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Why Feed is not just a portrayal of eating disorders

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It seems that lately, there are many films and television shows which address the variant issue of mental health.

The latest to add this ever-growing pool is Feed - a movie crafted from Troian Bellisario’s own personal experience with an eating disorder.

Feed tells the story of Olivia Grey (Bellisario), a seemingly perfect teenager with high grades and a relatively active social life. Soon, a tradgey turns her world upside down, coming in the form of a car accident that kills her twin brother (Tom Felton). As a result, we watch as Olivia’s health, both mental and physical, slowly degrades at the hands of an unchecked eating disorder.

What makes this film different from others confronting the same topic is its ability to look past the obvious reasons why people fall into an eating disorder. Throughout the film there is no mention of calorie counting or body image. What we discover instead is the sheer diversity of mental health conditions, and how they cannot be categorised simply. Feed has the ability to touch upon and bring to light the various experiences and symptoms associated with mental illnesses, helping the wider world to understand what a sufferer may go through on a daily basis. Feed is not just a movie about eating disorders.

Throughout the film, Tom Felton personifies the inner voice associated with multiple mental health conditions, including but not limited to: eating disorders, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. It is that voice which can be kind and understanding yet change on a dime to make you feel guilty for your actions, tell you to walk away from those closest to you, to lie, to act normal though there is something horrific happening to you.

It’s that voice which controls and dominates your life, it’s the voice which sent Olivia spiralling into ill health. The personification of this voice provides a basis for understanding why people fall victim to mental health disorders, few people who have not experienced such a condition can understand the damaging effects it can have. It also adds depth and a level of reality to the condition, allowing the viewer to comprehend and imagine themselves in Olivia's shoes.

The identification of various symptoms that come with eating disorders in Feed further bring to light the apparent causes. Stereotypically, eating disorders are associated with body image and the desire to look more appealing, however Feed takes a different and increasingly relevant stance on the causes of mental health conditions. 

As a film, it is a symbol of how society is demanding perfection from its youth. A recent Guardian article examined the reasons behind various mental health issues amongst university students, where the need for excellence is driven by financial and social factors. Not to mention the expectations placed upon students by the work sector, we live in a society where graduating with a 2:2 is not enough. We need to have the best grades to get into the best jobs.

Olivia does not get her eating disorder because she has a perception of how she should look, she simply forgoes eating to grant her time to work towards an idealistic vision of perfection. Her teacher makes her apply for 20 colleges, her father criticises her for not running to the top of the hill, her family don't exactly praise her on being predicted to get Valedictorian.

Rather, all of this was expected of her - she must be perfect otherwise she would not be successful. Nothing further enforces this than later in the film where her teacher pressures Olivia to make her grades up, just one month after her brother’s death. In light of loss and tragedy: she must maintain perfection.

Sacrificing something from your life in the name of perfection is what triggers many mental health conditions in both adults and young people. Whether sacrificing food, sleep, or social acts, this sacrifice can send someone on a downwards spiral. Feed brings to light that before and during many mental illnesses there is a form of withdrawal, often encouraged by an event or some form of demand. In this case, the demand for perfectionism is shown by forcing the protagonist beyond their limits, and it's not until she becomes sick that these visions and ideologies are considered to be wrong.

The causes and symptoms behind eating disorders are diverse and Feed is brilliant at showing just that, however a wider context will make you realise that Feed is not just a portrayal of eating disorders. It is a portrayal of how seemingly little we may know about what mental health conditions can do to those closest to us, and how little society really helps.

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