'The Skinny' Gives A Powerful Perspective On Eating Disorders & Creator Jessie Kahnweiler Shares What Sets It Apart
I don't think I've ever come across a portrayal of an eating disorder in the media that I've found realistic. So much of the film and TV representations of eating disorders, which are few and far between to begin with, are based on stereotypical and even harmful ideas of eating disorders, often giving a false notion that eating disorders only affect thin, young, wealthy white women. Luckily, Jessie Kahnweiler's The Skinny, a new web series currently airing on Refinery29.com, is turning that on its head, as the story centers around her character's battle with bulimia.
"I had this story bursting out of me and I had to get it out into the world," Khanweiler tells Bustle in an interview about The Skinny. She reveals that she had struggled with bulimia in her own life and it was her journey in recovery that made her realize how little the media seemed to know about telling the stories of eating disorder survivors. "There's so many shows about drugs and sex and violence and this is something that is so relevant in our culture. It wasn't being shown on TV in a way that I felt was really speaking to me and telling my story," she says. "I'm not a model, I'm this huge feminist, I've never been really thin.
Kahnweiler's character on The Skinny, who goes by the same name, is based on that story. She chronicled her journey for Refinery29, which she said started as early as age 12 and continued all the way until her 27th birthday, when she finally realized something had to change. Since then, she's found sharing her story to be an important part of her eating disorder recovery. "The best medicine for my bulimia has been to talk about these issues honestly and openly and take away the shame," she told the website.
Since Kahnweiler doesn't fit that stereotypical mold of what media would have you believe is the typical eating disorder survivor, her story is already a step forward. However, she is also breaking down barriers by discussing eating disorders in a raw, authentic way, as The Skinny shows the realities of her character's disorder, including binging, purging, and stealing laxatives. These behaviors aren't often actually shown on TV or film, even when an eating disorder is being discussed. Instead, we're usually shown a more "glamorous" narrative that is based around the sufferer wanting to be Hollywood-thin and going to residential treatment to be "cured," which is a very watered-down version of the real struggles that eating disorders can involve.
As an eating disorder survivor myself, I can say firsthand that The Skinny is telling the story of what it's like to live with an eating disorder. They can involve a lot of secrecy, hiding, and worst of all, shame. In my experience, there's a degree of self-hate involved in living with an eating disorder, and it's definitely not glamorous, as some portrayals might have you believe. In fact, the media can often be a huge source of eating disorder perpetuation, as the National Eating Disorder Association has reported on how increased exposure to media leads to "body dissatisfaction and disordered eating." So instead of further carrying on the societal myths of eating disorder survivors, Kahnweiler manages to create a story that is both compelling and realistic.
"I want The Skinny to serve as a catalyst for a larger conversation about food, body, shame, and eating disorder," Kahnweiler told Refinery29 in a video interview. Her plan seems to be working, as there has been a lot of attention around The Skinny' s Sundance premiere. In addition to starting that conversation, she tells me about her larger hopes for the series, saying that even though it's a "dark comedy," the goal is not to make eating disorders the butt of the joke.
"If you've had an eating disorder or struggled with food or weight, it's f*cking hell," she says. I didn't want to make light of it in the way that I had seen it portrayed in other films and TV, where it made me feel even more alone and ashamed." Hopefully, thanks to The Skinny, others who have struggled with eating disorders can start to feel less alone.
Images: Courtesy of Rubenstein Communications (2)