America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Though Darryl Roberts’ documentary about America’s obligation to be thin is neither the most focused nor the most astute, it is informative and at times a surprising look at one nation’s psychological crisis. That is, the obsession to keep losing weight even if it is achieved through unhealthy means—which likely causes physical and psychological problems in the long run.
The film runs a little long. The first thirty minutes, though amusing, is tantamount to junk food where the director is shown trying to determine which avenue he should take when it comes to losing weight. After visiting the doctor and being informed that his blood pressure puts him at a high risk for developing serious illnesses, he starts to consider three options: taking medication, eating healthy and calorie-counting, and eating only raw food. While the third option has its terrifying moments because its proponents are so uninformed, it is a miscalculation to pair avenue-searching with a very serious subject: the validity of BMI (Body Mass Index) which sets the standard of what is considered obese. BMI is clearly a problem because of its one-size-fits-all approach.
There are plenty of people who get a chance to speak to the camera, from former supermodels like Beverly Johnson to the scientific advisors of Weight Watchers, but the documentary is most effective and most haunting when it shows the repercussions of wanting so badly to be thin.
Roberts visits a middle school and a group of young boys walk in. We are informed that they had eating disorders. They look healthy now but it is established that one cannot really “cure” a person who has had an eating disorder even though behavior has been altered. Their faces are blurred for privacy purposes. Incidentally, this allows us to focus on their bodies—mainly their arms as to whether they look thin or normal currently—as they discuss what they did to lose weight. At one point, a boy says that he had restricted his food intake not because he wanted to be strong or healthy or get a six-pack. He just wanted to look skinny. A person receives less respect when a person is fat.
Later, we come to meet a woman named Jenn. She has been diagnosed with severe anorexia nervosa. While she speaks, instead of looking at her face, I stared at her stick-thin arms, how weak and frail they appear. Then I was reminded of Lauren Greenfield’s “Thin,” an excellent documentary, and how it shows that people with anorexia, even though they are essentially skin and bones, still consider themselves as overweight.
But the documentary does not rest with restriction. One of the director’s friends is obsessed with working out. Even when there is a snowstorm and people are advised to stay indoors, she goes out—putting herself and others in danger—to go to the gym because she claims she does not feel like herself if she skipped a day. When she gets the flu, she still goes to the gym. Putting other people’s health on the line does not concern her. On top of that, she smokes as not to feel hungry.
The approach of “America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments” is casting a huge net and covering as many topics as possible. While it is likely to engage the casual viewer, it is not a movie for me because I felt as though I already knew what the experts (and “experts”) had to stay. In order for it to have been a stronger work, it ought to have shown more examples of how extreme dieting and weight loss can not only ruin a life but actually put it to an end. No one looks beautiful as one rots in the ground.