By LAURA BETKER, SCENE.TEEN CONTRIBUTOR
In true Degrassi fashion, the show has sought to tackle another hot teen topic: eating disorders.
It could not come at a better time.The Adolescent Medicine Committee has declared that Eating Disorders are the third most common chronic illness in adolescent girls.
In the episodes entitled Our Lips are Sealed, Emma Nelson (Miriam McDonald) begins a downward spiral into anorexia and bulimia.
The storyline may start as a little shocking to audiences familiar with the character’s personality. Emma is a pretty, intelligent and popular student at Degrassi. Why would she have insecurities about her body? This is what makes the story so powerful, because it is so unexpected.
Degrassi’s writers show anorexia under realistic circumstances. Although people may be familiar with eating disorders and their dire consequences, most of its representation is not very thorough.
Thankfully, the show moves far away from the health-class ideal that anorexia and bulimia simply stem from self-conscious teens. Rather, it displays it as the ugly disease that it truly is.
Need for control
Part 1 of the series begins with Emma helping her best friend Manny (Cassie Steele) shed a few pounds for an important audition.
It may seem innocent, she is being a supportive friend, but audiences quickly realize there is much more to the situation. Emma’s family life is in crisis, her grades are slipping due to the stress and her relationship with her boyfriend is a tiresome secret. The need for control over something, anything, is her catalyst.
Eating disorders are not a physical ailment. Emma’s disease was not brought on by her body type or because of the Hollywood stars; it was her mental state. In severe situations, everyone needs an outlet. Emma took her frustrations out on her body.
In Part 2, set to air Feb. 27, Emma’s personality completely changes. She is manipulative, mean and secretive. The disease takes over her entire thought process and ends with serious physical consequences for the teen.
The second episode also depicts an aspect of eating disorders that may not often be mentioned. The pain of family and friends who see the disease develop is very evident. It seems to be just as stressful and worrisome as confronting someone with a hard drug addiction.
All aspects of the story were done well. The plot was realistic. The display of the disease was truthful and progressive, while the acting was at an all time high.
Miriam McDonald’s performance was phenomenal. This is not her character’s first experience with tough situations. She has dealt with cancer at home, STD’s and bullying. This time around, McDonald performs with strength and credibility. Hopefully her and her castmate Steele’s performance as the worried best friend will inspire friends to take action and help teenagers struggling to find some relief.
With Degrassi’s “we are just like you” attitude and a more honest approach to the disease, this two-part story will have an impact and in the best circumstances inspire a great change.
Eating disorders should not be a shameful secret or belittled into a teenage melodrama. They are powerful diseases that should and can be overcome and those stories are more than compelling.
Hopefully, in the episodes that follow, audiences will be a witness to the heroic nature of defeating anorexia and bulimia.
Those stories are the ones that will have the most influence, and are the ones often left out.
CALL FOR HELP
Eating Disorders Association of Manitoba, 888-3326.
Eating Disorders Treatment & Prevention Group, 989-0757.
Teen Touch, 783-1116.