Last week, I went to a screening of the film Straight/Curve that Project HEAL put on as part of eating disorder awareness week. I knew the premise and I was excited for an uplifting film about body image and diversity, but I walked away confused and angry (like, really angry). This isn’t meant to be a review of the film- I am far from a film critic-but as a Health at Every Size provider and as someone who has gone through her own recovery, I found a few things really problematic that I want to touch on here for anyone who has seen the film (or who hasn’t).
For anyone who hasn’t heard of the film, this is the description you get from a quick Google:
“A majority of women say they do not feel represented in fashion or in the media. Filmmaker Jenny McQuaile examines the industries and obstacles responsible for this body image crisis and showcases leaders who are fighting for diversity in the media.”
Hooray!! I naively thought as I walked in. Finally blowing the lid off the bullshit diet culture nonsense that media forces upon us daily. That is…not what I found. The movie starts with the director and her team discussing about a dozen women who are all outside the modeling “norm” and how diverse they are. Then they pan to the models getting out of the car….and I’m not kidding when I say I thought those where the examples of what we were moving away from. It took me a few minutes to realize those were the diverse models.
Before I keep going, I want to say: I have respect for all these women. They are, indeed, outside the norm for modeling (they are all above a size 0/2 that we are used to seeing in models, some of them were WOC, some of them were older than the average model). A few of them shared their histories with food and without a doubt, I have compassion for all of them and their journeys. I’m excited that the modeling industry is recognizing some variety. But as far as everyday, non-model bodies go, they weren’t particularly diverse. And there was no other discussion to acknowledge that; no mention of how bodies come in a lot more shapes/sizes/colors/abilities/genders/sexualities than what those 12 or so women represented. So while I appreciate them talking about their experience in the modeling industry, I wish the conversation zoomed out to discuss the bigger picture (no pun intended).
As far as diversity goes, I was happy to see that they included women of all ages including older and middle-aged women who are so often left out of the conversation. They also represented some people of color and some size diversity. Something I would have liked to see more of was representation of folks with different abilities, who are also frequently left out of the conversation. Also, there was no representation of non-binary folks or femmes who aren’t classically feminine. The film did include one model who was part of the LGBT+ community but again, I would have loved to see more (and more diverse) stories. I had the privilege of being on the panel discussion afterwards with the creators of ThirdWheelED who both identify as queer and who were gracious enough to make that part of the discussion afterward (and I highly recommend checking out their site if you haven't already which has a lot of great resources listed). It's hard to feel good about your body when you don't see your body represented anywhere else in mainstream media (especially a movie that's about representation).
And then there was the scene when one of the models was talking to her daughter about body image. Her daughter, who was maybe 6 or so, was saying that a girl at school had called her fat and with no hesitation, the model answered, “you’re not fat”. And I sat there wishing with everything in me that her response instead had been “it’s okay to be fat” or “who cares if you are?!” or even just "no, you're not fat but some people are and that's okay and normal" because that’s the message that the audience (kids/adolescents/young women and their parents) need to hear. And again, I want to point out how much compassion I have for the woman who said that. I get that a mother's instinct is to protect her kid and “fat” historically has been used as an insult. And I also get that she is trying to raise her daughter to love her body in a world that teaches women to hate themselves. But there was such a perfect opportunity for a discussion about size diversity and using “fat” as a descriptor (rather than an insult) and I felt sad to watch that moment pass by.
And finally, I want to touch on one scene that has stuck with me since Thursday night, that makes me rage a little bit every time I think about it. There was a scene in which one of the models, a thin woman who I believe has recovered from an eating disorder, went to get her body composition measured (first question: why?!) and the subsequent reports showed the distribution of fat on her body (second question: why?!). The doctor detailed the different types of fat a person has on her body and then declared her particular fat as being okay. And I swear you could probably see the heat rising into my cheeks as I sat watching thinking “ALL FAT IS OKAY”. Listen. I took anatomy & physiology. I know there are different kinds of fat and I understand their functions. But for a movie whose purpose was to broaden the idea of beauty and promote body diversity, “fat is only okay sometimes” feels like really questionable messaging (and also, totally against everything I stand for but that’s beside the point). The truth is that you are not wrong no matter where the fat lays on your body and more than that, you don’t have to get anyone’s permission to feel okay in your body.
I appreciate what Straight/Curve was trying to do and it was a step in the right direction. As someone who is hoping for our culture to move towards body diversity and fat acceptance with leaps and bounds, that step felt a little frustrating but I understand that’s not the way the world works (but I can dream about a world where it does, right?) There were some problematic pieces but overall, I was left wanting more. This movie is opening some doors and it’s not enough. This movie planted seeds and we have so much work to do. I dream of the day when we can see a movie about body diversity that involves women of all sizes and shapes and abilities and genders and sexualities and ages and ALL THE THINGS. Marginalized women, we need your voices! We need your movies! And dear reader, if you have suggestions for movies like this, please leave it in the comments because I would looove to watch.
Until next time xo
Photo by Annie Spratt