email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
1000 Families2 ¼32 Stories365 Days51 Months5x7A Child's Life and Other StoriesA Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingA Lifetime of SecretsA Storybook LifeA Treasury of Victorian MurderActing OutAddiction and ArtAEIOUAfter PhotographyAliveAlive with Alzheimer'sAlone Together POCAltered StatesAmazing WomenAmelia's WorldAmerica at HomeAmerican AlphabetsAmnesiaAn American LensAn Exact MindAngel's WorldAngry Youth Comix #2Anjos ProibidosAnthony GoicoleaArchitecture of AuthorityArt After Conceptual ArtArt and HomosexualityArt and PhotographyArt in Three DimensionsArt Photography NowArt, Self and KnowledgeArt/PornAs We AreAsylumAttitudeAutoportraitBecoming Edvard MunchBeg the QuestionBelugaBerkoBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBill HensonBlab!Blab! 13BLAB! Vol. 14BLAB! Vol. 15BlanketsBoneyardBoneyardBoy StoriesBreakdownsBright EarthBrüselBurn, Bitchy, BurnBus OdysseyBut Is It Art?CanvasCaricatureChildrenChris VereneChristy ReportCinema PanopticumClass PicturesClick DoubleclickCloserClumsyClyde Fans CoincidencesComing of AgeComing of Age in Ancient GreeceConceptual Art and PaintingConfessions of a Cereal EaterConsider LoveCouch FictionCrumpleCzech EdenCzech Photographic Avant-Garde, 1918-1948Dan & LarryDargerDays With My FatherDead EndDear MomDeus Ex MachinaDigital DiariesDirty StoriesDisasters of WarDixie RoadDomestic VacationsDon't Go Where I Can't FollowDon't You Feel BetterDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDrawingsDriftlessEarly ExposuresEcstasyEdouard VuillardEnduring CreationEngland, My EnglandEntering GermanyEpilepticErwin OlafEscape from "Special"EVAEverything Will DisappearEvidenceExploring the Self through PhotographyExposureExpressionism Exquisite CorpseFamilyFamilyFamily LifeFandomaniaFaster than a Speeding BulletFictionsFigure and GroundFragile DVDFred the ClownFreud at WorkFridaFrom Girls to GrrlzFun HomeGeneration DadaGirl CultureGirls, Some Boys and Other CookiesGoing Into TownGood-ByeGraphic WomenGrave MattersGreat Hiking Trails of the WorldH R GigerHans BellmerHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHauntedHere Is New YorkHey, Wait...High Art LiteHollywood CowboyHouse of JavaI Am Not This BodyI Love You But I've Chosen RockI Thought I Could FlyI'll Be Your MirrorI'm CrazyIllumineIn My Darkest HourIn Search Of DignityIn the Floyd ArchivesIn the Line of DutyInformation ArtsIntenseInvisible No MoreIt Was A Dark And Silly NightJack Cole and Plastic ManJimmy CorriganJock SturgesJock SturgesJust Between UsKafkaKatharina SieverdingLacan at the SceneLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLife's a BitchLight in the Dark RoomLine of Beauty and GraceListening to CementLittle LitLi’l SantaLoadsLooking For MayaLost GirlLouis FaurerLouise BourgeoisLove and DesireLove Lust DesireLuckyManufactured LandscapesMass ObservationMaster BreastsMetacreationMisty DawnMnemosyneMomeMona KuhnMy Brain is Hanging Upside DownMy DepressionMy Family AlbumNatural BeautiesNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew and Used BLAB!New York September 11Night FisherNightswimmingNo More ShavesNot My ShameNotes from a DefeatistNothing ObviousNothing to HideNudes and PortraitsOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn City StreetsOne EyeOnly a Promise of HappinessOptic NerveOptic Nerve #11Optic Nerve #9Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & PiratesOutsider ArtOutsider Art and Art TherapyPanic at Toad HallPatrolPaul M. SmithPeculiaPeekPeople Love PhotosPerfect ExamplePersepolisPhilosophersPhonesexPhoto ArtPhoto Icons I (1827-1926)Photographers, Writers, and the American ScenePhotography and LiteraturePhotography and PhilosophyPhotography and SciencePhotography and the USA Photography RebornPicturing DisabilityPlaytimePOPismPortraits of ResiliencePostmodernismPsychedelicQuestions without answersRaptors Raw YouthRay's a LaughRazmatazReclining NudeRed SnowRemembering GeorgyRequisite DistanceRineke DijkstraRippleRobert Doisneau 1912-1994Robert MaxwellRoom to PlaySame Difference & Other StoriesSanctumSatan's Sex BookSatellitesSchizophreniaSee Me Feel MeSelf-Taught and Outsider ArtSexSexual ArtSexyBookShadow ChamberSidewalk StoriesSkin DeepSleepwalkSmall FavorsSmile of the BuddhaSpectral EvidenceSpentSshhhh!Stranded in CantonStrange Stories for Strange Kids Stranger PassingStripped BareSummer BlondeSurrealismSymbols in ArtTestimonyThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe AlcoholicThe Art InstinctThe Art of Adolf WolfliThe Art of MedicineThe BabiesThe Birthday RiotsThe Blue Day BookThe Blue NotebookThe BodyThe Body as ProtestThe Boulevard of Broken DreamsThe Breast BookThe Breathing FieldThe Bristol Board JungleThe Clouds AboveThe Devil and Daniel JohnstonThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Education of SophieThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Face in the LensThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Madonna of the FutureThe Mirror of LoveThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New LifeThe Other PlaceThe PervertThe Philosophy of Andy WarholThe Places We LiveThe Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious BrainThe Push Man and Other StoriesThe Scar of VisibilityThe September 11 Photo ProjectThe Shiniest JewelThe Speed AbaterThe Steerage and Alfred StieglitzThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Story of SexThe Stuff of LifeThe Three ParadoxesThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Transparent CityThe TravelersThe ValleyThe Van Gogh BluesThe Wolves in the WallsThe Yellow HouseThinThings as They AreThinking of YouTierney GearonTime and SilenceTina's MouthTits, Ass, and Real EstateTransitionTrauma and Documentary Photography of the FSATravelersTropical BlendTwentieth Century EightballTwilightUnlikelyVagina WarriorsVernacular VisionariesVietnam At PeaceVisual CultureVitamin PhWar Is Only Half the StoryWhat Are You Looking At?What Art IsWhat Good Are the Arts?What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannWho Am I, What Am I, Where Am I?William KentridgeWillie DohertyWithWriters on ArtistsYoung PhotographerZip Zip My Brain Harts
Thin is a book of photographs of women and girls with eating disorders at the Renfrew Center, old snapshots of them, their journals and other writings, their therapeutic art works, and their families. The book includes three essays by experts on eating disorders, David Herzog, Michael Strober, and Joan Jacob Brumberg. It is a companion to the documentary Thin directed by Lauren Greenfield, and shows most of the same young women. Having seen them in the documentary affects one's perception of them in the book, in the images of them and their personal diaries. The main figures are the same ones as in the documentary: we see the progression of Brittany, Shelly, Alisa, and Polly, as they go through their treatment. However, in addition to these four, the book shows several other people too. We get a few pages devoted to each. For example, for Melissa, who is 23 and comes from Ann Arbor, Michigan, there is one page of text transcribing her own words, and on the facing page there is a full page photograph of her sitting on couch or futon. She wears a "Little Mermaid" tee shirt and the covering is also in bright colors with a Disney theme. In the background sits a forlorn stuffed panda bear. Melissa's expression matches the panda bear more than it does the smiling Little Mermaid. A few pages later, we see Shantell, 28, from Delray Beach, Florida. She has a page of text transcribing her talk about herself, and on the facing page she stands in a room at the window shade, looking at the camera. She is skinny, and topless, with her arms clasped in front of her, so show the scars on her side from her self-cutting. On the next two pages is a spread of her torso, as she holds her arms behind her, so her scars are highlighted even more. They are prominent, several inches long, and catch the eye first. Looking more carefully, one notices there are many of them, possibly hundreds, including a couple on one of her breasts. It's a shocking image.
Some of the pictures show the changes as women change. For example, we see Aiva on the first day of her treatment, looking gaunt and worried, and then ten weeks later, on the last day of her treatment, looking healthy and uncomfortable. That's characteristic of the book and eating disorders: it is clear that these are very deep seated problems, and the women are not cured by their treatment: rather, they are helped enough to start a road to a better life style and healthier habits. From their journals and their statements, as well as their frequent relapses, we see how difficult it is for them to put their disorders behind them and give up on their desire to be very thin.
Reading through the journals of the women, seeing their artwork that expresses their feelings, seeing how they dress and hold themselves, one gets a strong sense of them struggling with maturity: many of the women in their twenties and thirties seem childlike. One picture, of thirty-one-year-old Cara shows her standing in front of a Christmas Tree: she has a pre-adolescent body and she smiles at the camera as if in a daze; round her neck she wears a silver garland for decoration. She looks more like an 8-year-old.
Greenfield's photography is deceptively powerful. She spent a substantial portion of time at the Renfrew Center, and so she managed to gain the trust of her subjects. So they look at the camera with familiarity, letting their emotions play on their faces. Their journals tell us what thoughts are passing through their heads. Greenfield frames her pictures straightforwardly, and she often selects vibrant colors. Sometimes the suffering she shows seems almost comical because it is so absurd: in one image, two girls hold hands to comfort each other in their ordeal of having to eat desert at the end of dinner; in another, at a therapy session, the residence sit around a table eying an opened box of Pop-tarts with fear and suspicion. Yet in other pictures, we see self-mutilation and pain and learn about their fears that can lead to such self-destructive behavior as to threaten their lives.
There have been many clinical accounts of eating disorders and a few memoirs of anorexia, but Thin is exceptional in how it conveys the feelings and preoccupations of the residents at Renfrew. It is a remarkable book.
© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.