Anorexia is easier to swallow on television.
It’s all the same. it starts with a couple of innocent remarks taken the wrong way, exacerbated by unrealistic cultural ideals of beauty. Multiply that by underlying issues already present in the person’s life and it’s the perfect recipe for an eating disorder.
There’s always those first few scenes of the protagonist smiling coyly and saying, “No, thank you” to the French fries in the lunch line. Onlookers gasp and marvel at her willpower. Cut to a scene of the boy/girl/talent agent finally noticing her coupled with the obligatory clichéd dialogue: “You look fantastic! What’s different? Did you do something with your hair? You look amazing! What’s your secret!” Knowing smile on the screen, snickers and sneers in the audience.
Move to a dramatic montage of our protagonist running, wild-eyed and rosy-cheeked, through whatever interchangeable city this tale is set in. She’s strong, so strong she passes all the runners on the street. But the next day her hair falls out in her brush, and the day after that Mom notices that she’s always skipping breakfast, and leaving dinner early.
Now we move to the part of the movie where her deceptions get sneakier as she tries to hide the disease that’s taking over her. She stares at her ribs in the mirror, looking dissatisfied. Maybe she sews extra weight into her sweatpants, because she’s wearing sweatpants now to hide the weight she’s losing.
Then her parents fight, if they’re not already divorced, because screenwriters love to blame eating disorders on the parents’ failed marriages. She spirals downhill and out of control until someone intervenes, usually a hospital, because she’s fooled her doctor at least once already. The movie ends with our leading lady in whatever sport or activity she started out doing in the beginning of the movie, but now she’s healthy and happy. Credits roll.
We love it. We love our conflict cut and shrink-wrapped into half-hour sitcom or 90-minute lifetime movie packages. It doesn’t matter how terrifying the conflict is in real life, we’ll gladly escape our own troubles to watch someone else’s from start to finish, cause to effect, problem to solution.
Anorexia is not like that.