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Review: The Body Fights Back – “A compelling look at the way we eat and how we see ourselves”

From the time we are very young, we are subjected to images of what an ‘ideal’ body type is.  There is no escape from it.  Play with a Barbie doll or a He-Man action figure (I’m dating myself) and even at that age you’re being told what one should strive for.  Women should have a tiny waist, curves in just the right places and ONLY those places, men should be muscular and have that coveted six-pack.  In movies, advertisements and social media we are inundated with these body types, told they are desirable.  What it does, besides from fuel a billion-dollar diet industry, is feed our own misconceptions about our bodies which can lead to many different mental health issues.  The Body Fights Back, a new documentary written and directed by Marian Võsumets, explores all of this and more.

Võsumets interviews and follows a diverse cross-section of people living in the UK throughout her film’s almost two-hour run time.  This is one of the documentary’s greatest strengths, speaking to a variety of men and women who are battling through different body image issues as well as managing their differing relationships with food.  There’s Rory, a young man who would keep himself to a lean 1500 kcal per day diet while working out at least twice daily before reaching his breaking point on the weekend and binging over 10,000 calories.  All this to try and achieve that muscular look he so desired.  There’s also Imogen, a woman with other health concerns who has experienced both the stigma of being overweight as well as “thin privilege” now that she is slim.  There is also the charismatic Mojo who experienced great trauma in her childhood and dissociated herself from her physical body.  Now she is inspiring as a spokesperson about positive body image.

The most compelling of the film’s subjects perhaps is Hannah, a woman who suffers from anorexia nervosa, diagnosed when she was a teenager.  In interviews, even her tearful mother admits that when her daughter started to lose weight she thought she ‘looked good.’  It wasn’t until later in the course of the disease that the serious nature of Hannah’s weight loss was truly diagnosed leading her to inpatient treatment twice in her life, and family conflict in the battle to get her to eat.

But a constant thread in most of the subject’s stories is the self-hatred they feel, at least initially, for not fitting the mould society has created.  There’s this idea that happiness is right around the corner, that the next pound of weight loss will bring you to that utopia you’ve been craving.  But as they interview researchers, nutritionists and psychologists throughout the documentary, it becomes clear this never happens.  Our relationship to food is hardly about the food itself, but about certainty, routine, or control.  As society continues to perpetuate the idea that thin is “good” and healthy, the diet industry clings to these feelings and drives more business that makes people feel guilty or bad when it doesn’t work or doesn’t stick.  It’s a negative, never-ending cycle.

Though there are breakthroughs.  An anti-diet movement is shown as well as the increase in body positivity language and imagery discussed.  The Body Fights Back also takes a look, albeit brief, at how socioeconomic barriers can lead to differences in obesity levels, a subject that warrants its own complete film.  Võsumets’ documentary is a compelling look at the way we eat and how we see ourselves in the mirror, taking into account multiple influential factors.  The film’s major downfall is that it remains unbalanced in its view of the health implications of being overweight, concentrating instead on the fact that being bigger doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy.  This may be true, but there are also many diseases scientifically linked to obesity that should not be ignored in this discussion.

We absolutely need to alter our judgemental nature when it comes to people’s weight.  One subject who grew up in the Caribbean where, “The thicker you are, the more celebrated you are,” comments on the extreme culture shock of moving to the UK where all of a sudden she was told by everything around her that she should be ashamed of her curves.  Why do we do this to ourselves? It’s impossible for every person to obtain what society and the media deem a ‘perfect’ body type, and why should we?  The Body Fights Back makes the argument that beauty is everywhere, and everyone should be celebrated no matter their size.  Getting rid of this negative cycle around dieting and food is up to embracing another aspect of diversity that this film brings to light, and creating a world where we are more open to bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities.

The Body Fights Back was released July 13th and is currently available on digital platforms.

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