Eating Disorder Storylines: An American Taboo?

I fell in love with the British show, Skins, so like most fans of that series, I was skeptical yet curious when MTV announced that they were premiering their own version of the show. The creator of Skins, Brian Elsley, is responsible for both versions, which explains the almost-identical characters and very similar plot lines.

But, with the possible exception of Tea (MTV’s character is a lesbian; she replaces Maxxie, a homosexual guy from the British version), one character seems to deviate much more from her British counterpart. I’m of course referring to Cadie, who was the focus of this Monday’s episode. In the British Skins, Cadie’s character was named Cassie and was in and out of a hospital for anorexia treatment. Cassie is seen faking her weight for clinicians, obsessively arranging food, and lying her way out of meals.

But rather than using this plot, MTV’s Cadie suffers from anxiety and depression.

In fact, one of Cadie’s first lines of the episode barely even fits into the scene. She asks her therapist: “Can I have one of those bananas?” This line seems to prove only one point: Cadie is not Cassie. Cadie does not have an eating disorder.

So why? The girls share a similar infatuation with one of the male leads, an apparent dependency on pills, a distant family…so why give them different mental disorders? An eating disorder would surely give Cadie more depth than her alleged fear of pigeons. And the more that I thought about it, I really started straining to think of eating disorders on American television at all (with the exception of corny Lifetime movies). Even worse, when an eating disorder is portrayed, a character often suffers for a two-episode arc, and then all is forgotten (see: Degrassi, Gossip Girl).

This is insane when you consider that in America, as many as 10 million females and one million males are currently struggling with an eating disorder. But, with 80% of American women dissatisfied with their appearance, many more are at risk and deserve to see the dangerous consequences of disorders that said dissatisfaction could bring on.

My theory is that television executives fear the use of an ongoing character arc featuring an eating disorder, worried about scaring their audience off by making them uncomfortable. I hope that isn’t the case because I think television viewers in the United States deserve more than what they’re currently getting. And if Skins is all about portraying teens in a realistic way, they shouldn’t avoid the topic if eating disorders, something that realistically affects so many of them.

So tell me what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why they may have removed this storyline from the MTV version and your general thoughts on the portrayal of eating disorders on television. Do we cover the topic enough? Should we cover it more?

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