Lifetime is one television network that is no stranger to controversy and controversial topics. Their legend TV films have covered topics such as teen pregnancy, sexual assault, cults, bullying, and eating disorders—just to name a few things. Lifetime has produced or hosted several movies about eating disorders in the network’s history, including films such as For the Love of Nancy, A Secret between Friends and Kate’s Secret.
Lifetime’s latest foray into the topic of eating disorders was Starving in Suburbia.
This film focuses on the concept of ‘thinspiration’ and online pro-anorexia websites. Thinspiration and pro-anorexia refer to websites and blogs online where people—often young girls—encourage each other to engage in eating disorders and eating disorder-like behavior. Although pro-anorexia and thinspiration have been the subject of numerous books and novels, this is the first fictional film which actively covers the subject.
So: what went wrong and what went right with Lifetime’s attempt to portray a young teenager who gets sucked into the world of pro-anorexia? Let’s take a look
Right: (Mostly) intense cinematography
Starving in Suburbia is unusual in the respect that it uses some intense, artistic cinematography that is not normally present in most Lifetime films, particularly those about issues like eating disorders. But the film makes—mostly—good use of some great sequence, such as a disturbing scene where the mother discovers the food that has been hidden in her daughter’s closet, which has attracted dozens of moths.
Wrong: The overdramatic “chat room” sequences
There is a trick to portraying chat rooms, but this film didn’t manage to pull it off. In the film, the chat room sequences between ‘Ana’ and the main character are literally portrayed as a sinister young woman talking to the main character in a dream world; she menacingly whispers in the protagonist’s ear and spouts off cringe-worthy sentences that might seem okay in text, but don’t work when spoken aloud.
Right: Portraying a male character with an eating disorder
It is very rare for eating disorder media—books or film—to take note of the prevalence of males with eating disorders, but this film got it right when they included a male character (the brother) who had developed an eating disorder because of his wrestling coach dad’s intense pressure to maintain a low weight so that he could be in the right weight class.