The new thriller "Black Swan," about murder and intrigue among professional ballerinas, is getting lots of buzz — and not all of it good. The film has been criticized by some who fear it will encourage anorexia and other eating disorders.
In a recent ABCNews.com piece titled “Will ‘Black Swan’ Encourage Eating Disorders?” blogger Kate Torgovnick writes “For their roles in the movie, both Natalie and Mila Kunis lost about 20 pounds each — a lot considering that they are both very petite to begin with….”
It’s of course not surprising that an actress would need to lose weight to play the role of a ballerina. Both actors and actresses routinely gain or shed pounds for roles; for example Christian Bale reportedly lost 60 pounds to play the title character in the 2004 drama The Machinist.
Torgovnick’s concern is that women who see the film will want to look like the characters: “I really wish women wouldn’t see the bodies in this movie as aspirational — it’s meant to be a portrayal, a dystopia even, of a subculture riddled with body issues.”
Torgovnick’s fears are certainly well-intentioned, but there’s no evidence that women aspire to look like the characters in "Black Swan," and in any event eating disorders are not contagious.
The film’s images of ballerinas cannot “encourage” anorexia, any more than photographs of depressed patients can “encourage” clinical depression. It just doesn’t work that way.
Even if seeing thin people could somehow encourage eating disorders in audiences, there’s little reason to blame this film. It’s not as if "Black Swan" provides a unique opportunity to see images of thin women; they are available all over television, the Web, and on every newsstand.
The concern over "Black Swan" (and thin fashion models on TV and in magazines) stems from the popular myth that simply seeing images of thin people causes eating disorders.
Anorexia and bulimia are very rare and complex psychological disorders with a strong genetic component. Those who suffer from these diseases need real help and treatment instead of misguided concern over the influence of Hollywood films.
Photo: Niko Tavernise, AP/Fox Searchlight