When director Darryl Roberts set out to answer the question, “Why are looks so important?” in a documentary film project, he stumbled upon another issue entirely—an issue that puts the health and well-being of millions of Americans at risk every year.
“As I started shooting, I had never really talked to women in this way before and I started hearing how they felt about themselves, how images made them feel in magazines, how if you look old then there’s no place for you in society,” he says. “That’s when I shifted my focus to take a look at pop culture and how it’s creating this toxic environment for the emotional stability of women.”
These conversations eventually became the basis for the documentary film, America the Beautiful, which debuted in 2008. Originally rated R, Roberts has recently—in response to the hundreds of requests he receives from parents and school administrators—developed a PG-13 version of the film that can be shown to younger audiences.
Professionals at Remuda Ranch, an inpatient eating disorder recovery center with facilities in Arizona and Virginia, “fell in love with the film” at a conference, according to Dr. Dena Cabrera, staff clinical psychologist. Because the new version of the film more closely aligned with Remuda’s Christian philosophy, the center decided to sponsor the film and serve as the go-to resource for viewers seeking answers to the questions it raises.
“[The film] shows how the beauty and fashion industries prey on women to make them feel bad about themselves in order to make them buy billions of dollars of products to reach an unrealistic ideal,” Roberts says. “That’s what the film illustrates: how that happens, why they do it, how it makes women feel.” While the film focuses primarily on the negative effects of beauty and fashion advertising on women, such advertising has an impact on men as well.
“I’ve had a lot of meetings with clinics who say they show the film to their patients,” Roberts says. “The big value for an eating disorder clinic is that [the film] shows the toxic culture that [their patients] live in. They can relate to the film, because that’s the environment they live in.”
Roberts hopes that, with Remuda’s sponsorship, they will be able to target those at risk at an earlier age and, therefore, allow the film to act as a preventive measure. “I get e-mails all the time saying, ‘I think I have a problem,’ or ‘I have a question, who can I talk to?’” Roberts says. “Through this partnership, I can direct them to Remuda Ranch.”
Remuda has taken steps to ensure that they are available to those in need of guidance through every potential outlet. “We have a Facebook and Twitter account, and we’re preparing a way for clients to e-mail in and ask questions from our Web site. Of course, staff is always available to take any consultations or questions,” Cabrera says.
In preparation for its sponsorship, Remuda Ranch has also developed a discussion guide to go along with the DVD when it is sent out to high schools and colleges. By using the guide, Cabrera says that teachers and students “can have discussions about the film’s impact, different people in the film, and also on what they can do to prevent eating disorders and critically analyze the media.”
The message of Roberts’ film— that “we all need to love ourselves the way that we are and stop trying to measure up to images—aligns perfectly with Remuda’s own goals for treatment, according to Cabrera.
“One of our goals when we come to treatment is finding out how we can develop an identity apart from food, weight, and shape. [Patients] have grabbed onto this false identity, trying to become something that they’re not,” Cabrera says. “Our goal is to help patients develop this sense of self, value, and purpose apart from what they look like, apart from being thin and weight, shape, and all that.”
Both Roberts and Cabrera agree that there are several instances within the film that deeply resonate with the eating disorder population—particularly scenes involving mothers and daughters.
“We have a mother in the film, and the mother talks about how she used to criticize her body all the time in front of her daughter, which made the daughter feel like her body wasn’t good enough,” Roberts says. “The daughter started purging; she was bulimic and she died at the age of 16. So her message is that parents need to not criticize their bodies in front of their children.”
Cabrera recalls another mother-daughter scene involving a young model’s dangerous desire to further her career: “There’s one mother whose daughter wants to be a model and they’ll go to any extremes. She’s only 16 and the mom says, ‘Well, there’s always plastic surgery,’ and the daughter says, ‘Plastic surgery is a woman’s best friend.’ She is already, at 16, looking at plastic surgery to change herself in an effort to be more like that standard ideal of beauty, which is an illusion anyway.”
While the film highlights the distorted perceptions of beauty that are pushed upon young people in order to raise that population’s awareness, professionals in the eating disorder field can benefit from viewing the film as well.
“For professionals, it opens their eyes to the extremes that people will go to in the name of beauty, in the name of acceptance,” Cabrera says. “I think as professionals watch this, even though we’re aware of it, it puts it in a different light when you really, literally see it in the film. You read about it, but when you see all the images in this format it really is amazing.”
Once the PG-13 version of the film is released, free screenings as well as the discussion guide will be available to groups through Remuda Ranch. To schedule a screening of America the Beautiful contact Nancy Berry (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Remuda Ranch.