She could be the girl sitting next to you in discussion. The person behind you in line at the dining hall or even a close friend. The statistics for eating disorders state that one in seven American women struggle with an eating disorder and 64 percent of college women have experienced eating disorder symptoms.
However, rather than dwell on these hard numbers, Lauren Greenfield’s debut documentary, “Thin,” focuses on putting a human face to these statistics, providing a raw look at the lives of four young women struggling with anorexia.
Tonight, the Peer Support Network and Office of Residential Life at UCLA will be screening the film at De Neve Plaza Room A, followed by a Q&A with Anne Hollaender, an eating disorder survivor, as well as a panel featuring a clinician and psychiatrist from UCLA’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
Greenfield’s camera was allowed into places within the treatment center which most people have never seen. She gained access into private therapy sessions with the girls and was able to film difficulties encountered by both the staff and patients during mealtimes and morning weigh-ins. The footage draws a portrait of a disorder that is often difficult to understand but always inflicts trememdous pain on those who suffer from it and those around them.
“The making of the documentary “˜Thin’ was a continuation of my decade-long exploration of body image and the way the female body has become a primary expression of identity for girls and women in our time,” Greenfield said on her Web site. “I am intrigued by the way the female body has become a tablet on which our culture’s conflicting messages about femininity are written and rewritten.”
The documentary follows Greenfield’s critically acclaimed photography book, “Girl Culture,” which explores girls’ relationships with their body image and the role popular culture has on the relationship through photographs and interviews. While working on an assignment for “Time” magazine, Greenfield documented patient’s lives at the Renfrew Center in Coconut Grove, Florida. After finishing her assignment, she returned to the center and was given access to film four patients over a period of six months for her documentary.
“My perspective is that of a documentarian, an observer with the privilege of trusted and intimate access. While access is my personal strength in photography, the delicate nature of eating disorders and the extremely demanding requirements of film continually challenged my ability to secure access,” Greenfield said. “Trust was gradual and sometimes fleeting, and access was a fluid dance with the subjects.”
While the film explores the patient’s daily struggles, Greenfield was quick to point out that there is not a generic solution to these disorders. Each case is different, making the treatment highly personalized.
On UCLA’s campus, CAPS provides assessment and treatment for eating disorders and body image issues. One of tonight’s panel members, Dr. Gia Marson, a licensed psychologist who leads a Disordered Eating therapy group at CAPS, agreed that the film provides an exceptional look at the suffering endured.
“As you can see in this film, there is nothing glamorous about eating disorders,” Marson said. “They are serious illnesses with serious consequences. The mortality rate from anorexia is tragic.”
As the original driving force behind implementing therapy groups on campus, Dr. Marson once worked at the Renfrew Center where the documentary was filmed. She pointed out the importance of redirecting the energy of the patient. “Eating when we are hungry is an instinct,” Marson said. “It takes tremendous strength to override an instinct. That same strength can be used toward recovery during treatment. People with eating disorders are typically talented and sensitive. I consider it a privilege to work with them.”
Peer Support Network member Diane Gallo believes screening films like these brings awareness on campus about mental health issues while taking away the stigma that might hinder students from seeking treatment. “I know people know about eating disorders, but a lot of times people don’t realize how serious it is,” Gallo said.
Marson stressed the importance of seeking assessment and treatment if you have any symptoms. “If you know someone with an eating disorder, talk with them,” she said. “Tell them your concerns directly and compassionately, say what you observe, make no assumptions about what their behavior means, and ask if you can help connect them with resources.”