Q&A with Filmmaker, ELENA ROSSINI on “The Illusionists”, why she made the film and her hopes for its impact

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After years of following along with and supporting Elena Rossini’s work to produce The Illusionists, we are thrilled to be able to host the public’s first full sneak peek of the film on June 7 in Baltimore. In advance of the event, we asked Elena about the documentary, the challenges she faced along the way and what’s next for her and the film. Read about her experiences below and be sure to RSVP for the advanced screening and panel discussion.

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Q & A with ELENA ROSSINI

Q: “The Illusionists”is a film about the commodification of the body and the spread of westernized beauty ideals. Can you describe those concepts and share a bit about each of the main themes introduced in the film? What was the biggest surprise you encountered while researching the globalization of body ideals?

The central thesis of the film is that after millennia of puritanism, in the 20th century the body was “liberated” – mostly for commercial reasons – and has become “the finest consumer object.” After all, we all have a body and we all go through the process of aging. There is unlimited consumerism built around the idea that a youthful appearance is key to success and happiness. What I found most fascinating is the fact that Western media is so powerful – and persuasive – that it has exported beauty ideals to the rest of the world. So, if you are walking through the streets of Beirut, Mumbai, or Tokyo, you will see billboard ads that display images of Caucasian models with blue eyes, who look very different from the local population. In The Illusionists I show the powerful effects of this globalization of beauty ideals. One of my favorite quotes on the subject comes from British psychotherapist and author Susie Orbach. She says: “I think one of the tragedies that’s happening at the moment is that we’re losing bodies as fast as we’re losing languages. Just as English has become the lingua franca of the world, so the white, blondified, small nosed, pert breast, long-legged body is coming to stand in for the great variety of human bodies that there are.”

Q: What were the biggest barriers for you in getting this project off the ground?

Completing the film truly felt like a Herculean endeavor, as I did virtually everything on my own: from fundraising to writing, producing, directing, shooting and editing. I even took care of archival material and motion graphics – basically covering the roles of a dozen people. It was never my intention to do everything by myself! A famous French director mentored me and proposed to be executive producer: but no French TV networks wanted to give us funding (after 2 years of various meetings), so I was left to do things on my own… and thus started a Kickstarter campaign. When the film was finished and I looked for a celebrity to record the voice-over, some very prominent film people expressed interest in helping… but then disappeared, so I had to resort to finding someone through my own networks. There is an Italian saying that goes “Chi fa da se, fa per tre” – meaning “you’d better do things yourself rather than waiting for someone else to do it.”

In the world of film – which is such a collaborative medium – it’s very difficult to do everything on your own. So, when opportunities for collaboration arose, I was so happy! The audio part of the film – from the incredible soundtrack created by Pierre-Marie Maulini of STAL, to the sound mix done by AOC, to the voice-over recorded by the amazing Peter Coyote… it was truly a dream come true.

Q: What would you say makes “The Illusionists” different from other documentaries about the media portrayal of beauty ideals?

I pinch myself every time I ILLUSIONISTSfilmstillMILAN01have conversations with sales agents who have watched the film, because they invariably compliment The Illusionists for the fact that it has a global angle. Filming locations included the US, UK, Netherlands, Italy, France, Lebanon, India and Japan. This is definitely the film’s biggest selling point and what sets it apart.

From the point of view of storytelling and tone, I wanted to highlight the absurdity of certain advertising messages, so there are many sections of the film where audiences laugh out loud. I have to admit, I am not a big fan of documentaries that simply point the finger in an angry way or show depressing facts for 89 minutes and have a one minute uplifting section at the end, seemingly out of nowhere. I think humour can be a powerful teacher!

Q: What aspects of the film are you most proud of?

My favorite moments are definitely the most shocking and humorous ones. I love to hear audiences react out loud when I show the hypocrisy of beauty companies. One of my favorite sections is a split screen with skin whitening ads on one side, and self-tanning lotions on the other: those are ads by the same brands, but done in different regions of the world!

670-06_Illusionists_FB_twitter_sidebar_4_2015_P2Q: If you had to sum up your film in one word, what would that word be?

Subversive (in a positive way!). A friend has recently called me a “gentle warrior” – it was one of the biggest compliments I ever received. I love the idea of challenging the status quo, but in a way that’s not violent or angry.

Q: What is next for the film, and for you as a Director?  Are you committed to doing more work on body image and media literacy?

I have the utmost admiration for the career of activist, author and filmmaker Jean Kilbourne – whom I was super lucky to feature in The Illusionists. My dream is to follow her footsteps and continue working on The Illusionists, updating the film or doing follow-ups in the years to come. There is so much to talk about and the media landscape is constantly evolving: I’d love to go to new countries and produce a web series that continues to tackle these topics.

Q: What do you hope viewers will get out of attending this special advance screening event on June 7th?

I am so excited about this special advance screening because so far I have only shown the full film to friends, friends-of-friends, or sales agents. I am thrilled at the opportunity to have my first big sneak peek at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt and to see how people who don’t know me will react. A friend said something that stayed with me. Weeks after a private screening at his place, he said, “After watching The Illusionists, I don’t see ads the same way anymore.” I loved hearing that. If I can manage to make audience members more aware of ads and their messages, I would have done my job.

 

Join us in Baltimore for the exclusive advanced screening of the film followed by a panel discussion with Elena and other experts on body image and media literacy.  Pre-registration is required to reserve seats.

Click the image below to watch a 4-minute preview of The Illusionists

You may also be interested in reading…

Erin Matson on Eating Disorders & “Recovery in Real Life” A Special #NEDAWawareness Guest Blog

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ERIN MATSON (@Erintothemax) is a writer and organizer for reproductive justice, equality for women, and social change. An activist and strategist, Erin has led local, state, and national advocacy campaigns and has appeared in a variety of publications and frequently on television, including ABC World News, BBC World News, and MSNBC. She served as an Editor at Large for RH Reality Check, and previously held a variety of positions in the National Organization for Women, including serving as the youngest state NOW president in the country (Minnesota NOW), a founding member of the national Young Feminist Task Force, and a national executive officer (NOW Action Vice President). One of her responsibilities was leading the national organization’s Love Your Body campaign. Erin is an anorexia survivor, and for many years said that recovering from an eating disorder was the coolest thing she’d ever done. That changed when she became a mom. 

We asked Erin to reflect on the experience of living with and recovering from an eating disorder and she graciously allowed us to share her thoughts and ideas with our readers. This is what she had to say…

Q: What is one fact about eating disorders that you think is most important for people to know and understand? 

EM: Recovery is possible! When I was most struggling with anorexia, I wish I had known there were people who do go on to recover. An eating disorder means there is hard work ahead but it definitely doesn’t mean that your life is doomed forever. I had an eating disorder and things were terrible, but today my life is terrific. That possibility didn’t get through to me while I was struggling.

Q: What is one thing you learned about yourself during your experience with an eating disorder and/or the recovery process?

EM: I am. It sounds strange, but one of the most profound things I learned through the recovery process is that I deserve to take up space without relying upon external validators like accomplishments, or roles, or size.

Q: Did you face any specific challenge during the recovery process and what helped you overcome it?

EM: Bad days and bad moments happen. Accepting them when they happen, rather than viewing them as failures or reasons to give up, is the first step to overcoming them. During the more difficult phases of my recovery I tried to observe a mental wall of separation between meal and snack and physical activity times; no matter what happened earlier in the day or the day before, I was going to focus on following my recovery plan during the moment in front of me.

Q: What are some day-to-day differences between life with an eating disorder and living life in recovery/recovered from an eating disorder?

EM: Cue the music and rainbows! Seriously, the difference is amazing. I am able to enjoy life, a depth of thought, and the company of others in a way that was impossible when I was preoccupied with my eating disorder. Recovery has made me more compassionate toward others and the struggles they may be going through. In the super-awesome category, recovery made it possible for me to have a baby.

Q: What feedback would you give to the support people – friends and family – of individuals struggling with eating disorders? How can they best help to aid in the recovery process?

EM: Patience. Patience and unconditional love are the best gifts you can give to an individual in recovery. What I didn’t need was people to fix my problem; what I most needed was people who I could count on, no matter what.

Q: Everyone defines recovery differently. What does recovery mean to you?

EM: Recovery means living without my eating disorder. It means accepting myself, and allowing myself the freedom to be human. At a macro level, it has come to mean for me actively resisting sexism and eating disorder culture, and working so that people treat each other (and themselves) better.

Want to hear more from Erin Matson on recovery from her Eating Disorder?  Be sure to RSVP for the event Recovery in Real Life and register for her breakout session entitled The Gifts & Challenges of Recovery during Pregnancy, Post-Partum & Parenting. 

Before the event, you can catch Erin chatting about the gifts of recovery in this short YouTube video: What Has Recovery Given You? Erin Matson on Eating Disorder “Recovery in Real Life” 

She also blogs about pregnancy and eating disorders, reproductive justice and other important issues over at erintothemax.com.  

Meet the rest of the #RecoveryinRealLife speakers here.

Decoding the Road to Eating Disorder Recovery

 

Everyone’s recovery journey looks different.  Recovery may take some individuals longer or shorter and involve various combinations of treatment providers, treatment modalities and sources of motivation.  Different people may rely more or less on specific support people and utilize different and diverse coping skills.  Aside from just being different, no one’s recovery will be perfect.  That’s a good thing.  The ups and downs are necessary opportunities for growth and learning during the healing process.  In the midst of that, it can be hard to imagine recovery until you see that others have been where you are and have come out stronger and more fulfilled on the other side.

Over the years many individuals have come here to speak about how, why and with what tools they’ve established their recovery from various eating disorders.  In 2010 speaker Jenni Schaefer shared what recovery means to her and why she kept pushing through what she calls the  “mediocre stages of recovery” to reach a state of being “Recovered.”. In 2011 recovery advocate Johanna Kandel also visited to provide insight on her past fears about recovery like what if I can’t recover?” and “what if I hate being recovered?”  She also addressed the challenge of envisioning yourself without the eating disorder and why it’s never too late to find hope and begin the recovery process.

Most recently  we hosted author, scientist and recovery advocate, Carrie Arnold for a talk entitled Hope Through Science.  Carrie’s presentation was an honest depiction of her own challenges and triumphs in recovery.  She also shared about her  exploration of eating disorders through the lens of a scientist, joking with the crowd that she may be the only one to “read PubMed [journal articles] like its sort of a contact sport.”  During her talk, Carrie provided a glimpse at some of this science and talked about how it impacted her understanding of the illness while also working to propel her forward in recovery.

 

 

Hope Through Science attendees responded to Carrie’s down-to-earth, science-minded and very realistic view of her own healing process.  Her discussion about the science and biology behind eating disorders also goes a long way in helping to break through much of the stigma that surrounds eating disorders so that people begin to understand that they are not to blame for their suffering, but they can be responsible for, and capable of, taking the steps to recover.  Lessening this stigma and misunderstanding about what causes eating disorders is also helpful for friends and family who may be struggling to support a loved one in the recovery process. 


“Loved her personal story and clarification of what an eating disorder is; definitely provided more of an idea for my family.”    ~ Event Attendee

 

“It was interesting to hear information about how science can affect the development and progression of an eating disorder and how knowing the ‘science behind an eating disorder’ could potentially help to unlock a successful recovery process.”    ~ Event attendee

 

As noted above, everyone has different strengths to share and different lessons they learn throughout recovery.  Carrie’s distinctive position as both a recovered individual and a science writer, allows her to add a unique perspective to the host of hopeful stories out there.  If your journey to recovery is similar to Carrie’s, and the insight into the biology of eating disorders informs and empowers you personally, we highly reccommend picking up a copy of her most recent book: Decoding Anorexia: How Breakthroughs in Science Offer Hope for Eating Disorders.  Carrie Arnold can also be found blogging about eating disorders, science and recovery over at Ed Bites.  

Regardless of which path you take to get there, recovery can often feel like an uphill battle, and its not uncommon for individuals to feel hopeless at various points along the way.  That being said, it becomes very important for individuals and their families to be exposed to the many different stories of healing and recovery that do exist.  In order to believe that recovery is possible, sometimes you have to see it and hear it.  This is one of many reasons why we at the Center for Eating Disorders find it important to offer recovery-focused events for the community and our patients.  These events provide a platform for recovered individuals to share their stories and their strength while also reminding us all that the process of recovery looks different for everyone.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder or have questions about treatment, please visit www.eatingdisorder.org or call us at (410) 938-5252.  You can also follow CED on Facebook.

 

 

“What if I hate being recovered?”…and other fears that get in the way of eating disorder recovery.

Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing. ~anonymous

Fear is a powerful emotion.   At it’s best, fear can serve to alert and protect us from legitimate danger.  At it’s worst, fear is debilitating and it can prevent us from taking any action at all, especially in the direction of our goals.  When individuals with eating disorders (EDs) are faced with the possibility of  recovery,  fear can quickly become a primary motivation to maintain the status quo of symptoms and the illness.  Often the fears are so strong and so many, that there’s a feeling of being paralyzed in a place of chaos and discontent.

To want to recover but to simultaneously be afraid of recovery is a common sentiment.   Many people fear the physical changes of recovery…what will my body look like if I recover?… How will it change?… Can I tolerate the physical discomfort? And while these are often the fears most verbally expressed, many of the most paralyzing fears occupy more significant arenas… Who am I without the ED?… What will happen to my relationships if I recover?… What if I can’t recover? When author and recovery advocate, Johanna Kandel visited The Center for Eating Disorders she touched on the topic of fear in her talk and found the answers to these questions on her own journey to recovery…

“What happens if I do this thing called recovery and it’s not worth it?…What if I hate being recovered?” The work of recovery is hard – that’s no secret – but when it comes down to it, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has recovered from an ED and wishes they hadn’t.  Its much easier to find people who wish they had sought help earlier and yearn to make up for time they spent in the grips of the ED.

“Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.” ~ Marilyn Ferguson

It can be hard to push through the fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of what recovery will look like, but you can’t get past a fear you don’t acknowledge.  Tune into your fears, become aware of what they are, and then you can begin to address them one-by-one.   Talk about them out loud with a friend or loved one.  Write them down in a journal or share them anonymously on our discussion board.  Find a support group where you can listen to other people process similar fears about recovery from an ED.  Most importantly, don’t let fear keep you from becoming the best and most authentic version of yourself.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? ~Marianne Williamson

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This was the fourth of several recovery blogs inspired by the February 2011 presentation by Johanna Kandel at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. Follow CED on  Facebook to stay tuned as we continue to post additional recovery-focused blogs and video clips.  Johanna shares more about her own recovery journey in her highly influential book, Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder,  and continues to support others through her role as the Executive Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, a non-profit organization based in Florida. You can learn more about Johanna and her incredible book in these previous blogs as well:

Eating Disorders and the “All-or-Nothing” Trap

There are several types of cognitive distortions frequently experienced by individuals who struggle with eating disorders. These negative thought patterns are often longstanding and can play an integral role in maintaining depressive thoughts, anxiety, low self-esteem and reliance on eating disorder symptoms.  One of the primary cognitive distortions identified by individuals who struggle with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder is often referred to as “all-or-nothing” thinking.  Also called “black-and-white” thinking, this thought pattern is akin to the belief that “If I can’t do it perfectly, I might as well not do it at all.”

In the same way that all-or-nothing thoughts can perpetuate harmful eating disorder behaviors (ex: periods of severe restricting followed by frequent binging) , they can also sabotage efforts at recovery.  In this clip, recovery advocate Johanna Kandel talks about how all-or-nothing thoughts crept into her nutrition appointment…

Many individuals can probably relate to this experience in therapy where it becomes difficult/impossible to recover perfectly and immediately.  Setting insurmountable goals (i.e. perfection) makes it really easy to feel like you failed even when, by all other accounts, you are actually making progress.  This often leads to  someone feeling completely defeated and makes it easy to do a u-turn back towards the symptoms, isolation and secrecy that allow the eating disorder to spiral out of control.

For others, all-or-nothing thoughts may be an initial barrier to seeking treatment.  Its not unusual for individuals to hold off on making that first appointment until they are absolutely, positively, completely 100% ready to get well. Sound familiar?  As Johanna discusses in this clip, very few people are ever really going to be 100% ready for recovery but the good news is that you don’t have to be…

Identifying all-or-nothing thoughts that are impacting you and your recovery is an important step towards change.  Once you identify the cognitive distortions, you can begin to challenge them during therapy sessions, thought logs, journaling, and reality-testing.  If you aren’t sure where to start you can use the simple questions listed in this previous post to test validity of any suspected all-or-nothing thoughts. When you start exploring your negative thoughts you might be surprised at how many of them simply don’t stand up to the test.  Once you free yourself to think outside of the automatic negative thoughts you will learn, as Johanna did, that you are not an exception;  you CAN recover and you DESERVE to get better.

How did you overcome all-or-nothing thinking?  What role did it play in your eating disorder?  Join the discussion on CED’s Facebook page or leave a comment below.

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This was the third of several recovery blogs inspired by the February 2011 presentation by Johanna Kandel at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. Follow CED on  Facebook to stay tuned as we continue to post additional recovery-focused blogs and video clips.  Johanna shares more about her own recovery journey in her highly influential book, Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder,  and continues to support others through her role as the Executive Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, a non-profit organization based in Florida. You can learn more about Johanna and her incredible book in these previous blogs as well:

You Are So Much More Than Your Eating Disorder

Anyone who has been through the eating disorder recovery process will tell you it is not easy.  Eating Disorders (EDs) are complex bio-psycho-social illnesses and, as such, the treatment and recovery process can often be more difficult than anticipated.  It’s not uncommon for struggling individuals (and their support people) to hold on to a wish that removing one specific trigger will offer a quick fix or a shortcut to recovery.  Unfortunately, there is no magic wand for ED recovery.  Changes to daily routines, altering hobbies or taking time off from triggering activities are sometimes part of the recovery process but these things must be accompanied by additional hard work, specialized therapy and a deeper understanding of oneself and the role that the ED plays in ones life.

When author and recovery advocate Johanna S. Kandel was speaking here at CED in February 2011, she talked about this struggle as it related to her own ballet career and her identity as a dancer.  Now recovered after 10 years of struggling with periods of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, Johanna remembers thinking that removing ballet from her life would also remove the ED.

In the clip, Johanna shares so bravely about a story which so many others can relate to – being in a very scary place for a long time, feeling like there isn’t much to cling to other than the ED.  The longer one identifies solely with their ED, the harder it can be to envision oneself without it.  Fortunately, while there is no magic wand, there are skilled treatment professionals, evidence-based therapies, ongoing support groups and various treatment options for those who are struggling with all types of eating disorders.  It is never too late to hope.  It is never too late to seek treatment and to begin the journey to recovery.

Do you find yourself hoping one change will erase the ED from your life?  Does it prevent or delay you from seeking meaningful help?  If you find yourself feeling like your eating disorder is your only identify, try this exercise:  Draw a picture of a sun with many different rays of light coming out.  On each ray, write down an important role that you play in life or important elements of who you are.  For example:

Daughter, College Student, Nanny/Babysitter, aspiring Writer, Employee, Colleague, Tutor, Sister…

OR…

Brother, Friend, Fiance, Son, Employee, Hospital Volunteer, Uncle, Artist, Band Member, Pet Owner…

Early on in recovery, the eating disorder may have an important place around your sun as well.  As Johanna mentioned in the clip, it can often feel like the ED becomes your only identity.  Reminding yourself that you are so much more than your ED can help to make it a little bit easier to loosen your grip on the ED.   Gradually, through treatment, the ED becomes a less important part of who you are, and you can spend more time focusing on the true rays of light in your life.

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This was the second of several recovery blogs inspired by the February 2011 presentation by Johanna Kandel at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. Follow CED on  Facebook to stay tuned as we continue to post additional recovery-focused blogs and video clips .  Johanna shares more about her own recovery journey in her highly influential book, Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder,  and continues to support others through her role as the Executive Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, a non-profit organization based in Florida. You can learn more about Johanna and her incredible book in these previous blogs as well:


“There is Hope” for Eating Disorder Recovery

Today, April 12th,  the Eating Disorder Coalition (EDC) will lead of group of advocates to Capitol Hill to help lobby in support of The Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders (FREED) Act, which is the first legislation to comprehensively promote research, treatment, education, and prevention programs for eating disorders.  It’s an important day of advocacy and one that can be very empowering for recovered individuals, supportive families and treatment providers who attend and use their experiences and their voices to share knowledge, stimulate change and spread hope.

One of our most recent guest speakers, Johanna S. Kandel, Executive Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness,  will be on the Hill today using her voice too.  Johanna is the author of Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder, a moving book about her own recovery and a must-read for anyone who has ever been touched by an eating disorder.  When Johanna was at The Center for Eating Disorders in February 2011 to help us celebrate National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, she spoke with passion and honesty to a packed auditorium about the importance of spreading hope, using your voice and making a difference.

Click here to WATCH a VIDEO CLIP of Johanna Kandel speaking about using your voice to spread the message of HOPE and RECOVERY.   (from her February 20, 2011 presentation in Baltimore, MD)

Even if you can’t be at the EDC’s Lobby Day today there is still a lot you can do.  Get some ideas from Johanna’s clip above or visit the EDC’s “Take Action” page to find out how you can contact your legislators and ask them to support the FREED Act. You can also make a difference by sharing recovery-focused feedback on message boards like CED’s Online Forum where individuals can post anonymously and ask for support along the road to recovery.

What creative ways do you use your voice to spread hope and let others know that recovery is possible?  Leave your comments below or chime in on our Facebook Page.