Tiny Pretty Things: Where Men’s Eating Disorder Media Representation is/Where it’s Been
List of some resources:
The following, to start us off, is a list of other pieces of media that have included characters with disordered eating behaviors/eating disorders, from least to most triggering (and not including pure documentary/reality TV/nonfiction): The Incredible Jake Parker by Angelo Thomas (Film and Book, 2020/2018); E.very D.ay by Misha Osherovich* (Short Film, 2019); Rocketman (Film, 2019); “Mirror In The Bathroom,” Degrassi: The Next Generation, Season 2, Ep. 9 (TV, 2002); Run by Joey Schweitzer (Short Film, 2015); Distortion by Luke Wiley (Short Film, 2018); I’m including these next few but strongly advise against watching them if you are extra-sensitive to this content: High School USA! (TV, 2013–2015); Starved (TV, 2005); To The Bone (Film, 2017).
*Osherovich, who wrote and co-starred in E.very D.ay, has since come out as nonbinary so they themself are not cis, but the character was at the time.
This is not a complete list but it’s a large portion of what’s out there. It’s all in the 2000s onward, and it’s lacking. All of the male characters are cisgender*, nearly all were white and in smaller bodies. The disorders/behaviors they display are varied between Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia, Anorexia, Compulsive Exercise, and combinations of those. The most common disorder in anyone, men included, is Binge Eating Disorder, and much like with women, it’s underrepresented in media, including in the works on this list. I left off shows like The Simpsons because, despite their consistent portrayal of binge eating, they don’t discuss it through an eating disorder lens. There was a mix of sexual orientations and ages in this list. One other (accurate) commonality among many of these examples was the engagement in athletics and/or performing arts, much like in Tiny Pretty Things.
Now for the main focus of this piece: Tiny Pretty Things (TV, 2020).
The show is a fictional drama that takes place at a pre-professional ballet school, meaning the characters are in their teens and reside at the school. Most of the kids have maladaptive coping skills, some more realistic than others. This article will be focusing on only one of the dancers: Oren Lennox, who is yet another white cis man in a smaller body. He identifies as straight but also hooks up with his roommate. And, as you might guess, based on my selection of him for this piece, he is living with an eating disorder.
What Worked for me:
- Unlike in the film To The Bone, which also has a male ballet dancer character, we get to see him in the ballet environment, which adds the element of pressure from teachers and peers to adhere to certain body standards.
- Discussing his character’s past of being in a larger body to show that has been praised for the results of his disorder, which is accurate to culture, including the pressure dancers face to simultaneously be slim, muscular, strong, and graceful.
- Small fluctuations in weight (including gains) in the face of behaviors.
- He uses a variety of behaviors, many people go through different types of behaviors. One of the best examples? Body checking self and dance partners/intimate partners/body comparisons which I’ve never really seen done much for men in media.
- Weighing himself more than his school requires, avoiding public weigh-ins, privately body checking in the mirror, using various tactics to distract from eating.
- Showing that he logs food/exercise without showing the viewer calorie counts.
- His disorder is worse some days than others, and sometimes interfering with his dancing ability.
- The details in his mannerisms and emotions around body image, food, and exercise, showing the emotional side through things like secrecy, anger/impulsivity.
- That while many praise his results, those who see his behaviors are not trying to emulate them nor are they okay with them.
What Didn’t Work for me:
- The overall execution and tone towards his eating disorder within the context of the show.
- Much like the stereotype of the skinny white girl sitting by a toilet, we now have to a lesser extent the skinny white boy sitting by a toilet as imagery.
- Him passing out and having a graphic hallucination.
- When his behaviors are depicted in an explicit way.
- Most numbers aren’t shown, but the occasional one is.
- No trigger warnings of any kind.
- Putting him in a fat suit for his role in the ballet. I’m sure that some ballets call for fat suits, but, no. We didn’t need the fatphobia nor did we need to put a character with an eating disorder through that.
- The inconsistency of being accurate sometimes and overly dramatic other times.
- His girlfriend bringing him a chocolate bar to eat after he passed out.
- He was the only person at this ballet school with any form of disordered eating. One cis and mostly het guy being the only person with any eating disorder or even subclinical disordered eating/exercise at a pre-professional ballet school? I wish it were that uncommon (reader, I wish eating disorders didn’t exist at all.)
What I’m Not Sure About
- Whether or not they glamorized his eating disorder. I can’t decide for sure.
- Whether his frequent lack of shirt in public outside of school purposes made sense or not.
- Whether it was a good or bad idea to show that no one fully intervened. It’s realistic, for men and dancers especially, but it’s not a great message.
- How dismissive the main person who knew about his ED was in saying “just eat” or “just get help” or commenting on his appearance. It’s realistic but so unhelpful!
- Who is responsible for the inconsistencies.
Overall, I would put it in the middle of the pack as far as quality and how triggering it is, and a little higher for accuracy.