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Book Review: Body Shots

I’m delighted to be blogging about BODY SHOTS: HOLLYWOOD AND THE CULTURE OF EATING DISORDERS, a new book by my colleague Emily Fox-Kales. Among her numerous professional achievements, she is the executive director of Feeding Ourselves (, a Massachusetts program that teaches troubled eaters to stop obsessing about weight and become “normal” eaters.

BODY SHOTS critiques how what we view on the big (and small) screen teaches us the precise wrong messages about food, eating, and our bodies. As stories go, this tale of Hollywood’s distortion of women’s bodies and promotion of an irrational ideal of thinness has a tragic ending—starvation, malnutrition, overeating, a cycle of yo-yo dieting and binge-eating, self-hatred, preoccupation with weight and shape, and questing for the perfect body above all else.

Fox-Kales reveals the subtext of TV makeover shows that leave women feeling that their bodies are burdens that need to be transformed: “These shows enact the body hatred many women are conditioned to accept as an appropriately self-critical stance toward improving one’s appearance but which in fact contributes to a culture of humiliation aimed at bodies that fail to fit the conventional beauty ideal.” These shows are meant to seem inspirational, but really teach us that our bodies are flawed and that we’ll only be happy and successful when they’re slimmed down and shaped up.

She explores how, aided by camera work underscoring buff as beauty, female movie stars with tight butts, flat abs and toned muscles make women feel less than, and points out how films which involve Ugly-Duckling-to-Beautiful-Swan makeovers carry subtle, dangerous messages: transformation is easy, need be no more than external, and done right, will land women what’s important—sexuality, love, and success. The book’s saddest chapter focuses on movies which aim to hook teens and tweens on looking good at all cost. Citing film after film, Fox-Kales shows how these young women are taught that popularity comes only from having a pretty face and well-shaped body.

After reading BODY SHOTS, you’ll never look at women in film the same way again. Give a copy to your mother, friends, sisters, grandma, aunts, daughters, nieces and, come to think of it, the men in your life as well. Eating disorders won’t decline until the larger-than-life images we see and the stories we view teach us to cherish our bodies—as is. Find out more about BODY SHOTS at