Mom's TV Review: Starving in Suburbia
The Lifetime TV movie Starving in Suburbia is the latest media project to tackle the difficult issues of body image and eating disorders in tweens and teens — girls and boys. After watching the film, a fictional story about a 17-year-old who adopts anorexia as a life choice after coming across a Website called Thinspiration, MomSpeaker Rachée Fagg had the chance to reflect on and speak to her daughter about her a topic that's very personal to her.
Last night my sister, daughter and I watched the Lifetime movie Starving in Suburbia. My sister thought the movie was about people who had lost their jobs and were unable to afford food, therefore making them starve, but this movie was much darker — about the horrors of anorexia. The movie was dark, literally, as if Lifetime wanted to show that anorexia was a horror story and not a choice made by people for vanity reasons.
The movie centers around Hannah, a 17-year-old who becomes interested with “thinspiration” websites. Her interest grows to obsession and soon her Thinspo support person, ButterflyAna, seems to possess her as Hannah falls deeper and deeper into her disorder. Paralleling Hanna’s story is that of her, brother, Theo, who is trying to make weight for wrestling. Hannah is being encouraged to eat while her brother is being discouraged to do anything to threaten his chances for a wrestling victory. In Lifetime movie fashion, disaster strikes before the movie resolves itself (a little too neatly, I feel), but I have to thank Lifetime for opening up dialogue between my daughter and myself.
I grew up in a “Fat Family.” We had/have/live food/body weight issues. The message that I got was that “fat” was bad and “thin” was good. Things would be so much better when I lost weight. Things would happen, life could begin and there would be no worries if I were down to a single-digit dress size. My family didn’t know about portion sizes or moderation. We didn’t exercise much, and if we did, it only meant that we could eat more. It was nothing to buy in bulk, eat in bulk, but then wonder why we were still looking the same. It was a thing to berate ourselves and comment on what was going into our mouths until even the most innocent foods — an extra piece of bread, one more sip of soda or a taste of ice cream — was fodder to be remarked and commented on.
The first time I had heard about anorexia and eating disorders I was in high school and struggling to deal with the weight I put on somewhere during the summer of eighth grade.
I always thought that I was to lazy, too unfocused and too undisciplined to do what seemed to be needed to do to lose weight. It was so much easier to hit the school store and snack on candy and soda than to remember that I wasn’t supposed to eat. The times when I would try to not eat, calling it “fasting,” I would get so dizzy and hungry that I would be eating by lunchtime. Anorexia was something that didn’t happen to girls like me. This was a disease for the privileged, those who could afford the luxury of not eating, not poor Black girls who better not waste any food. When I got to college, a dormmate suffered from anorexia, and when she would be worn down to make the trip to the cafeteria with me, I would feel ashamed of the pile of food on my plate as she munched sprouts and sipped water. I would often look at my thick legs and soft belly and wonder why I couldn’t say no to food.
Purging was a thing I tried, but I got scared when one day I couldn’t stop throwing up. That is when I wasn’t forgetting that I was supposed to be purging. The binge part, I got. The purging . . . I was always forgetting to make myself throw up, so I was just consuming too many calories and adding to my “weight problem.” Besides, I was so afraid of losing my hair or my teeth falling out that this ended before I got too much into trouble.
Weight has been an up-and-down battle, but having my own daughter is the push I need to work through the negative talk and want more. The Bee is naturally thin, and it scares me because secretly (well, not now) it pleases me. She is healthy . . . ish. She runs track, eats like she has a hollow leg and is very (very) confident about herself. I have tried to speak about body images in the most positive light around her so that she won’t ever have the doubts that I did, but watching Starving in Surburbia gave us an opportunity to talk. I brought up the movie and we talked about body images. I was honest with her about feeling like I am not my best, and she responded that we could go to the track, make different food choices or just be happy. In that teen way that is becoming all too familiar, she assured me that “I eat! I would let you know if there were problems, besides I like looking good and those girls did not look good.”
Weight and body image is still a thing, but I am working with what I got and not waiting to get to where I think I should be. Having my teen talk about being “attractive” and “so good looking” is a nice reminder that I am doing something right and that we both are a bit more confident and that we are solid. In a very good way.
Watch Starving in Suburbia online here.
Rachée Fagg is a Delaware County, PA mom. This post was adapted from her blog, Say It Rah-shay.