I'm sitting at my desk, looking out onto a scene of beautiful snowflakes falling on New York City. Holiday festivities are in full swing yet i'm thinking of the millions of families whose enjoyment of the season is marred by some type of eating disorder.
I've just watched a powerful short silent film made by two 13-year-old girls in Colorado, titled You Are Beautiful. In just under four minutes and with no words they tell the story of a middle school girl all alone amid her seemingly happy friends. She studies herself in the mirror, her critical eyes seeing something other than the adorable early teen that the glass shows us. At mealtime, she plays with a plate of food then dumps it in the trash.
She can't join in when all her friends dig into oozing slices of pepperoni pizza. She looks longingly at the last remaining slice, yet is unable to break free of the disorder's iron grip. She purges, her hair falls out in clumps, she faints. Even in the waiting room to see a therapist, she puts down a book on eating disorders to stare enviously at a fashion magazine featuring a model in a skin-tight pink dress. (Although what's the therapist is doing with such a magazine in her waiting room? We can forgive the filmmakers, understanding their need to compress their message.) In the last scene, the girl is in a hospital bed, tentatively reaching for a spartan plate filled with four soda crackers. It's a moment of hope.
The video closes with a message: "Over half a million U.S. teens have had an eating disorder, but few have gotten help."
Director Cameron Dreyer and producer Olivia Maloney of Aspen Academy in Greenwood Village, Colorado wrote and shot the film. Their school film advisor, Dan Marcus, was impressed early on with how meticulously they had storyboarded each scene. Little did Dreyer and Maloney know, however, that Marcus's own daughter had suffered from an eating disorders during her late teens, refusing to eat for 91 days and windng up in a treatment center. Here's a local NBC news clip on the filmmakers.
Whenever I tell someone that I have co-written a book about eating disorders, inevitably I will hear a personal story of their family member or loved one who has recovered from one or is now battling a disorder. So this is for all of you out there whose holidays are heavily shadowed by this burden.
A big thank you also to Cameron Dreyer and Olivia Maloney for making this powerful film.