The Famine Within
1990 Directed by Katherine Gilday.
REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., Jan. 17, 1992
With help from the Canadian Film Board, which has been remarkably supportive of women's film, Gilday has made a documentary about women's very intense and generally sick relationship with food. Admirably, she demonstrates the ability to entertain a variety of different theories relying on sociologists, anthropologists, a Jungian psychologist and even fashion consultants to make her points. She punctuates her talking heads with fairly clumsy scenes of runway models dressed to illustrate various points. But though Gilday occasionally goes for the obvious, she has packed a lot of information into this film. The Famine Within tells us that the fantasy ideal weight for women has been steadily decreasing since women began entering the workforce in larger numbers in the Twenties and now the average model is 5'8" or over and weighs 120-130 lbs. It's hardly necessary for the movie to tell us that this is far different from the average woman's body size. As a result of trying to conform to an impossible ideal, women are controlled from within, by their own desires for perfection and from without by judgmental attitudes towards those who don't fit in. The career woman is lean and hungry; the fat woman is lazy. Women have incorporated these ideas into their being and Gilday looks at a whole range of manifestations of this including anorectics -- women who starve themselves. One therapist in the movie refers to them as “hunger strikers,” who unconsciously protest the impossible standards women are expected to meet. My favorite statistic in the movie comes from a survey of young women, in which 75 percent responded that they were overweight. Researchers found that of those 75 percent, 45 percent were actually underweight. The amazing thing about this is that most of us know all this to be true, and yet we are helpless to combat it. We are like the women in Henry Jaglom's Eating who pass around a piece of birthday cake, refusing to eat it for a variety of reasons -- it's too high-cal, we don't want to look piggy, it's not nutritional, etc. For women, The Famine Within is fascinating in that it validates our experiences and puts them into a psychological and historical perspective. Men will probably find it interesting because women are just so weird.