Witnessing someone go through an eating disorder shouldn't be comfortable to watch.
That's why it was so refreshing to watch "Binge," a short film about Angela, a young pastry entrepreneur who struggles with bulimia.
The film is gritty and gross, and it shows what a tragic cycle eating disorders can become.
The main actress Angela Gulner and the co-creator Yuri Baranovsky set out to write "Binge" in order to show the true, ugly side of bulimia, while also adding in some comic relief by highlighting how complicated and messed up we all are in our 20s.
Angela, a Harvard graduate with a BA in theater, psychology and women's studies, moved to LA to pursue acting. When she grew tired of not booking roles, she decided to tell her own story.
Teaming up with Yuri, a Jewish refugee and creator of Happy Little Guillotine Studios, they combined their "fucked up sense of humor" to tell the story of a troubled young woman with pastry-pasted lips addicted to controlling and abusing her body.
I've never had to battle an eating disorder, but like many women I know, I've tried to make myself throw up my food before.
I also battle a constant inner dialogue between how I want to treat my body and how society tells me I should treat it.
Through watching this film and speaking with Angela, I came to realize a lot about eating disorders and society's depiction of them.
Hollywood has failed to bring awareness to eating disorders by romanticizing it.
At one point, Angela says, “This isn't the '90s. Nobody has an eating disorder anymore.”
But according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), in the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their lives.
So, this is direct commentary on how society currently views eating disorders.
They were romanticized in movies like "Center Stage" and "Black Swan" and shows like "Gossip Girl" and "Skins." And in these films or shows, the women who are dealing with the eating disorders are often portrayed as beautiful and fragile.
Writers also use eating disorders to humanize their characters. They're seen as all-encompassing character traits and just another point to progress the plot.
Hollywood has time and time again used eating disorders as storytelling tools rather than using them as a platform to bring true awareness to the issue.
What we've been told is "pretty" has been depicted largely by men.
In a first half of of the pilot, Angela is wearing a bodycon dress, which speaks volumes on the societal pressures women face.
Bodycon dresses are short for body-conscious, and the design became popularized in the '90s by — you guessed it — a wealthy white male by the name of Herve Leger.
"I like to make women look beautiful, who want to please and be noticed," he explained about his design.
So, his reasoning for making the dress assumes women want to please people with their looks, and the best way to do that is to showcase every curve.
He also said, "Designing clothes is not really a mystery, as long as you keep one important thing in mind - the body."
Right, so fashion designing is simple, people. All you have to do is remember men want to see women's curves, and women want to show them off to please men.
The symbolism of Angela's dress is so powerful because she seems not to care what she looks like, yet she is on constant display.
Every curve is highlighted and exposed, which is probably exactly how she also feels in a baggy sweater and pants.
Eating disorders bleed into other vices and addictions.
In the pilot, we see Angela use her sexuality and alcohol to distract herself from her pain.
And while these are obvious crutches for her, there's another subtle crutch that speaks a lot to her character: a coffee mug she steals from her one-night stand.
In the beginning of the film, she has a one-night stand with a strange guy.
The following morning, she wakes up to the man holding a mug which reads, “My other mug is your mom.”
She steals the mug and then continues to bring it with her everywhere.
Some would see this mug as a reminder of her bad decision, but she reclaimed it as something she earned.
Instead of being ashamed for sleeping with a weird, older guy, she finds the mug quirky and chooses to wear it as a badge.
The mug also represents the weight she carries around with her, which is then spun into something humorous.
It's her protection, her security blanket.
Angela tells Elite Daily,
For me, I didn't want to let that mug go the entire time we shot. I was gripping onto it for dear life. It was my safe place. It became my way 'in' to the character. It really infused its way into Angela. Seeking control, but never quite getting it. The mug represented both Angela's impulsivity, and her need to have SOMETHING, ANYTHING to grip onto, lest she float away...
Bulimia is a vicious cycle.
There are two sequences in this film that depict the ongoing battle that people with bulimia go through.
The inner battle is shown during the shot when Angela is preparing a cake in the pastry shop.
With "Never Met" playing in the background, the shot lingers for a long time on the cake, the very thing that consumes her.
She then steps back from it, looking terrified, almost as if she's afraid to be in the same room with the dessert.
We weren't initially sure if it would work, but now it's one of my favorite parts. The lyrics of the song underneath (we hope) highlight the abusive love story that Angela has with herself and with bulimia. There's meditation and peace in the madness, and then huge emotional fallout when she realizes what she's done. Again.
The other sequence is the montage of Angela eating, exercising, puking, punching her stomach, weighing herself and chewing and spitting up food.
This sequence really wraps up the struggle people with eating disorders go through behind closed doors.
It's not the glamorized, silent suffering. It's stuffing your face with as many cupcakes as you can and then immediately being guilted into doing 100 sit-ups and trying to puke or pass it back out.
Bulimia knows no size or color.
When people think of an eating disorder, they think of a gorgeous, tragically thin and weak white woman.
Angela acknowledges she falls into some of these stereotypes, and that's why she tries to break this preconception in other ways.
"These illnesses effect everyone. Black women, especially, are not 'allowed' to have eating disorders in this culture. Their experiences are often discounted, and that's bullshit. It [has to] change," Angela says.
In an effort to bring light to this in "Binge," a black woman is shown coming out of the eating disorder treatment facility door while Angela is checking in.
The woman gets upset by Angela's presence, and she expresses that she doesn't want to be surrounded by thin, white women.
She wants to be comforted by the fact that people like her also suffer and that she's not alone.
Angela explains that in future episodes, there will also be a diverse range of individuals who will expand on their stories while in treatment with her.
The hardest part about getting help is deciding to seek it.
Yuri explains that we all can relate to Angela's character, saying,
When we first set out to write the pilot, the one thing we talked about a lot is that we all have a little bit of what Angela has. We're all a little self-destructive, a little out of control and, specifically, a little addictive. Everyone has some kind of addiction in the show some just aren't necessarily clinical...We were fascinated by that spectrum where someone like Angela might be all the way at its extreme, but others might be far, far back but display some very similar symptoms.
The exciting part is, this is just the pilot.
Angela and Yuri already have an idea of where to take the next three seasons, including utilizing "the clinic to showcase the many different types of eating disorders out there (and the very different people who have the misfortune of having them) and how treatment for them works," Yuri shares.
As "Binge" is loosely based on her life, Angela parts with encouraging advice:
I was sick for 10 years — I recovered in four months. It's worth it. You are not alone. You do not have to suffer.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is here to help.
Call the toll-free, confidential helpline at 1-800-931-2237
Click to chat with a NEDA Helpline volunteer
For crisis situations, text "NEDA" to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.