I spend an inordinate amount of time procrastinating, often by flicking through my various social media accounts and watching videos on Youtube. I justify the wasted time by telling myself that it’s valid research for my various work projects. However, I recently came across a web series that really perked my interest.
Jessie Kahnweiler’s dark comedy, The Skinny, tells the story of a wannabe Youtube star who’s suffering from bulimia. Having struggled with the eating disorder for ten years, Kahnweiler plays a dramatised version of herself with unflinching honesty. Many of the scenes are graphic and hard to watch. She jams food into her mouth, then purges to deal with the slings and arrows that life throws her way. Whether it’s her undermining mother (played by Illeana Douglas), her drug addicted boyfriend, or the corporate hipsters with man-buns who decide whether she’s worthy of their financial investment.
I found The Skinny engaging and watched it a couple of times before writing about it. To me, it seems the next logical step after Lena Dunham’s Girls, which in turn was an antidote to the absurd, schmaltzy fairy-tale that was Sex and the City. After many failed attempts to secure funding, the project got off the ground with the help of Refinery 29 and Transparent creator, Jill Soloway, who signed on as a producer. Kahnweiler pitched her show to various studios but she was told that no one wants to see a realistic, gut-wrenching portrayal of bulimia. The naysayers were wrong and it was recently screened at The Sundance Film Festival.
The Skinny is refreshing because it shows the raw, gruesome reality of a serious eating disorder, with a sense of humour. Anorexia and Bulimia is usually represented by skeletal waifs, not a loud and a proud feminist who’s outward flamboyance disguises vulnerable fragility. Jessie’s cycle of self-destruction is brought on by her triggers, which take the form of emotional or professional rejection. The uncomfortable pathos is housed in comedy, as Jessie abuses laxatives and relieves herself on her mother’s lawn. Or yells at a couple of bearded douche-bags that ‘God is a woman!’ and ‘Fuck the patriarchy!’.
Along with the gallows humour, there is a core truth about The Skinny which makes it compulsive viewing. In my teens and early twenties, I suffered from an eating disorder, which I was desperately ashamed of. I’ve been well for a decade, but the illness still haunts me and I have to look after myself, otherwise it will no doubt rear it’s ugly head again. When someone brave dares to talk about these issues, they drag them out into the light and initiate a public conversation. I have no doubt that Jessie Kahnweiler is on her way to becoming a star, which is all to the good.