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BBC America's "Body Image" Documentaries

Hollywood Fad Diets, Teen Obesity & Gastric Surgery Focus of Two Films

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BBC America's

Kate and Louise before extreme dieting

Courtesy BBC America
Body image is the elephant in the room that few females openly discuss.

BBC America confronts this issue in five separate hour-long documentaries airing Sunday evenings through the month of December 2007. The respective documentaries examine celebrity-inspired extreme dieting, teenage obesity and gastric bypass surgery, breast enlargement, breast reduction, and teen transsexuality. Viewpoints run the gamut of adolescents to adult women.

As body image issues impact girls and teens as well as adults, I asked my daughters Jaye (16) and Em (14) to join fortysomething me in previewing the first two films.

You Can Never Be Too Skinny? Yes You Can

Super Skinny Me (premiering Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 10pm EST/PST) follows journalists Kate (37) and Louise (28), two healthy size 8 women facing a near-impossible assignment - drop five dress sizes in five weeks. Hollywood's latest crash diet fads provide various methods to their madness. Under medical supervision they try the lemon juice/maple syrup/cayenne pepper drink; the watercress soup diet; colonics; and liquid protein shakes - along with constant exercise.

From Wannabe to Not Me

My older daughter Jaye is slender but wants to lose 6-10 pounds. She agreed to watch Super Skinny Me thinking she'd find a crash diet to try. By the end, however, she realized the mental and physical side effects could be downright nasty. The women were weak and dizzy; they experienced depression and relentless hunger.

Kate developed compulsive behaviors toward food, and Louise was so tired and lethargic she was unable to get out of bed. One was told to end the assignment before the five weeks were up, but needed counseling to stop her downward spiral. The other actually squeezed into size 00 jeans at the end but felt far from feminine in her bony, angular body.

Dangerously Obese

Blocks of lard represent the weight Bethany has lost

Courtesy Endemol / BBC America
Quite literally at the other end of the scale, 476-Pound Teenager (premiering Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 10pm EST/PST) tells the painful tale of 19-year-old Bethany, Britain's fattest teenager, who learns that if she doesn't opt for stomach-reducing surgery she won't live to adulthood.

No Easy Answers

The surgery creates as many problems at it solves. Bethany has a hard time eating the healthy foods that will help her lose weight, and continues to turn to food for comfort. She eventually finds therapy is essential to get to the root of the emotions that trigger her to use food to subdue grief.

Coping By Eating

My younger daughter Em, 92 pounds and normally disinterested in food, was riveted when Bethany spoke of the humiliation and pain caused by the hurtful remarks of classmates and strangers. Bethany's rapid 60-pound weight gain after her grandmother's death resonated with Em, who suffered the same loss but responded by not eating. For her, it brought home why some girls and women put food at the center of their lives. At the conclusion, when she witnessed how hard it had been for Bethany to lose 96 pounds over the course of a year, it was sobering to realize that although that amount was more than Em weighed, Bethany still had twice as much to lose.

The Skinny on Body Image and Self-Esteem

Neither film is heavy-handed about hammering home preachy messages about what's right and what's wrong. Instead, both present a straightforward tale of the participants, the situations, and the outcomes.

Frequently, mothers of girls and teenagers talk about the impromptu teachable moments that provide opportunities to talk about difficult issues. BBC America's intent to broadcast five weeks' worth of these moments should be applauded.

It's appointment TV for any woman intent on starting a conversation about body image and cultivating a realistic and healthy sense of self.

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