother she used to know. It is her disorder using her grief as weapon forcing her to stop eating. The audience can clearly see that Matt is not really her brother but a physical manifestation of her eating disorder. The Eating disorder forces Olivia out of situations where she lacks control. Olivia’s eating disorder is a way for her to deal with the death of her brother and the stress she faces due to school.
During her parents Christmas party, it becomes even more apparent that Olivia is mental ill and needs help, when her mother finds bags of rotten food hidden behind the twins old treehouse and Matt (her ED) tries to convince Olivia to jump from the roof , so they can die together. Olivia asks Matt to not make her do this; Matt in response says “ This isn’t going away Liv, it’s not going to end after graduation. You think dads gonna let you do whatever you want? He’s not. You’re going to his school; you’re taking over his firm just like he wanted me to do. They’ll never gonna love you, not like I do.” He then proceeds to comfort Olivia, telling her he loves her. She asks if it’s gonna hurt and he says “nothing will ever hurt again” and she has to do this because she promised they would die together. Matt’s conversions with Olivia is merely an inner monologue between her and her ED.
Luckily, her parents stop her before she jumps. However, even after Olivia’s parents check her into rehab, Matt follows and continues to emotionally abuse her and convince Olivia he needs to the food more than she does. This film is an accurate depiction of what it’s like to live with a mental illness and the extreme difficulties someone faces on the road to recovery. The producer and actress, Troian Bellisario dealt with an eating disorder, anorexia, in her late teens just like Olivia giving a realistic insight to eating disorders. Troian originally wrote the screenplay for Feed fours years after she went to rehab herself. Troian explained in interviews that her own story with anorexia inspired Feed. Mass media for years has portrayed eating disorders as simple and an easy fix. In Feed, that is not the case even after rehab Olivia still at times of stress around food sees her ED, manifested as her dead brother. In the case of any mental illness, the battle does not end in rehab or after, with the use expensive medication nor therapy. Not only does the media portray eating disorders as an easy fix but as a one dimension disorder that is ruled and controlled by the need to be skinny to meet society ideals. Based on Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger., that’s not in any form the truth.
In the memoir, Gay talks about her own struggles with her weight, not losing weight, but gaining it. In the beginning of her memoir she writes “This is a memoir of (my) body because, more often than not, stories of bodies like mine are ignored or dismissed or derided. People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions. They think they know the why of my body. They do not (Gay.5).” People passing Roxana Gay on street do not see her disorder or trauma, only her weight. When Gay was twelve years old, she was gang raped in the woods near her family home. For nearly 30 years she kept it a secret from her family. That’s where Gay lost control of her body and realized she needed to take control back, so she started to indulge in food in hope that she could hide. “…I ate because I thought that if my body became repulsive, I could keep men away. Even at a young age, I understood that to be fat was to be undesirable to men. This is what most girls are taught- that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society(Gay.13).” Gay, like a number of women, are forced to believe that being skinny is the synonym for being beautiful. Due to society’s expectations, Gay began to eat more and more creating a body she could feel safe in. The sexual assault Gay went through took a toll and created a life trauma and a void that she felt needed to be filled. She states “ I was determined to fill the void, and food was what I used to build a shield around what was left of me.” Gay’s story captures a different side of eating disorders, the other side of the spectrum. Eating disorders do not revolve around just losing weight, but are defined as a wide range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. Every eating disorder is different and has different triggers, causes and treatments needed. Gay’s story provides a new perspective on trauma and the eating disorders that can follow. Gay talks about eating disorders in a way most have been afraid to do. People are afraid to consider that one is capable of defying society’s expectations and battle trauma by gaining weight instead of losing it. The thing about trauma is there is no wrong or right way to battle it.
Both Feed and Hunger. capture eating disorders in a different light that is often not talked about in the mass media. Each person has a distinct way they deal with trauma and the need for control, whether it’s anorexia, bulimia or purging. The discussion between the media and the public needs to be inclusive toward everyone. Everyone can be affected by an eating disorder no matter their weight, race, or gender. The reason I hold Hunger. And Feed at a high regard is they open up the conversion to be inclusive of everyone not just the stereotypes people have when they know someone has an eating disorder. Eating disorders are an epidemic and the best way to fight it, is to open up the conversion. We are capable of taking control of the situation and ultimately creating a positive narrative that help those who are affected by not only eating disorders, but mental illness in general.