Eating disorders are complex and devastating conditions that affect millions of individuals worldwide. These disorders encompass a range of unhealthy behaviors and attitudes towards food and body image, and they often lead to profound physical and psychological consequences. In an effort to shed light on this critical issue, an array of movies have explored the harrowing and often heartbreaking experiences of those grappling with eating disorders.

This curated list of movies delves into the depths of this challenging subject matter, aiming to raise awareness, foster empathy, and provoke meaningful conversations. These movies offer poignant portrayals of characters struggling with anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorders, and other related conditions. While some of these movies don’t have eating disorders as their central working theme, it is important to highlight them because, in some way, they tackle the complexities of body image, societal pressures, and the emotional turmoil that accompanies these disorders.

Since eating disorders are often not given the weight they deserve, through the lens of cinema, these movies provide an opportunity for viewers to gain insights into the often misunderstood world of eating disorders. They depict the trials and tribulations of those who grapple with these conditions, showcasing the resilience, vulnerability, and courage of individuals on their path to recovery.

1. The Best Little Girl in the World (1981)

Based on the novel of the same name by Steven Levenkron ‘The Best Little Girl in the World’  deals with the sensitive and serious issue of eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa.

It tells the story of a teenage girl named Casey Powell, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who appears to be the perfect daughter in a seemingly ideal family. She is intelligent, talented, and attractive, but underneath her exterior lies a deeply troubled individual. Casey becomes obsessed with her weight and begins a dangerous descent into anorexia nervosa, a mental health disorder characterized by an extreme fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, and self-imposed starvation.

The film explores Casey’s struggles with her self-image, the pressure to be thin and perfect, and her increasing isolation as her disorder takes hold. It also delves into the impact of Casey’s condition on her family, particularly her mother and sister, who are both concerned and helpless in the face of her illness.

2. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story uses an experimental approach to dive into its narrative. Directed by Todd Haynes, the movie tells the story of Karen Carpenter, one-half of the popular 1970s musical duo The Carpenters, alongside her brother Richard Carpenter. What makes this film unique is that it uses Barbie dolls instead of human actors to portray the characters, which adds a surreal and disturbing element to the narrative. 

Karen Carpenter’s battle with anorexia ultimately led to her untimely death in 1983 at the age of 32. The movie explores the various factors that contributed to her eating disorder, including societal pressure to maintain a certain image of beauty and perfection, as well as personal and familial issues. Karen’s tragic story serves as a poignant example of the devastating effects of eating disorders, and the film highlights the need for greater awareness, understanding, and support for those who suffer from them.

Even though the film’s use of Barbie dolls and its unauthorized use of The Carpenters’ music led to legal disputes, making the movie largely unavailable for public viewing, it is an important movie that explores eating disorders and must serve as essential viewing.

3. For the Love of Nancy (1994)

Directed by Paul Schneider and starring Tracey Gold in the lead role, For the Love of Nancy portrays the emotional and psychological turmoil that individuals with eating disorders often experience. Nancy’s character demonstrates how the disorder can consume one’s thoughts and lead to feelings of self-worthlessness.

Throughout the movie, there is an emphasis on the importance of seeking treatment for eating disorders. Nancy’s journey includes hospitalization, therapy, and support groups, highlighting the different approaches to recovery. Additionally, it also explores media influences that can contribute to the development of eating disorders.  Nancy’s obsession with achieving a certain body image reflects the unrealistic standards that some individuals feel pressured to meet.

4. 301, 302 (1995)

The movie is primarily focused on the lives of two women who are neighbors in an apartment complex: Yoon-hee (played by Bang Eun-hee), who lives in apartment 301, and Seo-young (played by Im Soo-jung), who lives in apartment 302.  Yoon-hee is a reclusive, neurotic chef who has an obsession with cooking and food, particularly cleanliness and perfection in her culinary creations. She has a deeply troubled past and struggles with various psychological issues.

On the other hand, Seo-young is a former successful writer who is suffering from anorexia nervosa. She has a severe aversion to food and has developed an extreme fear of gaining weight. The film explores Seo-young’s deteriorating mental and physical health as she tries to resist eating and the relationship that develops between her and Yoon-hee, her neighbor.

301, 302 is one of those rare movies that delve into the psychological trauma and inner demons of both characters, shedding light on their unhealthy relationships with food and the consequences of their respective eating disorders. It provides a dark and intense portrayal of the destructive nature of eating disorders, the isolation they can cause, and the ways they affect the lives of those who suffer from them.

5. Perfect Body (1997)

Movies about Eating Disorders - Perfect Body

The 1997 drama follows Andie Bradley, portrayed by actress Amy Jo Johnson, a talented gymnast who dreams of making it to the Olympics. However, Andie struggles with the intense demands of the sport, body image issues, and the expectations placed on her by her coach and family.

As the movie progresses, Andie becomes increasingly obsessed with her weight and body image in her quest for the “perfect body” that she believes will help her excel in gymnastics. She resorts to unhealthy eating habits and takes dangerous measures to lose weight, putting her health and well-being at risk.

Exploring the dark side of competitive sports, Perfect Body takes a look at the psychological toll that the pursuit of perfection can take on young athletes.

6. Starving in Suburbia (2014)

Starving in Suburbia (a.k.a Thinsporation) tells the story of a teenage girl named Hannah Warner, played by actress Laura Wiggins. Hannah is a high school student who becomes obsessed with achieving what she believes to be the perfect body. She is influenced by images of idealized beauty in the media and pressured by societal expectations, including those from her peers and her own mother.

In her quest for thinness and acceptance, Hannah starts engaging in dangerous behaviors related to eating disorders. She becomes anorexic and begins to starve herself. As her condition worsens, she hides her struggles from her family and friends.

7. My Skinny Sister (2015)

The Swedish-Germa drama My Skinny Sister primarily focuses on the themes of eating disorders, family dynamics, and the complexities of sibling relationships.

The story revolves around a young girl named Stella (played by Rebecka Josephson), who becomes concerned about her older sister Katja’s (played by Amy Diamond) increasingly erratic behavior. Katja is an accomplished figure skater and appears to have a perfect life, but Stella soon discovers that her sister is struggling with an eating disorder, specifically anorexia nervosa.

The movie dives into Stella’s struggle to understand and support her sister while dealing with her own emotions and adolescent challenges. The movie explores the impact of Katja’s eating disorder on her family, particularly her parents, and delves into the emotional turmoil experienced by everyone, including Katja herself. 

8. To the Bone (2017)

Movies about Eating Disorders - To The Bone

Written and directed by Martin Nixon, follows the story of a young woman named Ellen, played by Lily Collins, who is struggling with anorexia and has been in and out of various treatment programs without success.

Ellen’s family is concerned for her well-being, and they eventually find a non-traditional treatment facility led by a doctor played by Keanu Reeves. The film explores Ellen’s journey as she enters this new treatment program and interacts with other individuals who are also battling eating disorders. She forms bonds with her fellow patients and begins to confront the underlying psychological issues that contribute to her disorder.

While the film doesn’t get all the things right, it is possibly one of the first mainstream movies to have tackled eating disorders with the kind of sensitivity it needs. To the Bone is a poignant and sometimes intense exploration of the challenges faced by individuals with eating disorders. 

9. Thin (2006)

Movies about Eating Disorders - Thin

Thin primarily follows the lives of four women who are receiving treatment at the Renfrew Center, a residential facility for women with eating disorders. The documentary explores the emotional and psychological struggles these women face as they try to overcome their eating disorders and regain control of their lives.

Throughout the film, viewers are exposed to the daily routines, therapy sessions, and personal stories of the women, shedding light on the complexities of eating disorders. It offers a raw and unfiltered portrayal of the physical and emotional toll that anorexia takes on individuals and the efforts of medical professionals to help them recover.

10. Raw (2016)

Julia Ducournau’s Raw tells the story of Justine (played by Garance Marillier), who is a vegetarian and a veterinary student. She comes from a family of strict vegetarians but is forced to eat raw meat during a hazing ritual at her veterinary school. This experience triggers a powerful and disturbing transformation within her.

Talking about movies that explore eating disorders, Raw doesn’t squarely align with traditional disorders but delves into the psychological and physical consequences of Justine’s newfound appetite for flesh.

Her transformation shown in the movie can be seen as a symbolic representation of the pressures and anxieties that young people often face when it comes to their bodies and their relationship with food. It can be seen as an allegory for the struggle to conform to societal expectations and the dangers of repressing one’s true desires.

11. Swallow (2019)

Movies about Eating Disorders - Swallow

Carlo Mirabella-Davi’s brilliantly underrated Swallow tells the story of a young housewife named Hunter Conrad, played by Haley Bennett, who appears to have a perfect life with her wealthy husband, Richie. However, she starts to exhibit a compulsive behavior known as pica, where she begins ingesting inedible objects, such as marbles, thumbtacks, and other dangerous items. As her condition progresses, it becomes clear that there are deeper psychological and emotional issues at play.

Hunter’s behavior is depicted as a coping mechanism to regain a sense of control and autonomy in her life, which seems stifled by her oppressive domestic situation. So, the act of swallowing objects becomes a way of asserting her own agency over her body and, eventually, her life. 

While the film has bigger themes at play than just eating disorders, Hunter’s struggle represents a broader commentary on the pressures women face to conform to traditional roles and the toll it can take on their mental health. 

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