The Black Swan artistic creative team brings the anorexic lived experience to the screen. Women with a history of bulimia and compulsive overeating identify with part of Nina’s experience, especially the confusion between fantasy and reality. But the person with severe anorexia is described meticulously.
In the film, you see what looks like the fragile and delicate vulnerability of Nina. The film catches the seemingly exquisite spiritual quality of the anorexic woman that is a facade for the dark and powerful destructive elements within her.
Through close-ups you see body energy, life force energy, pounding so hard against Nina’s pale skin that you believe that she is on the verge of splitting open. It seems that she can’t possibly contain all that energy within her pale, delicate membrane. And sure enough, you see through her reality and her fantasy, skin cutting, tearing and peeling open to give her relief and provide fascination. Cutting and visual distortions are often part of anorexia.
The scenes of skin tearing and peeling show Nina enthralled as she watches as if her body were an object separate from her mind, her identity and her life. She experiences her body as something she owns and controls rather than her living home which is inseparable from her being.
When she goes too far in hurting her body and realizes that her physical damage might be visible to other people, she panics and does what she can to hide what she has done. You see her fear as she powders and hides the scratch marks on her back.
The spread of those scratch marks and the involvement of her mother in hiding them is a theme to watch as the film progresses. Often, a woman with anorexia or bulimia will seek or naturally have someone in her life who colludes with the symptoms of the disorder by supporting symptoms, not recovery.
Living with secrets is an aspect of anorexia and most eating disorders. In the film, Nina feels shock and fear, as if her body betrays her by exhibiting the physical consequences of abuse. Her body, bleeding and showing self-inflicted scratch marks, reveals secrets Nina needs to protect.
Women with anorexia and other eating disorders often feel dismayed and betrayed when they have gone too far in hurting themselves. Going too far means that they will have to cope with consequences out of their control. The consequences can be illness, weakness, public exposure and possible shaming, or being pressed to get medical or psychological help, or being ejected from an activity that is consuming to them and from which they get their sense of self.
They live with terrible, unrelenting stress behind a facade they hope appears beautiful and serene. They often choose to people please and give to others in order to avoid feeling their internal agonies or revealing those agonies to others.
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Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.
She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder
Appointments are virtual.
For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at