Yesterday I caught part of a documentary called Thin. It was on cable, and it was playing when I flipped the television on while I was puttering around. It is interesting on many levels, but not the least of which was that I also recently caught the documentary Half-Ton Killer. Talk about two polar opposites, all in the space of a week or two, and not intentionally done. I just stumbled onto each of these, not looking for them at all.
In the first documentary, Thin, you have a crew taking a look at a residency program aimed at helping women suffering from eating disorders that put them in life a threatening position with their health, and in particular several of the actual women going through it. These are women who were clocking in at 80 lbs. The staff took their stats on a regular basis and you got to witness them coming up with low blood pressure, pulse rates, temperature... honestly, it was interesting to see how they could tell that the patients hadn't been eating or purging based on those numbers.
I have to admit, I was surprised that the body weights were so low. Of course, there were a few that it was painfully obvious that they were so emaciated (their spines and ribs so clearly and horrifyingly defined.) But frequently the body types that I saw were a match for what you would normally witness on television or the covers of magazines being touted as healthy or held up as some sort of twisted ideal.
The flip-side to Thin was the documentary Half-Ton Killer. It's the story of a woman who was over 1,000 lbs and on trial for murder. It gives a horrifying glimpse into her life and what it had become, in addition to the murder case. Everything from her daily routines to physical accommodations (like being cut out of her house, and moved in a truck) are documented.
In both documentaries, what I see is a total obsession with food. Different methods of dealing with it (and different mechanisms of enabling), but obsession nonetheless. And of course, it's never really about the food.
Which brings me to the question of why there isn't a major support system (with insurance benefits) set up for people who deal unhealthily with the same issues by consuming rather than denying or purging. More, if you watch the Half-Ton documentary all the way through you'll notice that in the case of the woman, they were after the death penalty for her, but when there was someone new to charge it resulted in a much lesser sentence. Why?
The extremes are there in both films, completely polar opposite one another, and yet they're both on the same playing field. Why is someone who is overweight less deserving of compassion than someone who is underweight? Why is it that our society finds it acceptable to say "Oh, you poor thing!" to someone who is anorexic, and "What a monster!" to someone who is morbidly obese?
In both films, food was a manner of avoiding the issues that plagued the subjects. Whether just eating away everything, or refusing to eat and focusing on the number on the scale, it all boiled down to not knowing how to handle life's stresses. Both extremes are methodologies of choice, and are essentially equal in their destructive natures. Yet, how our society views the results is vastly different.
I'm not sure what I think. I believe that the human race is a predatory species, even against itself, and that when it senses weakness or someone that can be dominated, it goes in for the attack almost without fail (and usually as a herd-mentality action.) I think that people who have weight problems are seen as weak, easy targets, and thus they fall into the category of target practice more often than not. But that doesn't answer the question why that same weakness in an anorexic or bulimic wouldn't be exploited just as vigorously (worse, it's considered acceptable or even desirable.)
Perhaps it's simply a matter of hating ourselves. In the US around 70% of the population is overweight, and I sincerely doubt the left over 30% is exclusively doing all the attacking. So, are we simply attacking what we hate in ourselves? Our own weaknesses?
What do you think?
(A little side update on both films: the woman named Polly from the Thin documentary died. The woman, Mayra, from Half-Ton Killer was interviewed last year and had lost 600 lbs.)