Quick disclaimer: It’s iVillage (not VA) style to turn headlines into rhetorical questions. Of course you all know that my answer to that question is “a thousand times, yes, good Lord, stop asking me that!”
So the critical tone of my review of America The Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments isn’t about finding fault with its premise. Director Darryl Roberts and I are five by five on all of that. So much so that I was a little hesitant to be critical out here in blogland — I want to unabashedly support such a big, bold step for body positivity in general and not get caught up in semantic debates. I hate when activists waste time arguing with each other that could be better spent working for the common good.
So, common good: Go see this movie! Let’s show the diet industry that we aren’t going to be bought and sold anymore! Define beauty and health on your own terms and don’t let anyone reduce either of those ideas to a number on the scale.
But also: I have some concerns about Roberts’ execution. Namely, the way he treats women with eating disorders as if they are fragile, endangered birds who have been caged and tortured by a ruthless media/beauty/diet industry.
As Autumn over at The Beheld can explain so much better than I, hating your body may be a symptom of an eating disorder but it does not inevitably lead to an eating disorder, and neither do skinny models in magazines or fad diets or any other manifestations of our thin-obsessed culture, which is just one part of a pretty complicated story. Plus, when you portray eating disorder patients as victims — as Roberts does with plenty of slow pans on what they are or aren’t eating and how much their ribs stick out — you take away their power to overcome. And from what I could tell, the women interviewed for this film were fighting damn hard, even if they weren’t on the path to health that Roberts’ would have chosen for them.
But the main reason I objected to the movie’s focus on ED is that it makes the whole thing revolve around extreme weight loss and extreme weight gain as if those are the only stories to tell about our culture’s Thin Commandments. In fact, most of the 75 percent of women with disordered eating habits* fall somewhere along the spectrum between those extremes. And if we think the worst case scenarios are all we have to worry about, we might not pay attention to the more subtle and nuanced ways the Thin Commandments mess with our lives every day. I’d love to see a documentary that delves into that.
For more, check out my full review on Never Say Diet.
PS. You know who totally rocks — in an empowered, not-even-close-to-a-victim way — in ATB2? Our girl Ragen Chastein of Dances With Fat! Seriously, go see it for her dancing and smartness, if for no other reason. Then go read her fantastic post on why obesity is not the problem — stigma is the problem.
*Okay, this stat is from a survey by Self Magazine, so take it with a grain of salt — but I have to say, from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t sound too high. (And they did partner with researchers at UNC Chapel Hill.)